Episode 58: How to Gain and Retain Clarity in Life and Business

Good morning! This is Jimmy Williams with Live a Life by Design your Monday morning moments of motivation. Yep, you got him. You got the Doctor of Positivity here. I got a PhD, as I tell everyone, in Positivity and I’ve got a Master’s in Motivation. You’re going to take this episode today and you’re going to leave this listing time with empowerment. I’m so excited today. I am bringing to you someone that I consider the premier expert in how to achieve and retain clarity, not just in your business, but in your personal life. Today’s guest is one of a kind. I got to tell you how I found her, is basically I found her through my voracious reading appetite and I was going through a period of time in our business where I needed to seek out a little more clarity for myself. Although I couldn’t define what my challenge was. It came to me when I just was going through Amazon skimming as we do and it pops up, you know those algorithms that know what you’re thinking before you know what you’re thinking. Here this book pops up, says Clarity First, as if it were a beacon from a lighthouse on a dark day on the ocean. I saw this book coming to me almost as if being delivered from Mount Sinai folks. I mean this book came down to my face, I said “I’ve got to have it”, got it off Prime few days later. I had the book in hand and took to reading. And it was shall I say, a life-changer. And for me, this book and we’re going to talk about Karen Martin today. The real details of why clarity is so important to the success of not just your organization but to your personal life, so I have actually written some processes in our companies that utilize the foundations of her book, but also I took some of that time and wrote some processes for my life. What I’ve called my routines, you’ve heard me speak on in past episodes. So today it is indeed my honor to welcome Karen Martin of TKMG. Thank you, Karen.

KM: Hey, Jimmy! It’s so wonderful to be talking with you today. Thank you for inviting me.

JW: Well, I am just excited you’re here. So I just want to get things started real quickly to say that Karen is a very busy person. She speaks all over the globe. He has held classes now virtually, of course, but she’s been all over the planet, it seems like, and I read a little bit of history about you, Karen. And I just need to know how did you leave the balmy, sunny shores of California to go to the balmy, sunny shores of Dallas?

KM: Well, you know, it’s duty calls and my mother is 89, she just turned 89 on Tax Day and she has pretty severe dementia that’s been deteriorating over the years and I was flying, you know, every weekend or every not every weekend, but every other weekend or so. My brother is here and it just started getting a little harder for one person to manage everything around dementia. It’s just such a bizarre disease. It’s been just really it’s been, it’s been life-changing living in this and learning from this. I mean the lessons in what in living with someone. She’s actually living with me right now during covid times. The lessons are just numerous everyday and so I feel blessed that I got here, that I chose to come here and that she’s with me and she’ll probably move back into, you know, a special setting after covid, but that’s why I’m in Dallas and I don’t know what I’ll do. You know, in years to come, where I’ll end up. I don’t know.

JW: Well, may I recommend they have some wonderful beaches in South Carolina as well.

KM: The Carolinas are lovely. Both of them.

JW: Oh, they are beautiful. Karen, let’s get started on something. I just got tons of questions. And I know you got a limited amount of time. So I really want to ask a few questions, if I may go help you have some clarity to our listeners and, and you use the word in the book ambiguity and you had a phrase or definition that ambiguity prevents organizations from operating with focus, discipline and engagement. Can you kind of help clarify that even a little bit more for us?

Karen Martin
Karen Martin

KM: Sure, so ambiguity is the word that I consider the most polar opposite from clarity. And so, you know clarity, being operating without a fog around you. And ambiguity and the fog is all around you. And so when you look at organizational performance or even individual performance, it is very difficult to focus if you’re not clear on what it is you should be focusing on. So an organization’s very often a leadership team. Each leader will have his or her own idea of what the top priority is, for example, and you know, their leader, their followers are their team members will be going in one direction while other groups another direction so that just creates a whole lot of chaos, which is a subject of another book of mine, and it it just makes it difficult to get anything accomplished or at least accomplish it is easily as it could be if you’re all moving in the same direction. Same with distance, as well.

JW: Oh, absolutely. We can’t really have engagement in our office for my opinion, until we have the clarity of a goal. Isn’t that the truth?

KM: Absolutely. I mean, how can you kind of wrap your mind around something and become passionate about a direction if you’re not clear what that direction is. It’s yeah, it’s, I call it organizational drag that it creates.

JW: And we’ve all been there, I can assure you, and most of our listeners are entrepreneurs or professionals. And I can tell you exactly the moment when our organization is not moving at its most efficient. You know, we just have that feeling.

KM: Yes, absolutely. It is, you know, interesting how once you get to know these things. You can start feeling when you’re in the presence of clarity and you feel when you’re in the presence of ambiguity and that’s what informs a person you know that what they need to do to change that either as an information provider or information recipient. There are things that we can do when we feel like we’re not in the presence of clarity.

JW: You know one of the words that I use in our office is a play on the term ‘human beings’. And in during this time of disruption, you know, all of our listeners are in the same boat. The whole world now is dealing with this pandemic. I always say that there comes a time that we have to quit being a human being and start being a human doing. How do you feel about that when it comes to clarity and invoking clarity into that process from moving to from stationary to do an active?

KM: Yeah, great. That’s a great thought. I love that. So I do think that it’s one thing to have an intention and it’s another thing to execute on that intention. I think that’s a little bit of what you’re talking about as well. And so it, there are, you know, tangible actions that we have to take assuming we want to operate in a more clear way and we want to receive more clear information and it starts with the intent, but then you have to actually do, so you’re receiving information is becoming more comfortable asking clarifying questions. So being tuned in to when you feel the fog and then asking those clarifying questions cuz you, you know, people owe that to you and people owe you clear information and clear requests and clear expectations and sometimes don’t understand what they’re not delivering that so, you, you know, have a responsibly to help them be able to then clearly communicate with you

JW: You know, that is great advice and one of the things in the book that I really took to and grabbed ahold of was your, your explanation of using certain tools or strategies to gain clarity such as you talk in the book about using targets, incentives and measurement to enable clarity throughout the entire process. Let’s talk a little bit about that. When you say targets, do typically just talking about, “Hey, I set some goals, and here they are”?

KM: Yes, performance targets are what I was specifically referring to in that section of the book. And it’s, you know, having a desired goal, performance goal, that you want to hit. It could be anything. It could be quality, sales, it could be lower turn over, it could be, you know, more Innovative products. It could be any kind of a goal where you have a measurement that you can put in place and you set that just like you want to. I want to run a marathon in, you know, 3 minutes 3 and 1/2 minutes, you know, and then you start 4th and you start trying to close that Gap through practice and, you know, improvements and things like that. Same thing in an organization you set a goal and that’s a target. We prefer, strongly prefer visual goals because that enables clarity on what the target is and where you are in reference to that target.

JW: That is great advice, so would you recommend that it be the responsibility of the CEO, the leader, the whatever you want to call that person, President. It’s the onus is on them. Is it not to help create organizational clarity?

KM: Yes, it is. And it’s, the onus is also on them to make sure that they create the environment or clarity can actually even occur. So one of the things we see in a lot of organizations is the leader will say, “Well, we need to operate with greater clarity”. But the minute someone is authentic or they ask a clarifying question they get smacked down. And so you have to make sure that you really want clarity when you invite it into the organization because sometimes, you know, the truth can sometimes be difficult to hear. But I’ve always maintained the truth will set you free. It is liberating, no matter how bad the news might be you have to know what the truth is. And so as a leader you have to be ready and invite the truth no matter what it is.

JW: Oh, I love that. The truth set you free. I have this phrase in our office because I have a lot of very talented younger people. I have some millennials in the office that work with me that come at their challenge. I hate the word problem, Karen, it’s so negative. So I use the word challenge. But you know, so the challenge they come toward it to accomplish or overcome it in a far different way than I would and that really inspires me at times cuz I’ll ask ’em, I’ll say “how did you arrive at this approach to resolve this challenge?” And they will explain things to me that give exactly what you said. They in their minds had a target that I had painted but they may have embellished that target. What do you think about that? I mean does each of us own a piece of that clarity that we must bring to the table?

KM: Well, so the targets need to be set and agreed upon by everyone and they need to be one target for, you know, one measurement that you’re trying to do. Now. I’m not suggesting that the leader should mandate what the target is. Okay. Alright people from now on we’re going to hit, we’re going to work for hitting blah, blah, blah, it needs to be a collaborative discussion about what that target should be and within what timeframe you want to reach that target cuz the time that takes, you know, you can have an aggressive target that takes a year to achieve. You can have a much more, you know, close term target that you can achieve in a week or a month or whatever. So you have to be into that and I very much believe in the concept of catch ball, which is like tossing a ball back and forth between a leader and his or her team to make sure that the people buy in from the beginning on whatever it is. I mean, it isn’t just targets, it’s everything. But that collaborative target setting then helps everyone own it in a profound way and nobody’s going to be like that darn target and, you know, everyone will be into it and work together as a team to achieve it.

JW: You know, one of the things that we do in our offices is what we try to give each, about every 90 days we have a team strategy meeting that goes over our goals for the next 90 days. And what we do is everyone has to give contribution. Now when I say has to I’m not in their arm, but we certainly encourage and set the environment, Karen, where everyone can find their own clarity to get to the point of their responsible portion of that goal. Is that something that you find at you when you teach cross the world and talk to people, is that something you find is pretty common?

KM: Yeah. I mean well, well, common, you know, I think that there’s a pretty wide spectrum of leaders you sound like you’re on the outstanding leader end of the spectrum in terms of even having that conversation with your staff, so common I’m not sure about but effective? Absolutely. Necessary? Absolutely. If you want outstanding performance, then everyone needs to understand what their role is in achieving, you know, whatever the the target your setting is.

JW: So I heard you correctly? Just for our audience, you said that Jimmy is outstanding? Is that what you were saying?

KM: That, you know, I don’t know you well but from what the little I know about you, you sound like you’re a pretty darn good leader. And you actually operate, already operate, with a fairly high degree of clarity and that’s not common.

JW: Well, and again, I’m going back folks I’m telling you, you got to pick up the book and you’re going to find out how in just a little bit before we close this episode. I believe in it that much that I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s actually on our Jimmy’s Top Reads, Karen, our website for livealifeby.design has your book prominently displayed there for anyone that would like to buy it.

KM: Thank you so much. It was a hard book to write. I thought it would be so easy to tackle clarity. Saying how hard could it be? It’s hard. It’s hard work.

JW: It’s hard sometimes to find clarity to write a book about clarity, I guess.

KM: Indeed. Indeed.

JW: You know, your book brought out some other areas and I want to dive into for just a moment and this gives a presentation within the book of the three levels of knowing who you are as an organization not an individual but as an organization in your your your three were what do you do? What do you really do? And why do you do it? Let’s talk a little bit about that. Give us some enlightenment on how you came to those, those questions?

KM: Yeah, good questions. So, I’ve always been a student of business literature and I’m always intrigued with the ambiguity that exists around vision, mission, purpose, values, you know, you name it. And purpose to me is the most misunderstood of all of them because a lot of people can very clearly say what they do as an organization. Some organizations are good at describing what they actually do it. So the difference between what do you do and what you really do is what you do might be, oops, I’m sorry I just hit my mic, what you do might be, you know we create, we make tires or we provide Financial Services or we provide health care, whatever it might be and what do you really do means what gaps are you closing in the customers life. So what specific, you know, benefit do they get from the product? And so it’s not about the tire, it’s about safety and confidence. It’s not about health care, it’s about a better quality of life. It’s not about, you know, Financial Services, it’s about confidence and security and all those things. So that’s that’s the what. The why is a much bigger and deeper question. And why is something that a lot of organizations haven’t really gotten to. They’re stuck in what land and not able to say why, why did you choose to go into that business over different business. What really drove you to start this particular service or provide this particular good and and getting to the essence of that is critical to hook in all the employees, all the suppliers, all the customers and help them really understand who you are. It’s a great way to build loyalty and it drives every decision you make from that point forward once you get that level clarity.

JW: You know you use the word wise, so an acquaintance of mine, I’ve actually spoken at a large conference that he has been the sharing the stage with me on a couple occasions, or I shared with him, I should say. It is Simon Sinek of New York. And Simon and I stay in contact, not much as we’d like, but through social media and other means and email. And his book Start With Why really dovetailed in well with your Clarity First book for me because without the why you can’t understand the who and the when and the where, in my opinion. What’s your thoughts?

KM: Well, first of all I’m smiling so broadly back here as you’re speaking. Because Simon, to Start With Why was life changing for me. A profound book and Start With Why is the reason why the book is titled Clarity First. I kept looking at that title. And I we like why do I love that title so much. It had such energy and I just kept thinking and thinking. I happened to meet him in person, sat next to him on a flight and it was right after that flight, I came back. I got Start With Why off the shelf again. And that was when I said Eureka!, I’m going to title my book Clarity First. So he was a huge, he continues to be a huge influence in my thinking. So I got so excited about mentioning Simon that I forgot your question.

JW: Well, I want to say the dovetailing of your book, like you just said, I mean basically, the book Clarity First came out of your understanding, thinking, and reading of Start With Why and my importance here is to say if we can’t clearly define the why we can’t find the who, what, and where.

KM: Right, and he does a brilliant job at explaining the difference between purpose and mission and those kinds of things. And you can commingle them in one statement per se, but you have to be clear which part of the statement is mission in which is purpose.

JW: No, that is good advice. So really what do you do is far more than just putting out in your your scenario the tires. And as you said why why do you really do it or what do you really do? You’re putting out safety, security. I always try to draw pictures and and as I said earlier I’m visual. And so when I ask people what do they think we really do in our office. our A+ clients we call them, and they will say something that has totally unrelated boundaries to what we do in terms of rebalancing portfolio, selecting investments, taking care of the risk, so forth. What they come out and say, they go you helped me send my grandchild to a university she desired that was a private school that was far more costly than any public, you know, sponsored school or they’ll come out and say, you secured our dream of having a new home on the ocean as well as one here in the in the Midwest and we are now living our dream out there. And those kind of things really bring goosebumps for me. Do you feel that way sometimes when somebody talks about what you’ve done to help their organization?

KM: Yes, and you know one thing a point of clarification is that why is nearly always emotional. The answer to the question ‘Why’ is an emotional feeling, and you know, we’ve been many of us have been programed, you talk about emotions when it comes to business. Oh my goodness. What are you thinking, that’s blasphemy, you know, but really that is when a customer, even something as esoteric and seemingly not very sexy as like a, you know, tool that someone uses an the oil industry to do something with a oil rig, you know, it is not very sexy. But when you think about, you know, the level of safety that might provide or the ease of doing work so you don’t have to have, you know, so much effort and go into work or whatever that is. It’s always emotional and so what you’re describing for your business and what these people are relaying to you. Absolutely it’s like that is the why that is that is the emotional impact you have on people because they can send their kids to college or get their dream home or whatever it might be. And it’s beautiful.

JW: I love your statement. We have the comment I use with our team that says ‘Every major decision has the emotional component or it’ll never get made’.

KM: I like that. That’s a very good little moniker or phrase to keep in mind.

JW: I do want you to know, you have granted lifetime license to use anything I say today, Karen, so…

KM: Ditto, ditto.

JW: So, so let me ask you a couple other questions that’s on my mind that I needed some clarity around. When we do find our clarity with our team and we’re ready to move forward. What’s the most difficult challenge for those of us that are leaders regarding an understanding of value flows in the organization? It seems like I can tell you at every segment of our process how the value continues to transition through the process to the final output. Tell us why leaders find this such a difficult task?

KM: Well, you know, I think that everyone approaches work through a functional lens and what I mean by that is that we grew up on, and even millennials have still grown up in a world where there is a hierarchical organization chart that can be drawn, whether you have one or not is a different question, but it can be drawn and typically we organize around the kinds of work being done. So we have these different functions. In a large company it’s, you know, more common this very heavily functioned base. You’ve got the finance department, the operations area, the sales and marketing area etcetera, and so leaders tend to be pretty well-versed in their silo as we call it and know what’s going on there, but they’re not really well-versed in connecting the dots all the way from a customer request to delivering on that request, which is what the value stream is as we call it. And so it’s, it’s very important to become clear about the entire value stream. You’ll make better decisions as a leader. You’ll allocate money differently and how you’re spending money. You’ll be more tuned into what the voice of the customer is and all those things and you can organize a more efficient operation through understanding that value as well. But it typically takes, like you know, some concerted focus time to understand the value stream and write it down, draw it out so that you can see it and you can see how work is flowing from request to delivering on that request.

JW: So if you want to use one of my catchphrases anytime, I have this phrase that ‘You’re not thinking unless you’re inking’ and what I mean by that is, is I always think with pen and paper and hand just to take it from the mind of the abstract to the actual tangible on the paper and now granted I’m not an art major, Karen and I’ll promise you that, I’m far from that, but I do like to put on paper things to help me think out loud so that I can then communicate and show that to my team and they’re very good at reading Egyptian hieroglyphics. I didn’t know if you knew that so.

KM: That’s good. No, it’s you know, what’s interesting the work that I do is laced in lean management, which originated with Deming who then went to Japan after World War II and taught the Japanese and then it got reimported back to the West as lean management after through studying Toyota and one of the most important lessons from that whole study on, and it continues to study Toyota, is they draw pictures for everything and a picture is indeed worth a thousand words and it’s visuals are so important and drawing is a way to learn more deeply and to get the, you know, the stickiness of a concept is greatly enhanced by drawing.

JW: So you’re going to laugh. I actually use this. It’s a tool I learned one from one of my coaches, strategic coach, Dan Sullivan out of Chicago. I use this tool called the impact filter a lot, that helps me bring clarity. So it tells me, ‘What does my ultimate goal look like’, ‘What does success really look like’. You have to color that out and it’s a very nice dynamic one page form and I hand those out to our team anytime we have a new process that we’re going to implement or create, or also a new service or something of that nature. And the, I will tell you that it’s amazing to me, you mentioned the millennials. They can take any kind of concept with their type of education and you look a lot younger than me, you may be a millennial. But my point is your mother at 89 had you at a very late age, I can tell you that. But my point is, is these millennials have really shocked me in terms of how they think differently of methodical but yet different way. What’s your take on millennials’ contributions to this clarity process?

KM: Oh my gosh. I love the millennials. I love them so much. So I think that the beauty of the millennials are that they are just challenging paradigms and kicking the tires and, you know, asking for change in a way that not many generations before them have, I don’t know that any generation has done it to the extent that the millennials are doing. And you know it’s so easy to get stuck in our ways, and it takes, you know, someone challenging us to move us. I mean look at what covid has done for us. There’s been such profound innovation and flexing or pivoting muscles, and ability to become more agile and there’s been so much good there’s been horrible things also, horrible horrible, but there’s been so much good and silver linings that this situation has presented to us for those of us who want to seize the day and take these lessons to move forward. That’s the same kind of level of kicking the tires and in challenging things that I think the millennial generation is doing and I just say thank you. Thank you. Thank you, millennials. Keep doing it man. Keep kicking.

JW: You know, you’re going to laugh. You said pivot, one thing I want to bring attention to is I just last week, our team issued an episode of Live a Life by Design podcast that’s titled “Finding the Positives of the Pandemic” and you’re exactly right, Karen. We’re going into the areas of saying what can we take from this disruption of life, this disruption of work, disruption of family. What can we take of these realms and find that are positively impacting us enough that we’re going to carry forward after the pandemic has been hopefully eradicated. What are some positives can you find with your team at TKMG, for example, that you’re going to continue after this. That you had been doing before the pandemic.

KM: You know, it’s interesting how, we’re all virtual. We’ve been virtual for 26 years now. So we’re not under one roof. So we didn’t have to adjust to that type of disruption. But what’s been interesting is just connecting with people on a deeper level because of the destruction in their personal lives. And, you know, in my case is bringing my dementia laced mom in with me. And another of our team members has a small baby and they’re just so cooped up in a one-bedroom apartment with this baby, that they now can’t get out, you know, and do the things that they were able to do pre-pandemic. In another case, you know, the guy was in the middle of trying to move to a new apartment and everything got shot down and he had to renew his lease for another year, which he really doesn’t want to be there for another year, so it’s put all kinds of constraints on us. But these are all conversations that without the pandemic I don’t know that we would have had, and so I wouldn’t have learned all of these challenges they’re dealing with in their personal lives that you know, you can’t disassociate work and personal, they’re commingled now especially and I just think that I want to carry that same level of connection forward no matter where we move into.

JW: I’m glad you brought this up. So you’ve been virtual, working virtual, with your team for like 26 years, you said. So how do you as the leader of 26 team members total counting you, I’m assuming. How do you bring clarity when you’re not in that room with the Whiteboard or the Smart Board and you’re drawing things. How do you utilize your communication approach to defining clarity for your team?

KM: Yeah, so good question. I am also learning all the Zoom bells and whistles. And so I haven’t, my goal this afternoon is to learn the Whiteboard aspect of Zoom. But I use PowerPoint a lot. So I’ll do a screen share and I’ll draw using PowerPoint live, real time, and I’ve been doing mapping with clients, value stream mapping, and process level mapping using just PowerPoint and, you know, walking through the process steps. And so I haven’t discarded the need for visual during this whole thing. And I also will put a Word document up and just start writing lists and things that people can see and so it’s definitely not all conversation. In fact, I highly recommend not just having a conversation but using screen share and then you can give people control of the mouse, and they can take over and they can write and they can draw. Or you can actually, you know, switch screen share from your screen to their screen. So there’s a lot of kind of quick and easy ways you can see visually what you would otherwise, you know, not be seeing.

JW: Karen, that is great advice and we are doing the same in our company’s is that learning to use these technological advances far more than, I’ll be very frank with everyone listening, I’ve ever had to before. I like I said earlier before we started our recording today is I generally have a team, I have some IT people that set everything up and now guess what Jimmy’s got to learn some of these things that I used to just delegate didn’t give second thought to be very frank. So that’s great advice. I do want to say though. There’s one thing that I have learned quickly about Zoom meetings that will keep your team and those engaged in that particular meeting really awake and keeping things involved is to surprise them. So what I do, not every meeting, but I’ll tell you Karen to keep them shocked I may have a Richard Nixon mask on when they pull up the ol’ video, I’ll wait to be the last one to turn the video on and you wouldn’t believe the laughter I get, some shocks. And also I was Zorro one time. And so I just do some things to kind of lighten the mood if you will during the pandemic. What’s your thought of using humor to help bring clarity to your team?

KM: Oh, humor is great. It’s great for so many reasons. I mean it, it’s been proven that laughing and smiling open up, you know, and get your neurons firing in a new way. So it’s, it’s much easier to be innovative than when you’re feeling grumpy and you’re kinda closed down, neurologically and so I love the humor. You know when you mentioned the masks I was reminded of a team that was, we promote management practice known as huddle’s, daily huddles, and we’ve had virtual huddles for this whole time, but I had a client where they were under one roof and it’s pre-pandemic and most of the team was huddling physically together in front of a performance board every morning and there was one guy in Wisconsin, this is a California-based client, and it was this one guy in Wisconsin. So what they did, it was so fun. They got a cardboard cutout of the sky. He didn’t know that they had a picture from a party or something that he had come to, and they got a cardboard cutout of him life-size made. I actually helped them find a vendor for that, and then they had these different hats and they had a fedora, they had a baseball cap, they had like a cowboy hat and they would put him up in front of the the team and they would use a video cam for their huddles and every day they would surprise him with a new hat and say, okay,”you’re gonna be a cowboy today”. It was it was so much fun and the team bonded in a much more profound way through a little humor. So it’s lovely.

JW: Can I give you a comment one of the millennials on our team paid me oh just a few weeks ago and it was really took it to heart. I know he was just kind of teasing a little bit but he said the phrase and keep in mind I’m 55, Karen, so I’m a lot older than these millennials. But I love what he said. He said, “you know Jimmy when you offered me an opportunity to come work with you”, cuz I don’t like the way people work for me, I like people to work with me. He said, “you know I thought I’d like you”, he said “but turns out you’re pretty cool”. And I said, “well can I ask a question? Does pretty cool relate to ‘hey, I really enjoyed I’m doing I’m going to stick around and be the next succession'” so…

KM: That’s excellent. Yeah, I am with you on the word with verses for, big-time.

JW: It’s it’s so funny. Let’s talk a little bit and shift over. So now what we’ve done, we’ve got clarity of our goal, we got our process written now, if you will, and we got the team buy in. Talk to me about key performance indicators and what is their role to help people stay, if you will, focused but also reward at the end of the day for purposes of meeting the goal.

KM: Yeah. So the KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) in most organizations, there are different levels of them. So there’s overall organizational key performance indicators and, and they need to be balanced so all too often we see just financial indicators but operational indicators are really important and I recommend that leaders think about two big buckets. What’s critical to the customer and measure that and what’s critical to the business and measure that. But at a high-high-level no more than 9 for large organizations and no more than four or five for small organizations. So keep your eye on the relevant few instead of the trivial money. And this is again at a dashboard level. You might need to measure other things. But at a dashboard, to keep people focused, no more than four if you’re a small company. No more than nine of you’re a big company and and then there’s usually one or two other levels that get closer and closer to the front line work and, and the kinds of things that they measure or, I recommend that you pick the gaps that you want to close and not measure what’s going well, but measure what’s not going the way you would like it or if you want to raise the bar. That’s what you pick to measure and keep people focus on closing that gap through improvement cycles.

JW: So we could spend the day folks on what she just said. I hope everyone heard that clearly it was we’re going to put KPI’s in places of where we need improvement. Not the things are just going well, but look at those things we can have improvement to raise the quality or level of the entire process. Is that what you’re saying, Karen?

KM: Yes, and getting clarity on where you have, what are the gaps that you want to close as an organization? I mean, I talk a lot about life is just a series of gaps to be closed or life is just a series of improvement cycles to be, you know, to be started and completed then started and completed, and if I could also go back to something we talked about earlier. You mentioned the p word as I call it, problem, and using the word challenge instead of problem. So this is something I think I mentioned in both The Outstanding Organization and in Clarity First, but it might have only been Clarity First that I have always loved the word problem for this reason. There’s a lot of emotional baggage people have because they’ve been penalized for problems, but problem carries the word itself carries a sense of urgency that is an opportunity or opportunity for improvement. Maybe even a challenge doesn’t carry quite the sense of urgency that a problem does and I work really hard to get people to recognize that a problem is nothing more or nothing less than a gap to be closed and get the emotionality out of it. Like, you know, it’s like the sky is falling. It’s just a gap to be closed and most importantly stop blaming people. It’s processes and work environments that create gaps. It’s not people who create gaps. And it makes the lack of process that creates a gap. And so if you can get that emotionality out of it and look at things more objectively and methodically, logically, unemotionally, it’s just why I love the word problem. So I’m a big fan.

KM: Well, that’s okay now, we’re not all the same on here. You’ll find one thing on Live a Life by Design Karen, we appreciate differing opinions all the time.


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JW: Quickly to then, let me let me throw this at you and see what you think. But when you say we have these gaps that we need to close and we can’t look at the person but we need to look at those gaps unemotionally. I believe now this is just Jimmy Williams, but I believe it’s incumbent upon me as the leader to take responsibility for those gaps. If I did not make the end result clear enough or I didn’t provide the clarity in the process for the team to close that gap in a way that I had expected. Does that sound…

KM: Absolutely, absolutely. You have to own your stuff. Own your contribution to gaps. Yes.

JW: You know, and I will tell you then if that’s the case. I am the Gap Master.

KM: You’re the gap creator.

JW: That’s it!

KM: I bet you’re not much of a gap creator.

JW: I just like to have a lot of fun on this podcast, Karen. I promise you. So, you did something in the book too. You reported something in the book that I love Henry Ford. I, you know, people look at Henry Ford and say he’s the father of the automobile. And I say no, he’s the father of process building automation. This guy, of course, put together the first automation line for the assembly of an automobile. And you put a quote in there. I love this and I want you to go dive in a little bit and explain some of this to me but you put, “Most people spend more time and energy going around problems then in trying to solve them”. Why is that?

KM: Yeah, good question. Well, first of all, you know, I think there are two ways of thinking about problems, or gaps to be closed. One is to love them and embrace them and be excited by them, and one is to fear them or be dragged down by them and be defeated by them. And I do think there’s a little bit of native mindset in this whole world. I love gaps to be closed. I thrive on helping people close gaps, but there are other people that don’t really enjoy it so much. So what, what we have to do is just understand a basic math fact and that is that a problem that is unaddressed is costing money and it’s costing time. It’s costing emotional drain and the more that it is there the more frequently it occurs, the more money, the more time, the more emotional drain and so it’s incumbent upon us to just put your big boy pants and your big girl pants on and and and look at what’s the gap? What’s the root cause for it? What are we going to do about it and move on? It’s, you know, people avoid these things and you know, it’s just, it’s just it’s almost irresponsible to not have a problem seeking mentality as a leader and want to know about gaps.

JW: You know, I always liken this to any organization of which I’ve been a leader and not-for-profit or anything of that nature. Some of my favorite charities, for example. That people will look for ways to avoid problems. And what I keep telling them is if you are not facing challenges, we’re not growing either in what we offer our, you know, our population we’re trying to serve or we’re not growing as an organization to be ahead of those that are competing with us, for example, so I tell you I’m not a problem creator. I was teased about being the Gap Master but I will say this I am an innovator I always believe there’s kind of that Steve Jobs effect where there’s always a better more simple way to accomplish this.

KM: Absolutely. There’s, you know, that gets back to my comment about life as a perpetual series of gaps to be closed. And you know it’s a bit of a career hazard to do the work I do and you might be hinting that this is something in your world experience as well. You know, I had a, I was raising a boyfriend’s kids for part for a while. And the daughter was just such a great teacher on so many levels, and one day she said to me, you know, one of the things I’m observing about you is you’re never satisfied. And it was like a bullet between my eyes and you know, it staked my heart when she said it. But I looked in the mirror and I said well jeez, yes that is so true and it’s because that’s my career is looking for gaps to be closed. So I am never satisfied. I do always want to raise the bar, but it was just very it was a great reflection back to me about how you know, you can take things to excess and apparently, she felt I had, you know, hit that excess point. And it was a great lesson.

JW: So you’re going to laugh. Speaking with our minister at one time, she asked me this question and she says, “Jimmy, how do you balance ambition and contentment?” I looked at her and I said, “You know, I’ve never thought of that Pastor. How do I balance ambition and contentment?” I said, “Well let me just say this, I am very content with my ambitious attitude”. And she laughed.

KM: I like that. Yeah, it’s an interesting question and I think some and I think you know, let’s talk about like workaholism for a moment. I think people often kind of commingle working with necessarily unhappiness or avoidance. And there are people who are hardwired and I’m one of them to get such incredible joy and fulfillment through work. It doesn’t mean I don’t have relationships and it doesn’t mean I don’t have great and lots of relationships, but my primary fulfillment does indeed come from my work. And you know, I just take you almost offense to someone that assumes that that it can’t possibly be true. But it’s all so different when it’s your own company, you know it if I were working for someone else. I’m not so sure I’d be so joyful with my work. But my boss is pretty nice, you know?

JW: I’ve heard she’s outstanding, that’s what I heard. So I can’t really relate, like I said. I don’t know her well, but I personally think she’s outstanding. So, let’s turn it down a little deeper on to your ‘Clear Method’ that’s C-L-E-A-R Method that you utilize for problem solving and I’m going to embarrass you a little bit here, if that’s okay, Karen. It’s that we use your acronym for our purposes of solving issues and challenges in our companies. I just love this part of your book. So I’m going to have to tell you I may have to get you to send me another book. I’ve highlighted, dog eared and all this stuff throughout this entire section. So badly you can hardly read it. But let’s talk about the C of clear – clarifying breakdown the problem. How important is at to get started on the resolution process?

KM: It is critical. You cannot possibly go to the experimentation phase without a very deep understanding about what the problem actually is. So most of the time people who have not been kind of indoctrinated into scientific problem solving and critical thinking that comes around that they’ll just assume that the problem is either, they’ll frame it in either in terms of solution or in terms of a root cause. So for example, someone might say what our problem is we don’t have enough call center people to handle the volume of calls that are coming in. And you know, if you really look at the problem, that’s not the problem. The problem is why are those calls coming in in the first place? If it’s a sales thing then those calls are a good thing if it’s a service call center. Those are not great calls to be getting, and so and so you have to then think well why are they calling? And what can we do about that, not solve for the people the number of people you have so there’s just getting clear on the problem. And then if it’s complex, which a lot of problems are complex, they have multiple, you know, reasons for them. You have to break it down and pick one piece to work on at a time because it’ll drag you down to try to fix, you know, boil the ocean or Rome wasn’t wasn’t built in a day type of thing. So it’s critical.

JW: So, really the thing we look for that is we try to get more granular in this process at or this portion of the process I should say, because that in the granularity of it, it gives us the opportunity to see the tangents we may take to resolve the issue. Does that makes sense?

KM: Yes, in fact in the book I use a funnel image to show that you maybe you’re starting with some kind of vague notion of a problem. But then as you go through the process and answer the questions under the sea of clear problem-solving you’re getting clearer and clearer and you’re narrowing and more and more and more on the truth of what you really need to solve and then the reasons why that exists. That gap exists.

JW: Great stuff. Continuing on with our acronyms. So the letter C is clarifying, but the letter L stands for learn about the problem and what’s causing it. What’s your best hack or strategy you can give someone to utilize this particular measure of the acronym?

KM: Well, there are two kind of classic and very easy root cause analysis tools that are good mental models to use every day in life and ones called ‘Five Whys’ where you ask why, why, why, why and 5 is not necessarily the number. It could be four, it could be 10. You keep on asking that question why until you get down to something that you can do something about and then you experiment to see if the counter measure, which is the action you take, we call that a countermeasure as opposed to a solution because solution has a sense of permanence and it’s in rock and it never changes. Countermeasure is a little more flexible when conditions change, you do another round of improvement. And so the 5 whys can get you pretty far down that path at least for simple problems. For more complex problems there’s a thing that’s called a fishbone diagram, also known as a cause and effect diagram, that is it has no classically six spines coming out or six spokes coming out from the spine of the fish and you label them with six different buckets of possible root causes. So this is a brainstorming tool and it’s really helpful to get a team together and say well what are all the process related issues that could be causing this? What are all the people related issues, and I don’t mean blaming people but people maybe not having sufficient training or whatever it might be that’s causing the problem or the equipment related ones or the financial ones. You can do all the labels of these six spines anything you want that makes sense for the type of problem and just brainstorming. Then you have to actually go figure out, well which ones are those are the actual root cause or causes, but those two get you going pretty well.

JW: Man, that is a great description, and that is an excellent item possibly a deliverable that you can have to hand to someone on your team to get some input from their perspective of the problem. So, I love that diagram you had in your book. So the next one with the letter E in this acronym is experiment with countermeasures. What, what do you mean by that?

KM: Yes, so in the CNL phase, one of the things that you end up with, if you want to call it an output or deliverable from CNL is a hypothesis. So a hypothesis is an if-then statement. We believe that if we do blah blah blah, then we expect this to occur. And so the E phase, experiment is testing that hypothesis and so you want to, you know, set up an experiment and this is, this part of it is really critical because it’s breaking our habit of just assuming we know and putting something in to place and not having adequately tested it to see whether or not it actually will help. And this, by the way, this whole problem solving thing works very much in life, It’s a great parenting skill to have. It’s not just for work. So this experimentation is really important and then you have to observe you had a hypothesis. You thought if you did this then that would occur, did it occur? And if it didn’t occur, that’s not failure that just means you’re that much closer to knowing what will work. And so it’s that the experimentation mindset is critical for clarity at every level of problem solving.

JW: Oh, I love that. That makes it a lot more clear to me as well. The A in the acronym clear stands for assess the result in adopt, adapt or abandon. Let’s talk about that for a few moments.

KW: Yes, so if you do an experiment and it works, whatever it is that you’ve done and the problem seems to go away. At least during the experiment. Then you have to decide whether you adopt the countermeasure, as we’re going to call it, exactly as the experiment was, or if you need to tweak it a little bit. Maybe it didn’t do quite the job, but it got close. You might want to speak a little bit. Run it through another experiment. Make sure that that actually made it go away, whatever the problem is, and that’s the adapting phase. Or if it doesn’t prove your hypothesis you abandon it and you start all over again. And you may need to go back to clarifying what the problem actually is. You may need to go back and rethink what the root cause of it is. So it’s a very iterative process of getting to the right countermeasure that’s going to actually solve the problem.

JW: Oh man, that is good stuff Karen. So, at the end of the day we really don’t know if we’ve reached our ultimate goal of either process efficiency or effectiveness unless we assess it. It makes no sense, it’s kinda like I tell people, I keep a journal, and I have for years. Even since I was in college and it’s something I’ve done to kind of let my mind just kind of, do a mind dump, if you will for lack of a better thing and I can just get paper and pen and I get it down into a journal and I put it away. And these are just my private thoughts. But what I tell people is the real importance that I gain from that, Karen, is going back at the end of the month and going through it and reviewing what I wrote. Find out my attitude or the environment I was in, or what was going on in my mind at the time. Same thing here with solving the problem. Sounds like.

JW: Absolutely, that reflection is such an important part of life and your learning goes through the roof when you take the time to reflect. And active reflection not just kind of passive reflection, where you’re actually thinking back and reviewing what happened, what did you do, what worked, what didn’t work in all those things not blaming, you know, but just matter-of-fact, learning.

JW: I love that. So, as always, this lady’s so intuitive folks that she rolled right into the final letter, the fifth letter R of the Clear process and it is rollout and reflects just like you said, so if we assess and everything is great. We adapt it to whatever we need to do or we adopt into our process. We’ve now solved this with a solution. Roll it out, introduced to your team and get everyone’s buy in. Is that what we’re doing in the R portion?

KM: Yes, and you know, I’m going to go back to one thing. We didn’t talk about this. But when you’re selecting the hypothesis and you’re running the experiment, you know, one of the questions I’m always asked, “Who do you think should run the experiment? Who should set the hypothesis? Who should be doing all this?” It’s the people who do the work not the boss lady or the boss man. The people who do the work are the experts. They’re the ones that do it day-in and day-out. So a leader’s role is to set the direction and get people excited about the fact that you’re even going to make it an improvement. And then you can define boundaries that they have to operate within, but then you let go and let the people that are the experts do the thing. So when it’s time to roll out, people who are going to do the work will have already been involved in designing the work. So it makes it a much quicker uptake and acceptance to have that level of involvement. But even those that aren’t involved, they have to be adequately communicated with, why does this matter? What’s the purpose of this change? What was wrong with the other way? They have a psychological readiness for any kind of change. And change management melts away when you do this, right? You don’t have to manage change cuz it’s just part of the process and then they have to be trained. If it’s something you’re doing new. They have to be trained. It has to be error-proof. If it’s something that’s going to be kind of ripe, rife with errors and then you have to make sure that it’s measured and that you’re watching it and then reflecting back on the whole process.

JW: The key, I think, too that I’m taking from what you just said, Karen, was I as the leader need to set the strategic vision but leave the tactical approach to those that are going to utilize or to help take the ball over the goal line, so to speak at the end of day.

KM: Yeah, you know, it’s most leaders, not all, are pretty extroverted and most leaders have gotten into leadership roles because they were kind of good at doing something and it’s when you think you know what the solution is. It’s it’s a pretty dangerous place to be and first of all, you can be wrong and are often wrong and second of all, even if you’re right, it is disrespectful to rob the people who do the work from the opportunity to grow and flex their innovative muscles because you’re telling them what to. So, it’s critical that you do set that strategic direction and then, and boundaries, if you know financial boundaries or regulatory boundaries, and then let them go. Let them do their thing.

JW: Man, that is powerful folks. That’s worth the entire episode listening, right there in my opinion. Is it just, empower the group around you and I’ve always tried to surround myself with, Karen, to be very honest and if they’re listening podcast, I hope they are, but my team I try to find people have more capabilities than me that I can challenge myself then to live at their level of progress. For example, for the entire team. Does that make sense?

KM: Yes, it does. It’s critical to surround yourself with experts in areas that you don’t carry the same degree of expertise.

JW: And it’s funny too, so I empower our team with not just the responsibility for certain segments of our services, but also the authority so I got to be honest with you. I set budgets and help the team with our controllers, set the budgets, know what we’re going to do, what levels of spending over investment we’re going to make in an area. And it’s so funny cuz I’ll go through the office and I’ll see something I’ll go, huh? When did we get that or why are we doing, what is that technology? I didn’t even know we had that, and they’re going, Yeah, we’ll show you about it later right now we just get it implemented doing this and it’s amazing. If you’ll just give people the opportunities they will really shine with their talents.

KM: Absolutely. I mean that, back to Toyota for a moment and Lean Management, that is one of the key things is that they have long believed that a leader’s role is to develop his or her people. And to some degree also set strategy and vision and all that. But but when it comes to day to day, it’s really about developing people so they could become the best version of themselves and they can, you know, fulfill whatever potential they’ve got and you know, when someone is firing on all cylinders, it feels pretty darn good and much of the time when we walk in an organization we’ll see at least portions of the organization where people are being squelched and stunted and and not being allowed to use either their existing talents or to build their potential into existing talents. And it just breaks my heart.

JW: When you say pretty darn good, when you see them realizing their talents, are you saying it’s like, I don’t know par four when I’m in there on a birdie, and I make that last putt it’s just really great. I’m trying to understand.

KM: Um, yes. So, yes. That’s it.That’s it exactly.

JW: I gotta bring it to areas I understand. If a birdie putt means that I got one under par. So I’m good. I just want you to know, that’s the circle on the card, Karen. Not a square, a circle.

KM: Yeah, but you know, what if it doesn’t have a windmill on the golf course, I don’t play.

JW: You’d like my wife. My wife says, is it going to spit my ball back? No honey. We got to go get it. Couple of things before we close out. I love the fact that you’ve got the three types of clarity. These individuals are pursuers, avoiders or blind. Let’s talk about those three. Give me some definition for each of those three real quickly.

KM: Okay, let’s start with blind. So blind is kind of a neutral position where you don’t know that you’re not being clear as a communicator, or you may not be fully aware that you’re not receiving unclear information. And so don’t know to ask the clarifying questions. And in both cases awareness is what helps you move from that blind to a more active and intentional receiver and communicator, or provider of information. Clarity pursuers are, you know, some people consider them annoying. And I don’t. I think clarity pursuit is a noble cause, and a noble place to operate from. And so it’s people that are constantly making sure they understand the expectations, the customer requirements, the process, that whatever. Before they start taking action and as an information receiver, people I’m sorry, information provider people are being clear and checking for clarity by asking people to repeat back, and it, not literally repeat back exactly what I said, but to somehow you test to make sure they really did understand what you said because sometimes we think we’re being clear and we’re so not being clear. And so you have to test for that to make sure that there’s that. Now the worst case scenario is the clarity avoider and clarity avoider goes all the way from sociopathic, you know lying, deceit, fraud, you know, all that stuff to just not wanting to know about the problems or maybe not want to hear the answer to the question and not asking the question cuz you don’t want to know. And a lot of times in our personal lives we get into clarity avoidance more than we should, and so you’ll see that someone will be an avoider in one setting and a pursuer in another setting. So it’s not like you’re all pursuer or all avoider or all blind, it does morph depending on the conditions.

JW: You know, what the end of the day I’m afraid you pegged me absolutely correctly, you know, you’ve only known me for a few moments, we’ve exchanged some emails, talked on the phone a little bit. I’ve never met you in person have I not, I’m being truthful.

KM: Nope, never have.

JW: I’m gonna tell you, you’ve pegged me. I’m a pursuer. I’ve always been the guy that goes why, why and my dad, I’ll never forget. I’m the youngest of six, Karen. And the reason I’m the youngest of six is we only got three channels, but I don’t want to dive into that. On the TV that is. But anyway, you may not get that unless you’re a large family from a rural city in Oklahoma, but my point is that I’d always ask why I went dad did something and finally got to the point, I’ll never forget this house about 5 years of age, but before I even got to school. And he said when you get to school, son do not ask why of your teachers every time you hear them say something. And I go but Dad, how do I understand? I was five and my dad said I use the word understand, and so I don’t know if that’s a good thing to me being a child prodigy, Karen, I don’t know what it is but my point here you’ve made is I’m a pursuer, I believe so I think I get on people’s nerves going I don’t understand we’ve got to find why this is doing this, so we can fix it, that’s kind of my attitude.

KM: Well, two things, spot on and good for you for being that pursuer because we if we were all clarity pursuers we wouldn’t have wars in the world, we wouldn’t have political strife in the world, I mean it’s it’s ambiguity is the cause of a lot of bad stuff. So it’s not something that we want to spend much time in that space. So two things, one is being a child, kids are born with natural curiosity, all kids are born with natural curiosity and little by little it gets kind of drummed out of us through well-meaning, otherwise well-meaning parents and teachers and early bosses and things like that. So every leader it’s incumbent upon that leader to kind of reignite that natural curiosity and sometimes people won’t feel safe doing it until you provide a very, very clear safe environment for curiosity to re-emerge. And so that’s one thing. Second thing is, I love my mom and I, right before she got dementia, we were still able to talk about my childhood and she would say, oh my God, you’re such an annoying kid. You know, why mommy? Why, Mommy, why daddy? Why, why why, and I just always smile and look at her and go, and you know what? Thank goodness. I found a career where I get paid to ask why.

JW: I love that.

KM: It’s just a beautiful thing. I love it.

JW: So, Karen again, I’m not inferring anything, but I think we have far more in common than we disagree on in this life. I tell you. Sounds like we’re both trying to pursue what we consider to be the best of life and I agree totally that the peace on this world could be found if we had more clarity in communication among the different leaders of governments over the globe and I just wish that we could all put aside those differences that we may have a few and really focus on the clarity that is the overarching goal of all of us on this planet. To live in peace, but that’s for another podcast. But let me ask you this, Karen. We’ve had a great discussion here. I’ve taken a lot of your time today and I thank you so much. But, what would you leave our audience with if you could just give one real nugget of inspiration or information? What would you leave them with?

KM: You know, I think the most important traits in life for anyone to develop, whether you’re a leader or a husband, a wife, a sister, a cousin, a best friend, whatever you are. I think is to operate with humility and clarity. I’m sorry, humility and curiosity, both of which are pre requirements to operating with clarity. It’s very difficult to be clear if you think you know everything, and it’s very difficult to be clear. If you don’t seek out, which by asking why and those kind of things which is a sign of curiosity. And what I tell people that are afraid to get rid of the armor and operate with humility or afraid to ask the clarifying questions and be curious is you got to try it. You just got to do it and see that the world does not come crashing down around your shoulders or your knees or your or your ankles, that in a safe environment, and again it has to be safe. We all have instincts of fight-or-flight type of thing. So, in a safe environment, it is absolutely acceptable, and is desirable to operate with humility and curiosity which then lead to clarity and just try it and the people around you often won’t disappoint. They will often support it, and love it, and it spreads its contagiousness. Clarity can be incredibly contagious and it’s a beautiful thing.

JW: Well, let me just say if I have my choice today Karen, I would rather take clarity over covid-19 as a contagious item, I promise you.

KM: Indeed, indeed. But covid-19 is giving us a lot of great opportunities to test clarity and to play with clarity.

JW: I love it. Hey, this has truly been my honor, Karen, to host you today on Live a Life by Design. I want to thank you so much for taking your valuable time today folks, Karen is so busy. She’s got a wonderful career, a great team. She’s got several books we’re going to put in our show notes for you to get on her website, look at her books. We’re gonna also have a link to her book on our website for you. Please contact Karen at her website TKMG.com. You can find her there and her team will be glad to book her for any speaking engagements that she is available for, that your team would like to seek greater clarity in your organization. Karen, thank you again so much.

KM: Jimmy, thank you so much. This has been a really nice conversation and I I love that you’re tuned into clarity the way you are and thank you for having me on the show.

JW: It’s been indeed our pleasure and look forward to next week, as I give you the challenge for this week is to go first buy the book that Karen has available for you, it’s called Clarity First. It truly is a game-changer. If you take this book to heart, don’t just read it, study it and implement some of those findings in the book. It has done wonders for our companies and I continue to utilize it. As I’ve said, I’ve highlighted, dog-eared. I’m going to probably have to ask her to get me an autographed copy to make up for the one I’ve used as a textbook. But at the end of day Karen Martin, Clarity First at TKMG, The Karen Martin Group, and again, thank you, Karen. Have a wonderful week and everyone listening. Don’t forget, go out there today make the world different for someone else in a positive way and Live Your Life by Design.

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