2. Being clear about what really matters

Why it matters

To operate an organization in balance between High Alignment and High Autonomy, clear intent is essential. This practice is about formulating a clear intent as a task and a purpose, making choices, identifying key outcomes and designating priorities.

Being clear about what really matters throughout an organization provides high level clarity about what to achieve and why it’s important. This direction acts as a frame of reference for everyone as it provides a common picture of what success looks like and a set of measures which tell everyone the extent to which success has been achieved.

Being clear about what really matters promotes:

  • Leaders doing the right things at the right level
  • People being allowed freedom to act
  • Faster adaptation when situations change

How it works

A fundamental premise is that leadership is responsible for being clear about what really matters. They set ‘direction’ or intent consisting of an outcome and the purpose behind it. Typically, intent is developed within the context of what really matters at one and two organizational levels above the current level.

When intent is clear it helps people prioritize what is most important. With suitable guidance on goals and boundaries, intent is used to empower subordinate teams to deliver, with as much freedom as possible to determine how the goal is to be achieved.

To be clear about what really matters, leaders should avoid trying to direct more than is absolutely necessary and planning beyond the circumstances that they can foresee. Specifying too much detail confuses people and creates uncertainty when things don’t turn out as planned. Telling people how to achieve their intent disempowers them, reduces the scope for people to use their ingenuity to achieve the task and weakens accountability.

Teams are able to exercise their freedom to make decisions when they share a common operating picture with the leaders setting direction, have clarity about what really matters and are allocated sufficient resources and support to achieve the task.

To be clear about what really matters, intent must:

  • articulate what matters most now
  • make choices
  • be realistic
  • not contain unnecessary detail – accurate but not precise
  • be at the right level of specificity
  • form a framework for decision-making at the next level of specificity
  • open up future options