Karen Martin’s Clarity First: a book review

Image result for clarity first bookWhen I first received Karen Martin’s book, Clarity First, I thumbed through it and thought it was going to be a chore to get through. My cursory thumbing only seemed to reveal what, on first appearances, looked like a very technical, overly business-y tome. Boy was I wrong. This book proved to be one of the better ones I have read all year.

The key theme of the book is the critical importance to organizational success of getting clear, really clear, 6-year-old uncomplicated clear about why you do what you do and the actions necessary to achieve it. Martin proposes that one of biggest roadblocks to success, if not the biggest, is ambiguity, the opposite of clarity. When things are ambiguous, people just don’t know why their organization does what it does and exactly how they connect to it, and this results in mediocrity, inconsistency, and general unrest at best.

The book is built around five Ps: Purpose, Priorities, Process, Performance, and Problem Solving with a couple of concluding chapters on you as an individual and how you influence clarity, and then a final summary of the key points in the book.

After an opening chapter that acts as a kind of introduction and overview, the Purpose chapter focuses on why an organization exists and how that is communicated to all team members. This discussion stays true to the theme of the book by getting clear on the purpose of purpose. A good example is this quote, “having a clear purpose ensures that no one is off doing their best at something that does not matter to the organization.” As with all of the chapters, Martin includes a step-by-step methodology, and in this case, it’s for determining your organization’s purpose and how to get your team on board.

In Priorities, Martin connects purpose to determining critical priorities for the organization. She gives us a road map for how to define priorities, get agreement from key stakeholders, and then track performance related to them. Martin creates a very straightforward how-to guide all the way through this section that any organization can follow and implement.  If you are a fan of Franklin Covey’s Four Disciplines of Execution, you will enjoy this chapter.

The Process chapter addresses getting systems aligned to the purpose and priorities to ensure they bring appropriate and relevant value. Martin gives us a methodology for streamlining and uncomplicating processes so that employees can get the work done as excellently, efficiently, and easily as possible. As I see it, this chapter speaks to a critical need that, if implemented, would increase employee happiness in organizations everywhere. Many business leaders would do well to read and re-read this chapter.

In Performance, the author speaks to continuously improving. Here we get a primer on the methods and approaches necessary to drive excellence. In quotes like this, “all team members need to understand what the KPIs mean, what the targets are, and how the organization references those targets,” Martin hammers home the need to track progress with balanced performance indicators and goals, and then communicate very openly and transparently with visible scorecards.

The last of the five Ps is Problem Solving. Here Martin clarifies the need to make problem solving part of everyone’s responsibility and gives us some training in finding root causes and developing solutions, or, as she calls them, countermeasures. In this chapter, she also presents us with a coaching model to help infuse her problem-solving process in an organization.

The last two chapters give us first, as stated above, some thoughts about the importance of leadership in this total effort and how individuals need to operate with clarity in thought, word, and deed if the whole thing is going to work, and second, an overall summary of the whole book.

Karen Martin’s Clarity First is chock full of take-aways that are well worth diving into. Any leader, whether of a large corporation, non-profit, small startup, or even church or club, would do well to pick up a copy of this book, read it, and implement many, if not all, of the methods and approaches outlined.

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