Let’s define clarity as the quality of being understood in an exact way. No issue is more important for the physician executive than achieving and maintaining clarity. Whether with your direct reports, colleagues, or CEO, clarity is needed at every level.
I promised my wife I would arrange to have the wallpaper in our kitchen and laundry room removed. Then those areas would be repainted. I contacted a painter referred to me by a colleague and met him at our home to go over the plans.
My wife and I had already purchased the paint, so when I met with the painter, I explained what I wanted to be done. Although he was a native Spanish speaker, his English was good and he seemed very confident in his ability to complete the plan (I speak a little French, but no Spanish). He would remove the wallpaper, repair and prep the walls, and paint the areas that had been stripped, leaving the matching wallpaper untouched in the adjoining powder room.
He was to do most of the work during the day while my wife and I were at our respective jobs. At the end of the first day, everything seemed to be on track. Most of the wallpaper had been removed from the laundry room and kitchen and our painter was scraping and repairing the walls.
At the end of the second full day of work, after arriving at home I was surprised to find our painter in the powder room applying the first coat of paint to the walls, having already removed all of the wallpaper!
It wasn’t the end of the world, and the bathroom ended up looking nice. But I had clearly failed in my efforts to communicate with our painter. I had not written the instructions down and I had not had him repeat them back to me. There had been a breakdown in clarity on my part.
Clarity is One of the Keys to Effective Management
I have seen similar breakdowns countless times in the senior management meetings, with my direct reports, and even within my family.
In his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Patrick Lencioni describes his belief that organizational health is the greatest advantage any company can leverage to achieve unrivaled success. He goes on to describe how to ensure organizational health using four disciplines, three of which relate to clarity:
- Create Clarity
- Overcommunicate Clarity
- Reinforce Clarity
He makes a very strong case. As a physician executive and leader, I have seen failure to achieve clarity result in three major disappointments.
Within the context of making an organization healthy, alignment is about creating so much clarity that there is as little room as possible for confusion, disorder and infighting to set in. – Patrick Lencioni
The Three Disappointments
Here are three serious consequences of a lack of clarity:
- Lack of Confidence. Team members come to depend on their leaders for defining and communicating the mission, vision and goals of an organization. If those are not clearly and consistently articulated, employees become disenchanted and confused. The resulting lack of confidence has numerous consequences, including internal conflict, poor performance, and turn-over.
- Lack of Alignment. Your team can accomplish little if members are working at cross-purposes. Misunderstanding causes those on the organizational “boat” to row in different directions. A primary role of the senior executive team is to identify the organizational goals, align themselves on those goals, and then achieve clarity in communicating those goals to the rest of the organization. Failure to do so causes disorganization and misalignment.
- Lack of Accountability. As a physician, how many times have you seen a hospitalized patient fail to follow his/her discharge instructions? We have added “teach-backs” by patients to nursing staff as a way to ensure that they have been understood. We also provide written instructions for our patients. If I don't know, explicitly, what I am assigned to do and when it is to be done, I will probably not get it right and on time.
It is incumbent on us as leaders to infuse clarity in our communication. Clarity requires repeating our message and using multiple channels of communication. A future post will be devoted to ways in which clarity can be enhanced.
In the meantime, how has a lack of clarity affected your performance or that of your organization? And what other serious consequences have you noticed from a lack of clarity?
I think the next post is going to be a longer one in which I get into the “nitty-gritty” of understanding relative value units (RVUs) as they are used to measure physician productivity.