Work: The connection between clarity and empowerment

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Just came across this article on Harvard Business Review about “prioritizing your life before your manager prioritizes it for you,” which seems like a good idea for an article — hell, I clicked on it — until you stop and realize the employee-manager relationship is semi-doomed and most people at work, especially managers, don’t know how to set their own priorities.

There’s a cool section near the middle that begins with this sentence: “Clarity is the beginning of all empowerment.” It then discusses some of the key things you should discuss with your manager to craft a social contract around work, and work-life balance. They are:

  • What is the most important, mutually beneficial, desired result over the next X period of time?
  • Why is this important?
  • What needs to be eliminated, deferred or reduced?
  • What resources need to be reallocated or increased?
  • When will we get together to review progress?
  • What are the consequences (positive or negative) for performance or nonperformance?

Sounds about right. In essence, design priorities around what really matters.

This is where it can start to get a little dicey, though.

If you were to make a list of 100 words you associate with work, I’d reckon most people — even those that love their jobs — would not reference the word “clarity” on their list.

There’s a fairly simple reason for this, right? Clarity is tied to communication. Communication is a soft skill. Plenty of terrible communicators have still brought in high margins for their company over the last century. It’s not seen as necessary to bottom-line success; as a result, people don’t prioritize it. That’s my two cents, anyway. If people cared about communication and clarity in a business, you’d see more women in higher ranks, you’d see marketing have a bigger internal role, and you’d see CorpComm as a bigger function than it is (at most places, people view stuff like CorpComm as a suckling at the bonus teat).

But here’s the problem: clarity really does lead to empowerment, because if you’re clear on what’s expected of you, then you can easily go and do that thing. (Well, maybe not “easily,” but still … with some aplomb, let’s hope.) The problem: by some measures, 50 percent of people — 1 in 2! — don’t know what’s expected of them at work.

How can work be an “empowering” place, then — how can we continue the “work is virtue” narrative? — if empowerment needs to come from clarity, but clarity doesn’t really exist in the midst of daily deliverables and The Temple Of Busy?

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.

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