Clarity, Alignment and Action - 3 outstanding principles to get work done

Clarity, Alignment and Action - 3 outstanding principles to get work done

This week I’d like to introduce three guiding principles I use regarding how I tackle any leadership position I take on.

It’s common to see the following three principles missing in workplaces, and execs mobilising huge numbers of people into action – and causing confusion, internal competition, misdirection. It all results in busy work leading to little business value, frustrated staff and missed opportunities for business success.

The three guiding principles are: Clarity; Alignment; Action. And each of these is a communication problem (and therefore an opportunity).

Each of these are Leadership or Management 101. When they are missing you get busy work tied to no tangible outcomes. You see duplicate work. You see people working on different paths, as it’s not clear who’s doing what. You see competing goals causing friction.

In a sense, you see confusion happening and a demoralised workplace.

Clarity, Alignment and Action are all about effective communication too.

So, if you’re a leader or manager, or in charge of a project, try to weave these three big ticket items into your thinking, analysis, and day-to-day behaviours. And use your communication behaviours to bring it all to life.


Clarity is the first step. Clear, simple, and careful clarity over what the problems are, what the plan is and what success could look like (with measures).

  • What are you trying to achieve and why?
  • How do you know this work is worthwhile?
  • What does success look like?
  • Who is doing what?
  • How will people communicate and report?
  • What is the plan?

I worked with a leader once who had mobilised 500+ people towards a vague destination. Some people didn’t mind that (remember, DISC is at play here and around 25-50% of your workforce are comfortable with ambiguity).

Other people did mind. They were confused and lacked direction. They didn’t understand what role they played. They had no sense that the plan was well considered or thought through (the reality was – it was not well thought through).

So, we stopped.

Stop. Pause. Gain clarity. What are we doing and why? What does success look like? What are the boundaries of this work? Who’s involved and why?

The first step of my Releasing Business Agility Model is about painting a bright future – this is all about clarity.

Step 2 of my model is then forming a strategy (a bright future, truth about our current reality and a plan) – this is clarity too.

Gaining clarity and communicating with clarity are key to success as a business leader or manager. And in our personal life also.

And again, we need to pay attention to DISC. Some people will appreciate a town hall or PowerPoint or team meeting about this renewed clarity. Others will want detailed plans and face to face meetings.

Communicating with clarity requires outstanding communication skills: emotion, understanding how people prefer to communicated with, storytelling, different mediums, enthusiasm, listening – all aspects covered in the communication workshop.

Without clarity of what you’re trying to achieve though, it’s tough to mobilise people without a lot of fallout, no matter how good your communication behaviours are.


Once we have clarity, we need alignment. We need people on board and aligned – this helps the right action to take place.

We need to build relationships with other leaders and managers to garner alignment. After all, all customer work crosses functional boundaries.

We need commitment to making the plan happen. We need to align the right people, in the right place, with the right skills. We need alignment to the plan and a buy-in and enthusiasm for the outcomes, from all involved.

This all takes immense personal skill and effective communication. It requires clarity of communication.

Alignment, of course, is made much easier when it is clear what we’re trying to do.

Alignment doesn’t mean consensus. It is natural for others to disagree with a plan or a strategy – it happens all the time. Disagreements are good and should be encouraged. A good disagreement with data and pitched well, can help to make the plan better. If we strive for consensus, we’ll likely see the ambitions watered down and confusion set in. It’s not easy being a manager or leader – you will need to make decisions that ruffle a few people.

We need people to disagree with our plans. We need to listen. And we need to decide, with clarity, about what we’re going to do. Once this has happened, and you have listened to objections or improvements, it’s time for people to “disagree and commit”. As in, they have disagreed, and you have listened, but they now need to commit to the final decision.

And this is alignment.

It will take some politics (relationships/communication), or some convincing (communication) or some selling (communication) or some storytelling (communication), or some hard conversations (communication). But alignment around the goals, or outcomes, or painted pictures, makes it all a lot easier. Alignment is essential for right action.

Alignment around a clear outcome or purpose is the remit of leaders and managers. It becomes much harder to achieve success if people are not aligned to the business results, or they wander off and do busy work in another direction.

Alignment is also about reporting standards, cross team goals and communication of completed work. Not micromanagement, just solid robust ways to keep everyone aligned and informed about the work as it happens. Alignment is about setting expectations and ensuring everyone is clear, and keeping people informed as work progresses.


If we know what we’re trying to do and people are aligned around it, then we should see rapid, productive action towards our outcomes.

Without clarity people will do work that may not matter. When not aligned, people may do valuable work but at odds to others. Duplicate work can happen here too.

Action without clarity and alignment can be wasteful.

DISC helps with these principles

When I run the Leadership Communication workshop, I ask each attendee to complete a DISC assessment. I use DISC to tease out whether all three principles (Clarity, Alignment, Action) are covered by the make-up of the team.

It’s not uncommon, at even the highest levels in a business, to find the team is made up of people with a bias towards one of the three area (Clarity, Alignment, Action). After all, many leaders build teams full of people like themselves. (And the HR recruitment process, if implemented well, should guard against this).

For example, I ran a workshop with a leadership team in a large tech company who were struggling to get traction on a new initiative. They had spent many millions on trying to get to a new way of working. DISC highlighted that 90% of their leadership team were high D → dominating and decisive individuals with a bias for action.

They had no problems deciding between themselves on what needed to be done and immediately went into action mode. Only they skipped the alignment principle almost entirely. They had around 5k people in the business mis-aligned. It was on them to align people (explain, convince, sell, coordinate, listen, support etc) and they had missed this.

They’d gone straight for action – and that action was all over the place and people were confused or not bought in. It was no surprise that 5k people didn’t really know what they were doing.

Another management team I ran the workshop with, were made up of mostly high S – steadiness (think harmony and alignment). They had no problem building relationships with people across the business ready for alignment, but when I asked them what they were aligning around I got silence.

They hadn’t decided and hence people were sat stalled, busying themselves with trivial work waiting for….clarity.

We need to be careful with pigeon holing people, but the best leadership teams are diverse, in gender, age, ethnicity etc, but also in behaviours. They have people who can make tough decisions in the face of resistance to gain clarity.

They have people who can communicate these decisions with clarity and create multiple mediums to share the message – alignment and clarity. They have people who can rally the masses and get people energised for the work.

They have people who can do the interpersonal work of aligning key stakeholders (there’s a reason stakeholder maps exist) and selling the vision – alignment.

They have people who can take this clarity and alignment and make it happen – action.

And of course, we can develop a rounded set of these behaviours ourselves – but be careful, when we go against our natural tendencies, we use more energy and attention. I love deciding and planning and rousing people around a common goal. I’m not so strong at action.

It’s why my books take so long to see the light of day 🙂 Good teams are made up of people who help achieve these three things: Clarity, Alignment and Action.

And each of these principles needs exceptional communication skills to bring to life. When I say that 99% of problems are related to communication, I am generally correct. Many problems in business are due to a lack of clarity. Or a lack of alignment across teams that need to come together to make it happen.

Clarity over what we’re doing is essential. Once we have clarity, we need alignment across the business. And then we need the right action.

So, if you find yourself working on a project in trouble, or a business in panic, or a team in confusion, I recommend you take a step back and look at the overall work, no matter how big or small. And study whether people are clear as to why they are doing what they are doing. Do they have clarity over the goals and plan?

Are people aligned around it (with common shared goals and direction)? Are leaders aligned and playing ball? Are people aligned around the outcomes?

And is action taking place in the right direction? Or are people spending their time in meetings discussing what they are even doing (I see this SO often)?

Communication is the key here.

Gain clarity over what it is you are trying to achieve. Gain alignment from those who need to align. And direct right action towards achieving the goals.

99% of problems in business are to do with poor communication. It’s why I ALWAYS follow communication threads in every business.

Improving communication and providing clarity is one of the most significant levers anyone in the business can pull.

And let’s face it – when I follow the communication thread it ends up at a leader or managers door. They seed confusion through a lack of clarity and alignment.

It’s why I always say that business agility belongs to leaders and managers. They are responsible for clarity, alignment, and guiding action.

All three principles working in harmony is the sweet spot – you’re cultivating a workplace that enriches the lives of all in it – and adding value to your customers too.