-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.
The importance of clarity.
What does it mean to say that we are doing something? It means that:
- Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) knows what it is and what it’s supposed to do.
- Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) is equipped to do it.
We’ll get to the second condition in the next article. This week article is about the importance of knowing what you are doing and about helping you and your team get clear on your work and what you hope to achieve.
Before you read too far, I want you to know that there are more important questions for me to answer. Questions like:
- How do we know that we need to do something?
- Who gets to decide what we’re doing?
- Who is this thing we’re doing for, and why aren’t they here right now?
- Who does this thing we’re doing leave out, and why aren’t they here now?
I’ve linked articles from colleagues with skills and knowledge to help answer these questions, and I encourage you to read those articles too. After all, if you’re reading my blog, it’s probably because you are a leader of some kind in a caring profession, and you want to do the work the right way.
For now, what I want to do is to provide a framework for thinking about something important that you are already working on. Using this framework will help you and your team get clear about your goals, increase the efficacy of your strategy, and elevate the success of your work.
Everyone who’s supposed to do it knows what it is, who it is for, and what it is supposed to do.
Whether your school has been a Project Based Learning school for years or if your agency just started a staff wellness initiative, everyone who is supposed to be doing the thing must know what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s supposed to do.
Here is a simple exercise to take action towards clarity:
- Name the thing you’re doing.
- Name who the thing you’re doing is supposed to help.
- Describe what the thing you’re doing is supposed to achieve.
If you’d like, here’s a print version of this exercise in print form:
Or, click here to check out this digital version of the same exercise.
The people for whom we are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do.
For reasons encoded deep into the DNA of how culture influences schools, agencies, and organizations, the people for whom we are doing something are typically the last to know about something we are doing on their behalf. It is essential that the people for whom you are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do. Here are two reasons why your project will fail unless the people your project is about are involved from the beginning:
“Nothing about us without us” is a phrase used in a wide variety of activist circles to dismantle systems where those in power make decisions on behalf of groups without power and without their involvement or consent. Examples of this that occur frequently are when:
- Schools make major changes in how students learn without explaining to families why they’re making a change and what’s supposed to happen as a result.
- Law enforcement agencies increase their visibility without explaining to their community what they’re doing and what their goals are.
- Nonprofit agencies ask youth to speak on panels without compensating them for their time or equipping them to participate as partners.
It makes your work harder than it needs to be.
While all of the above examples are morally suspect, they also make your work harder than it needs to be. Think about how all of the above examples change when the people for whom we are doing something know what it is and what it is supposed to do:
- The school changing how students learn involves families at the first planning meeting. They provide the context for the change and opportunities to be trained in what will happen in their children’s classrooms. As a result, families not only understand the work but also help the work get done.
- Law enforcement agencies seek out and create opportunities to be invited into communities. As a result, officers learn to view communities as the answer to problems rather than as the problem to solve with the tools of policing.
- Nonprofits explain what the purpose of the panel is going to be. Resources are provided to help youth frame their message in the context of their own lived experience, and youth are compensated (in cash) for their time. As a result, the nonprofit has a cadre of highly trained youth who can support the work as peers.
Why it matters
Leaders who can explain what their team is doing and also provide those that they serve with meaningful and frequent opportunities to be participate are better able to elevate the success of their team and their organization. Regardless of what your organization is doing, or for how long an initiative has been going on, leaders who can explain what they’re doing, who it benefits, and what’s going to happen when the project succeeds are equipped with everything the need to plan, execute, and succeed.
Author’s note: Helping leaders, teams, and organizations achieve clarity in their work is an essential element of my work. The next time you’re writing a newsletter or explaining to your team a directive you’ve received, consider scheduling a call and seeing how I can help.