Mark Hinderliter

By Mark Hinderliter

Clarity Accelerates Performance

Clarity Accelerates Performance 150 150 Mark Hinderliter

Clarity creates alignment, and alignment boosts performance.

There is a great line in the classic movie Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman.  In one of the memorable scenes, the prison warden says to Luke (in a very Southern drawl), “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  It didn’t go well for Luke.

Why is clarity so critical?

The practice of creating clarity has two simple objectives.  Sharing information with people so they can perform their jobs at a high level, and keeping everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction, towards meaningful objectivesClarity creates alignment—simple concept; challenging to do well. The job of creating clarity is never done.  New people come into the organization, priorities change, so much communication coming in with texts, emails, phone calls, one-on-conversations, video calls, and more video calls, and team meetings.  If that isn’t enough, the world is changing right under our feet.  What may have been true and clear last week may not be true or clear today.  In her book titled, “Clarity First,” Karen Martin asserts that High degrees of clarity create high performing organizations; low clarity drags organizations into an abyss of poor performance with frustrated leaders, disengaged employees and dissatisfied customers.  Because no organization creates clarity perfectly, the ones that do it well have a distinct advantage over those just winging it.

The impact on performance.

Consider these two projects.

Project 1. The first project has a clear purpose, a budget, a well-defined scope, and the right people on the team who are clear about the roles.  The project has a clear set of deliverables and a time frame to deliver them. In this project, there are regular team meetings with candid conversations about what is going well, what is not, and how to course-correct.  Any changes in scope are well communicated to everyone.  As a result, team members leave each meeting with clarity about the path forward.  So, what is the likelihood of this project delivering the expected outcomes on time and on budget?  How will the team members feel about working on this project?

Project 2. The second project has the same good intentions as the first project, as well as good people.  The objectives and scope of the project are a little fuzzy.  Not everyone is clear about their role and how it intersects with other people’s roles on the project.  This team also has meetings to discuss the project.  Changes to the project may not be explained to everyone sufficiently.  So, team members don’t always leave with what course corrections need to be made. This team keeps going down the original path, pushing them off-track.  Same questions: What is the likelihood of this project delivering the expected outcomes on time and on budget?  How will these team members feel about working on this project?

The same principles apply to teams and organizations.

What happened with these two projects also happens with teams and organizations.  The teams and organizations with ongoing clarity stand a strong chance of everyone pulling in the same direction towards the same goals, resulting in alignment and strong performance.  The teams and organizations that lack ongoing clarity have people pulling in different directions towards different goals, resulting in wasted time and energy.  Like the projects, teams, and organizations that have ongoing clarity have a distinct advantage over those who lack it.

Where is clarity important?

Consider these areas of what I call the “Clarity Ladder.”

  1. Purpose. Communicating purpose provides everyone with the “Why” the company exists.  It can be a source of pride and enthusiasm.
  2. Strategy.  Everyone who is clear about the strategy knows how they connect to the big picture.
  3. Values.  Values are a set of promises to your people and customers.  Think about the implications of how your company lives up to that set of promises.  Creating loyalty or cynicism?
  4. Priorities.  When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.  Clarity of priorities provides focus.
  5. Projects and Initiatives.  As discussed in the projects above, clarity impacts outcomes.
  6. Significant changes. Anyone who is not informed of a significant change does not work in current reality, causing frustration, resentment and poor engagement.
  7. Individual responsibilities. Many surveys reveal more than half of employees in the U.S. are not clear about their responsibilities.  Clarity of expectations supports higher performance.  The reverse is also true.

A Model for Creating Clarity

One of the techniques I teach is the 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭, 𝐒𝐨 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭, 𝐍𝐨𝐰 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 method. As you are planning a communication, consider these three questions.

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭. What is the key takeaway you want people to be crystal clear about in your communication?

𝐒𝐨 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭. Why does this communication matter – to the receivers of the communication?

𝐍𝐨𝐰 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭. Information by itself is rarely useful. When people are clear about why it matters – and what you are specifically asking them to do, meaningful actions start happening, impacting performance.

A manager in one of my leadership workshops reported this. “I do a pretty good job with the 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 and 𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭. When I started including the 𝐬𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 I started getting more buy-in, and people taking more initiative.” One adjustment to this manager’s communications made a big impact.


Mark Hinderliter works with clients to develop people strategies that align with their business strategy.  His experience as a Senior Vice President for a billion-dollar global enterprise along with a PhD in Organization and Management are a unique fusion of real-world experience and academic credentials.  His superpowers are Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

Mark is a United States Army Veteran.  He is the creator of the leadership program Diamond Quality Leadership: Leadership Skills for Today’s Workforce.

You can follow Mark on LinkedIn at