By YPO member Brad Deutser

There are things early in each of our careers that leave an indelible mark. For me, shoveling elephant manure in the back of people’s trucks accompanied by a speech, “If your spinach is spotty, if your carrots are corroded, then we have the world’s best fertilizer …,” was definitely one of my more memorable moments. While it was humiliating, working for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the “Great Pachyderm Poo Give-a-way” (for USD250 per week) was also the very beginning of my search for clarity.

For many, clarity is an arrival point or an aha moment. But, I have found after more than two decades of research and working with clients around the globe that it is something much more tangible and regularly attainable. In fact, clarity is a defined, reliable and replicable process that changes the business trajectory by connecting leaders and employees to the organization in ways previously unimagined.

Because of the feverish pace of business where companies navigate through multiple worlds simultaneously, today leaders require a different, dynamic approach to direct their organizations forward. The complexity of business today and the shifting technological, political, economic and cultural norms require a revitalized set of tools for the modern leader.

Clarity changes the trajectory of business and the connectivity of people within an organization @BradDeutser

Clarity turns the traditional business hierarchy (with strategy, culture, communication and innovation sitting separately on top) on its proverbial head. In my experience, clarity sits above each of these classic tools, providing a more panoramic, holistic perspective. Clarity informs each of the tools in new and different ways and creates a measure of connectivity that augments their existing strengths. Clarity provides a necessary balance and understanding of the business systems and actions that propel a company and transform its outcomes. The result: Clarity changes the trajectory of business and the connectivity of people within an organization.

In working with leaders, I help them focus on what it means to be in clarity, highlighting the intentional changes needed to build deeper connections with their people, drive performance across the organization and be more purposeful in their leadership. When leaders and their companies are “in clarity” they experience a healthy, natural flow of energy that advances productivity on a collective level, resulting in higher engagement, decreased turnover, improved safety performance, enhanced customer engagement and a dramatically improved bottom line. This has manifested into measurable benefits for our clients:

• A 1,300 percent ROI for a health care company with a transformed payor mix.
• An annual decrease in total recordable incident rate for an industrial services company (five consecutive years) with manhours increasing by more than USD3 million.
• A 27 percent increase in engagement and productivity for a technology company.
• A decade of zero deaths in the aviation space (the previous high was three years).
• A USD60-plus million increase to the profitability of a publicly traded company.

For leaders and organizations to achieve clarity, they need to focus on five overarching elements. Each key component on their own can impact performance, but the real magic is created when all are fully leveraged together.

Clarity challenges the premise that outside-the-box thinking is what drives innovation, creativity and performance. In fact, clarity demands inside-the-box thinking and forces the leader to focus on the organization’s previously undefined box. We all have accepted outside-the-box thinking, without ever thinking about the notion of the box or its composition — until now.

Truly, most innovative businesses operate from within their defined box — it provides the leader the control necessary to purposefully navigate the inherent change in the environment and carefully connect employees to the things that matter most. Leaders that understand the intricacies of their box are able to unlock the organizational DNA that is fundamental to allowing enduring, sustainable replication and growth.

So, what does the box look like? The four sides represent the organization’s Direction, Operations, People and Engagement. Each side has distinct definitions and functional measures. Understanding the makeup of each side and how they integrate with the whole framework allows for more informed decision-making and ultimately better outcomes.

Interestingly, the organizational box isn’t a flat, two-dimensional box. Rather, it is a three-dimensional cube, a more complex framework akin to the multi-dimensional problems modern businesses face. This requires a different understanding of dimensionality throughout the company.

While we don’t place a hierarchy of importance on any of the sides of the box, we have experienced transformational moments with our clients when they begin by focusing on the bottom side — the organizational identity. It focuses on key elements, like organizational characteristics, purpose, values and traditions, which together form the foundation upon which everything else rests. Often, leaders believe they have addressed them, yet employees deeply yearn for greater definition.

The top of the box, environmental factors, represents your window into the world, serving as your funnel connecting to all the external forces and extending to all your stakeholders. This side requires a different lens into the surrounding environment, including industry evolution and competitive landscape, which are inextricably linked to the internal environmental factors. The top of the box provides understanding of the world around us so we can align with it in order to create the consistency and transparency that are crucial to building stakeholder trust.

Leaders bring different mindsets to their organizations. Core to the clarity approach is the concept of positive psychology. It forces us to focus on building on the strengths of an organization, instead of fixating on weaknesses like traditional consulting does. Of course, deficits are identified, but the goal is to create alignment around the areas from which the greatest value will be derived.

I use a number of alignment tools, including the Clarity Performance IndexTM, to create agreement around the six sides of the box. Leaders should look at the balance that exists within each dimension and across each side. The box also creates two distinct systems — the strategic system (directions and operations) and the culture system (people and engagement) — that must be balanced to create the necessary and healthy flow of energy, ideas and leadership within an organization. This framework amplifies the energy that cascades throughout the organization by alleviating any misconceptions, obstructions or imbalances. Identifying misalignments between who we are internally and how we are experienced externally helps to dispel confusion and drive lasting performance.

Clarity demands intentionality throughout the organization. It requires the leader to be purposeful about not only the levers pulled, but the manner in which they are executed. It is the deployment of these levers — staples in organizations such as behavioral alignment, organizational structure, performance management and organizational communication — that helps to promote the most desired outcomes.

Companies have become compliant in the implementation of these levers by neglecting the ongoing cultivation this process requires. The result of a compliant company is often labeled as good or good enough. The highest performing companies have chosen a fundamentally different path, understanding that good actually kills companies, stunts development, decreases safety and creates opportunities for competitors. Leaders are forced to choose between being a compliant company and a committed company. Leaders that reject compliance by committing to continuous improvement achieve a fundamentally different future state.

Of course, humanizing the organization and its brand is fundamental to being able to attract and retain customers. Equally important is the need to create a more likable, human persona inside the organization — making the leader more approachable, the culture more defined and actionable, and the goals more attainable and replicable. This is done by behavioralizing the expectations of leaders and employees alike, leveraging creative connection points, creating innovative collateral and designing the environment intentionally to create meaningful engagement and memorable experiences. When we humanize, we bring both the people and the inanimate company to life, making it personally relevant and tangible for people to embrace.

When we work to make that deep human connection — and yes, it can be made across all industries and levels of a workforce — we are able to unleash people, performance and profit and create a model for endurance and lasting success.

As I reflect on my earliest days with the “Greatest Show on Earth,” I realize the power of clarity lies not in the circus’ three rings; rather, it relies on one focused ring where all the elements of a purposeful organization are defined, aligned and organized. It is here where leaders are able to rethink what is possible. In fact, it is in this space that clarity creates an environment where more is possible. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages,” that is the magic of clarity.

YPO member Brad Deutser is a leading business consultant, culture strategist, executive coach, and trusted counselor to CEOs, board chairs and top corporate management for high-profile organizations — including numerous Fortune 500 companies and leading nonprofits. Through Deutser, a consulting firm, and Deutser Clarity Institute, a think tank, idea accelerator and learning lab, Deutser works closely with leaders to help them build great companies inside and out, especially during times of transition, crisis and growth. He is the author of “Leading Clarity — The Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash People, Profit and Performance.”