Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Karen Martin

Ambiguous talk? Or ambiguous intent? And the disaster of over-helpful management

We’re having a crisis of ambiguity in organizations, and it’s costing billions, inserting unnecessary risk, and draining productivity.

Dan Rockwell. Oct. 10, 2018

The cure? Clarity. Clarity creates an environment in which people can perform at their best.

8 practices that produce clarity:

Declare intent. Be clear about what you are trying to communicate. Think about what you want the recipient to learn, decide, or do.

 Know thy audience. Clarity is in the eye of the beholder. Think about who you are talking to and why. What foundational knowledge do they already have? What “state” are they in when you deliver the message?

Timing is everything. Are they busy or distracted? Savvy communicators are particularly strategic, especially about when to have difficult conversations.

Be honest. Show people the respect they deserve by leveling with them.

Choose words wisely. The use of acronyms, esoteric terms, business jargon, and elitist language increases the distance between you and listeners and creates ambiguity.

Ambiguous language erodes trust.

Answer questions. If you’re asked a yes-or-no question, honor the questioner by responding in the simplest way. If a simple answer warrants details or contextual clarification, provide it after you have answered the question.

Watch your tone. Your tone affects the recipient’s ability to receive your message. If you don’t keep your cool, why should anyone else?

Be precise. Avoid fuzzy words (diplomatic sentences) that fail to answer a question. Operating with clarity builds confidence for peak performance.

How might leaders create greater clarity in organizations?

Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management.

Her latest book, Clarity First, is her most provocative to date. It diagnoses the ubiquitous business management and leadership problems that a lack of clarity produces, and outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational and individual performance.


Adonis49 Note: You never Own an idea until you discover the answer and solution by Yourself, within a reflective process. Any other ideas are Not authentic part of your world view.

Maybe you’re working way too hard. A young manager said, “I want to stop doing other people’s jobs for them.”


The young manager had learned during the workshop that being overly helpful isn’t helpful.

When you’re promoted into management, it’s easy to hang on to parts of your old job while adding a bucket of management responsibilities.

Inexperienced managers mistakenly think that doing part of someone’ s job is kindness or compassion. But it’s disaster.

3 dangers of over-helpfulness:

#1. Dependency. New managers fall into the seduction of I’ll-Take-Care-of-That-for-You. Maybe it seems quicker. Maybe it makes you feel important.

Once you do part of someone’s job, guess what happens next time?

#2. Stress. Once you take on other people’s responsibilities, you become a stressed out – over-helpful – manager. Your team goes home on time. You stay late doing their work.

When you began your career, having answers was important and necessary. When you earn a management role, start asking people…

  1. What are you trying to accomplish?
  2. If you could solve this with a magic wand, what would the result be?
  3. What have you tried? (Never enter a problem-solving conversation until you ask, “What have you tried?”)
  4. What do YOU think YOU could do? Be sure to use “you” not “we”. Never say, “we,” unless you are going to get personally involved.

The difference between encouragement and doing part of someone’s job is ownership and responsibility. When you encourage, they still have responsibility. When you solve, you take ownership.

#3. Poor performance: The over-helpful manger is a bottleneck to organizational performance. Everyone waits for Over-Helpful to step in. What If Over-Helpful isn’t available?

The point of management is creating environments where people thrive.

What are some symptoms of over-helpful management?

What does healthy helpfulness look like?

“Your assumption can be perfectly clear and perfectly wrong.”

Testing assumptions makes you look stupid or misinformed.

You can’t handle the truth. Thus, I’m skipping clarity?

if you don’t begin your elaboration with clarity, by starting with a clear answer of Yes, No, I don’t know, it’s Not likely you’ll achieve clarity in your exposition

“You can be perfectly clear and perfectly wrong.”
Karen Martin, “The Outstanding Organization.”

Note: This piece can be applicable to all kind of activities in a daily life, and Not just customers, selling services and organizational management.

Assumptions are unquestioned “truths.” Everyone knows the answer to the obvious. Why don’t you?

Assumptions create false confidence by preventing obvious questions.

Unquestioned assumptions
ultimately distill into malaise.

Finding clarity is simple. (If it was that simple, why people live under false reality?)

Ask obvious questions that probe assumptions. In other words, ask questions that make you look dumb. (Not dumb to people with experimental mind)

Asking the obvious:

Successful leaders persistently challenge assumptions with simple questions. 

Four questions enable organizational clarity. Don’t assume the answers are obvious.

  1. Who is your external customer?
  2. What value do you deliver to that customer?
  3. Who, in your company, delivers that value?
  4. How do they deliver that value?

Bonus: How do you communicate your value to current customers?

Clarity concerning customers:

Karen suggests asking:

  1. Who do you serve?
  2. How do they make money?
  3. What problem are you solving for them?
  4. Why do they choose your company…?
  5. How do they use the goods or services you provide?

Clarity concerning value:

“Hallmark may produce greeting cards, but its value lies in helping people communicate a feeling….” Karen Martin.

Conversations that distinguish value from product do enlighten organizations to their purpose.

Karen says shifting from product to value reflects a shift in perspective.

  • Product question: “What do we make?”
  • Value question: “What do they get?”

Others explain your value. You can’t.

Clarity through conversation:

Karen suggests conversations produce clarity. When was the last time you sat with a customer to get to know them?

Clarity through failure:

A client of mine lost a client, recently. Rather than writing them off, they met with them to explore what went wrong. The value they didn’t deliver explains the value they must deliver. (Assuming that client is one they want to serve.)

Read chapter one of Karen’s book: “The Outstanding Organization.” Absolutely no obligation or email required.

How have you seen or experienced the danger of assumptions?

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” Francois Gautier


All outstanding organizations pursue clarity, passionately. Lack of clarity comforts the mediocre.

Karen explains strategies for developing clarity in her new book, “The Outstanding Organization.”

  1. Embrace truth telling and truth seeking. In my experience, there is damn little of this in organizations. Nearly every organizational leader I know shades the truth; we lie. Why do “noble” leaders lie? Because we believe people can’t handle the truth. Think about it.
  2. Eliminate “soft” language. Martin says, “Telling someone the honest truth … about his performance, or about a challenge the company faces is fundamentally an act of respect.” Turn this around. Shading the truth is profound, degrading disrespect.
  3. Expose fuzzy words. I’m sick to death of terms like; better, near, almost, fast, slow, high, and low. This language is confusing at best and deceiving at worst. Be specific or shut up because you’re wasting everyone’s time and likely tooting your own horn.
  4. Eradicate, “Maybe,” and “I’m not sure.” Karen says, “Do your best to preface every answer with, ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘I don’t know.’” You may need to elaborate, but if you don’t begin with clarity, it’s Not likely you’ll achieve it. Karen says “Yes and no” is cheating! 

Apart from seeking clarity, what strategies do you employ in your pursuit of excellence?

What do all outstanding organizations do?

How can leaders uncover assumptions and create clarity?




September 2021

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