Creating Clarity is Like Making Fine Wine

May 11, 2023 | Article, Creating Clarity, Creating Clarity Public

I met a client recently and we were talking before their first offsite. They had just read the Advantage and were excited to answer the Six Critical Questions. I started to go over their agenda for the two-day offsite and they asked, “Why is the offsite 1-2 days? How long could it take to answer six questions? Two or three hours right?” I paused and responded, “Well, it depends.” As I went on to explain, I was reminded of something Pat said many years ago about creating core values. He said we must understand that good clarity is “like making fine wine; it’s never rushed”. He went on to say that it is far more important to create something that works than reach a quick decision that the team “may later regret”.

This might shock some readers, but to be honest, I’ve seen teams wrestle over some Clarity Questions for over a year. I’m not saying this is the norm, and sometimes that reflects some other dysfunctions, but Clarity is not about quick answers for an internal marketing campaign. It’s about discovering the unique DNA of an organization. Some of the clarity you create will never change. So, it’s important to get it right.

As we think about the metaphor of fine wine, here’s a way to think about creating Clarity.

Rule #1:You can only use your own grapes

Ironically, sometimes the first thing we do to try to find our differentiators is to copy others. We study famous companies and even our competitors. Not very creative. We study their marketing materials and value propositions hoping to find a gem or two.

I worked with a client who was trying to create core values. The team had some good discussions in years prior but the energy had died down a bit. Then as they dusted off their notes, they decided to dig in again and ratify the final list. At the final hour, one leader showed up with a print out from the Facebook website and said, “Boy, our work is done! Here’s our core values! I can’t think of anything better than these!” They team wasn’t sure which was more awkward, the fact that some of the values didn’t resonate with them or that their teammate thought they would just adopt his ‘proposal’ without any debate. I had another client do the same thing, but the leader took it even further and publicly posted the list of core values all around the office without any discussion from the team. Good luck getting any buy-in that way!

We say “Create Clarity”, and it is hard work to answer the six questions, but the truth is, Clarity is “discovered” as much as it is created. It’s discovered in the genuine beliefs, virtues, principles, etc. that exist in the hearts and minds of those around the table. That’s where we need to start, not in someone else’s vineyard.

Rule #2: You can’t rush the fermentation

When we say creating Clarity takes time, we don’t mean 8-hour consecutive days. It’s more about the time span vs. duration. These two stories can illustrate.

I had another client who didn’t want to spend 1-2 days in an offsite. They ironed out a 6-hour block in the office with the hopes of spending 1 hour per question. I agreed to facilitate the conversation, but tried to set expectations low in terms of how much finality they could realize in that session. The truth is, they did a great job and had a vigorous debate. We actually got through many questions and had a working draft of them. The problem: that’s where the conversation finished. They viewed the process as a one-time exercise vs. the beginning of a new way of doing business. If they go back to the questions, they’ll likely have to start all over again.

Another client took a completely different tactic. They met up for their initial offsite and, after doing some important work for Discipline 1: Building a Cohesive Team, they dove straight into the Clarity Questions. But, they didn’t force a rigid process. Instead, they went through all six and simply asked, “where is the greatest confusion in our organization?” Some questions had very little. Some had a lot. They started with the ones that had a lot and got the conversation going. When conversations started to lose energy, they agreed on some working drafts with basic ideas, concepts, etc., and moved on to another question.

“Where is the greatest confusion in our organization?”

This avoided the proverbial marathon of wordsmithing and kept the energy of the team high. Then, between offsites, they re-visited key areas or components with the team. They even tested a few things with key staff and stakeholders. By their second offsite (about 90 days later), they had a pretty good take on all six questions. They took the time to poke a few holes in things and clarify some areas. Then, after that session, they planned a larger meeting to communicate to the other levels of the organization.

That’s a great milestone to work towards. If a leadership team can create Clarity they are proud to communicate out to the newest employee, they are probably on the right track. But, if you go too fast you can short-circuit things and it can even backfire. That’s a great lead-in to the last point.

Rule #3: The proof (and the fun) is in the tasting

Clarity is not marketing. That’s a critical distinction. We are not trying to impress our employees or customers. We are making decisions, beating competitors, and solving problems. That’s what Clarity is for. So, we can’t dress up a bunch of empty ideas and fluffy sentiments and expect much benefit.

If you roll out your core values to your employees and don’t follow good processes, it can backfire on you. We ask three simple questions about values: (1) Is it true today? (2) Does it differentiate us? (3) Is it non-negotiable? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, we are going to get some funny looks from our people when communicating. Even worse, we can foster a level of cynicism as naysayers roll their eyes and say, “here we go again!”

To prevent this, you have to test and use your Clarity. It’s not about impressing others. It’s about getting it right. So, the best way to test it is to use it. Let’s look at each Clarity Question and see how this can work:

  1. Why do we exist?
    Your core purpose should guide and inspire everything you do. If people cannot connect their daily work to that purpose, they will lack energy and focus.
  2. How do we behave?
    Your core values should equip every manager to coach employees. If employees are getting away with violating your core, you will likely lose “A Players” and keep some dead weight on your payroll.
  3. What do we do?
    What do we do, or are trying to do, that is not in our sweet spot? Driven by client/customer agenda vs. our strategy?
  4. How do we succeed?
    What has passed through our anchors and why? Not defined enough? Or did we just lack the courage to make a great, hard, fast decision? Are we being opportunistic?
  5. What’s most important right now?
    Have we established a rhythm of running, having completely realized thematic ‘goals’? Or are we just changing ‘themes’ over and over?
  6. Who does what?
    Whose role is the least clear right now? Why? It might be someone’s priorities. It might be the connections between roles. It might be a dysfunctional role we’ve taken on the team. Whatever it is, get clear on it.