This is part 3 of The Organizational Clarity Series. We encourage you to start with an introduction to the idea in part 1, HERE.

If you can’t talk freely with the most junior members of your organization, then you’ve lost touch.” ―Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos

We’ve finally labored with our leadership team in creating our essential core as discussed in part 2 – great! Now what? Well, now we need to validate this core by clarifying it.

I worked with a team once that was deliberate in creating their core for the first time, which was an awesome effort to watch. They created a grand vision statement, mission statement, defined team values, leader’s priorities, and a robust set of goals. The team presented their core’s framework on a well-designed single sheet of paper with the team logo and all. But, unfortunately, that defined core didn’t go anywhere beyond that sheet of paper.

Then, a new leader assumed responsibility of the team a while later and he refined the core into a set of leader priorities, values, and goals. Ok – we have made progress to a more defined core! But the energy behind those ideas died after a few months.

Finally, another leader assumed responsibility and did away with everything but the five team values. That became the essential core…and it stuck! And now that set of shared values have remained in place as the team’s essential core through three evolutions of a new leadership and management teams in charge.

Why didn’t the first round of the team’s essential core last? Or the second? It’s because those core frameworks were not sufficiently clarified. In order for our teams’ essential cores to resonate across the team, endure, and remain impactful, our frameworks must be clarified. We clarify our essential cores by organizing the framework, simplifying it, and ultimately making it emotional and concrete.

How to Clarify Our Core

I’ve found that teams often have great intentions and inspiring visions, but they don’t take the critical steps of clarifying their intentions into organized, simple, and concrete ideas. If it isn’t super clear and simple to us, we cannot expect it to be to others; we need to make it as easy as possible to make our core both simply understand and be inspired by.

To do that, we must engage in a few additional iterations of brainstorming and refining (I argue around a whiteboard) to make these essential ideas super clear. We categorize these efforts into better organizing the core, simplifying it, and making it emotional & concrete.

“It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.” —Georgia O’Keeffe

Organize It. Our ideals that compose our team’s essential core must connect and flow in a commonsensical and logical way. These cannot be compartmentalized ideas, lacking a coherent map to them. To clarify our team’s core, we must clearly organize its components. We can accomplish this in two distinct ways.

  • “Mind Map” the Core: We do not believe there is a correct range of how many components create your team’s essential core. But what they must be is coherent. The components must easily relate to, feed into or off of, and mutually support one another to achieve whatever your team exists to do. The best way we believe to demonstrate a coherent core is by mapping them out like a system with inputs, processes, and outputs. For example, our 3×5 Leadership team’s core is comprised of seven total components; the most critical components include our driving story, our core ideology, our vision, defined intent behind our name, and a mission (outlining our temporary team goals). These components are coherent because they all feed into or off of one another, with the core ideology as the central hub of the system. This helps our teammates and external stakeholders better understand the essential basics of our brand to include who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I encourage you to spend some brainstorming time to achieve something similar to ensure your core is composed of a coherent system of components.
  • Consider the “Perspective Spectrum”: We believe there are two basic, enduring questions of any team with a purpose – “why” and “how.” Different types of components of our core can attend to different levels of those questions, so we should consider the “perspective spectrum” offered below to ensure we can sufficiently answer both questions up and down the team. For the team’s top leaders, they are often quite comfortable with the why of their team. But they must continue to refine and drive the how to accomplish that, ultimately through goals and implementing actionable mechanisms. Conversely, junior team members who execute and manage those team mechanisms understand the how. But through the challenges of day-to-day work, they may struggle in seeing the bigger picture. So, they may routinely be asking why up the leadership chain if not properly informed. We can help bridge both gaps by applying the spectrum offered and ensuring our core’s components adequately attend to both the why and how of our team for our people at all levels to understand and connect with.

Simplify It. As the opening quote by Jim Mattis reminds us, we must maintain the perspective of our most junior team members. If they cannot understand, connect with, and be inspired by our essential core, then it doesn’t matter, and we need to return to the drawing board. The opening story of the team that I observed evolving their essential core was a perfect example of simplifying the core. The first attempt was admirable, absolutely! But it was complicated and not coherent. But, by simplifying the core down further to just a set of values, it enabled every member at every level of the team to connect to this shared identity, which ultimately made it both effective and enduring.

The process of simplifying also addresses the scope of our core. When you look at your defined team core, what does it communicate as truly important for you and your team? Does it give focus to what matters regarding who you are, what you do, and why you do it? Or, which is most often the case, is it so broad that everything can be considered important? Take a critical look at your standing team core and consider the scope of what you’re defining and if it is appropriate (too broad or too narrow). For example, referencing back to Johnson & Johnson’s credo mentioned in part 2 – it is a long statement that is likely not memorized by J&J employees. However, it is very clear on the four populations that they are responsible (think loyal) to…and in a specific order. This core for J&J provides clarity through simplicity, which ultimately equips and empowers every J&J member to act according to those interests.

So, in order to simplify, we must apply the perspective of our most junior team members to ensure it applies and resonates with them and consider the scope of our core to make it appropriately scaled and not too broad or narrow.

Make It Emotional & Concrete. Lastly, we need to make this core real to everyone on our team. Before you read further, we encourage you to check out the Built to Last quote at the bottom of this piece. As we can see, the reality is that our people don’t live day-to-day among a cloud of aspirational abstract ideas. We need to give it substance so that our people (internal and external stakeholders alike) can hold on to, feel, and connect with it each day. This part of the clarifying process is challenging as it requires a bit of creative thinking, but we believe there are a few things you can do to ensure your team’s essential core is emotional (inspiring) and concrete for your people.

  • Ensure It is Shared & Discovered: From the team I observed (introduced earlier), their first two attempts of defining their essential core didn’t stick for a few reasons. However, a predominant one was because many of the components were not authentic to the team and reflected more of the leaders’ personal ambitions. The leader’s espoused priorities did not align with what the team needed to focus on, and the goals were more arbitrary metrics that only the team’s leadership cared about. They violated the authenticity variable of a core as discussed in part 2. Again, our core and its components must be discovered – extracted from our team’s identity that they can align with like an excavation site. They are not random shots into space that our people cannot relate to.
  • Make It Memorable: Organizing and simplifying are mechanisms to enable our team to actually remember our essential core, which is the necessary first step. But rote memorization of the core does not make it memorable. The team discussed earlier simplified their core to a set of five values that followed the acronym, OCARE. It was a goofy acronym, but that is what eventually led it to become memorable! Anyone can memorize five simple values, but they brought the values to life across the team through the simple action of naming it through a fun acronym. Referring back to Johnson & Johnson, I believe they achieve a similar end. Their credo is a unique statement, not replicated by other companies. Making it novel in that way makes it emotional and memorable. We must ensure our team’s essential core is first something that people can remember, but then also make it memorable and emotional for them.
  • Shape It with a Story or Stories: If there is one thing we’ve learned about being part of the developing digital age, it’s that information alone does not convince people. Getting someone to care is an emotional endeavor and one of the best ways to do that is through the use of stories. Stories can help shape and inform perspective, helping others to make sense of and see things through a new lens.

Helpful Resources

If interested in exploring more on clarifying your team’s essential core, I recommend these books below as they have been essential in shaping my thinking around this important process and in applying it to our own team’s essential core.

“People don’t work day-to-day in the ‘big picture.’ They work in the nitty-gritty details of their company and its business. Not that the big picture is irrelevant, but it’s the little things that make a big impression, that send powerful signals.” ― Jim Collins & Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last

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  1. One of my favorite quotes is from Antione de Saint Exupery – “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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