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Clarity – not slogans or communication style – speeds up transformations.

In a world dominated by low attention spans and carefully scripted messages, it’s becoming harder to know what leaders actually believe and represent.

Style over substance has dominated politics for decades. Back in the 1990s, Tony Blair talked about the “The Third Way”, but never clearly defined it beyond abstract principles. Gerhard Schröder copied him with the “Neue Mitte” – the new middle. In this sense, Trump, Bolsonaro and the Brexiteers are (sadly) nothing new, just more extreme.

When we substitute style for clarity, transformations fail.

Last year, a new client asked me to support a senior management team for a year through a digital transformation process. “Sure!” was my reply. Three weeks, two calls and two meetings later, the CEO was still unable to define “digital transformation”. I knew we were in for the long-haul.

In another company, the top team launched Forward to 2021 – a three year, company-wide transformation initiative. As one employee put it “Forward to 2021 sounds like Back to the Future.” Another person suggested it sounded more like a struggling political party, on the fringe of mainstream politics.

Once again, clarity came second, far behind the fancy communications plan for Forward to 2021. Nobody on the top management team could or would define it beyond abstract statements like, “Get close to the customer” and “Quality service through digital channels.”

With Forward to 2021 reduced to meaningless slogans, most managers and employees were already betting that the transformation would fall apart. Without a clear direction, but with an honest desire to do their best, each business unit manager followed their own agenda. What else would they do?

We showed the executive team that a good place to start any transformation is at the intersection of three dimensions:

  • Customer needs
  • Top team clarity
  • Organisational needs

When we understand what customers want; when the top management team sets a clear direction; when managers are aware of the what the organisation needs (i.e. changes to the structure, systems, processes and people) needed to bring that change about… this is the point where clarity emerges and transformations succeed.

Getting to this point is hard work. Above all, it takes ambitious aims, executive courage, trust in others and reality-based dialogs. Striving for that clarity makes the message meaningful. And it makes it stick. For sure, not everyone in the company will like what you say. But the joy is in building and re-building a company that serves its customers well and can transform itself successfully.

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Client Testimonials

You have brought a direct positive impact on our sales… because people work more customer-oriented. Our efficiency levels... are continuously growing.

AL Managing Director

Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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