Ann Latham on the Power of Clarity

Ann Latham is author of The Power of Clarity (Bloomsbury 2021) and The Clarity Papers, two books that have made her the leading expert on clarity—where it is, where it isn’t, how to create it, why it is so uncommon, and its incredible and under-appreciated power.

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Show Notes

Ann Latham is author of The Power of Clarity (Bloomsbury 2021) and The Clarity Papers, two books that have made her the leading expert on clarity—where it is, where it isn’t, how to create it, why it is so uncommon, and its incredible and under-appreciated power.

Leaders and employees are under relentless pressure to become faster, more efficient, and more adaptable in the face of change.  People are stressed, and organizations aren’t performing as well as they could.

How can we continue to do more with less? How can we possibly work smarter, not harder?

In this conversation, we talk about Latham’s new book, The Power of Clarity. In it, Latham points out the distinction between what she calls “cognitive objects,” such as ideas, decisions, and plans and “physical objects” such as products and services.

Latham explains that the vast majority of our improvement efforts over the previous decades have been focused on physical processes that move products and services out the door. Those processes are clearly defined, with clear objectives and priorities. Physical processes and their outcomes are visible and measurable.

Meanwhile, most knowledge workers, managers, and other non-production people spend their work days trying to move cognitive objects, without the benefit of clearly defined processes and priorities. They are operating in what Ann Latham calls the ‘cognitive zone,’ which is currently the land of ‘disclarity.’

Latham stresses that in the cognitive zone, there are six cognitive objects that represent tangible progress–progress that completes one step and leads to another.  These are:
  • A decision
  • A list
  • A plan
  • The solution to a problem
  • Confirmation
  • Authorization

If you want to make real progress, she says, you had better be clear as to which of those six you are pursuing at any given moment.

When you have a clear process, you become much more efficient. You involve the right people at the right time, and deal effectively with the emotions that can make decisions difficult.

Latham’s advice also addresses the importance of avoiding ‘shoulds,’ confronting procrastination, and the role of self-awareness. She provides a surprising example of how different people measure their own success differently and often unconsciously, and how bringing this to light can ensure a good match between the boss’s/organization’s objectives and the employee’s objectives.
Learn more about Latham’s work and how your organization can harness the power of clarity at or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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We all want to do work we love, and as leaders, entrepreneurs and employees, wouldn’t it be great to create workplaces where work feels like play?

Where people are tuned in to changes going on in the world around them? Where they’re constantly learning, spotting new opportunities, and taking action to go after them? These traits are essential to an organization’s agility and success.

In the Fearless Growth podcast, Amanda Setili and her guests explore the mindsets and choices that lead individuals, leaders and their organizations to outstanding performance.


Amanda Setili (00:03):
My guest today is Ann Latham Latham. Ann Latham is the author of The Power of Clarity: Unleash the True Potential of Workplace Productivity, Confidence, and Empowerment. This book just came out in July of 2021, and it is fabulous! It’s such a practical book. It’s easy to read. I think everybody should grab this book and have a look at, I spent just a couple of hours skimming through it yesterday and rereading the parts I enjoyed the most. And I just found it a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Ann Latham is it interesting person. She is founder of Boston area consulting firm, Uncommon Clarity, and she’s worked with more than 40 industries and lots of nonprofits. She’s served Boeing, Medtronic, Hitachi PBS, and a range of smaller organizations. She spent the first half of her career working in high-tech companies beginning as a software engineer and winding up reporting to the CEO and leading cross-divisional, cross-functional strategic efforts. One funny thing that happened from her corporate life is she was awarded a good-humored certificate, which was probably quite accurate, for Most Likely to Dispute Recognized Authorities. I love that! She’s appeared in New York Times, Bloomberg Business Week, Forbes, and MSNBC.
So, Ann Latham, one of the things I couldn’t help noticing in your bio and is that, you know how to ride a unicycle while carrying a canoe, a practical way to transport your canoe? Or is this a stunt?
Ann Latham (01:39):
Oh yeah, it’s so incredibly practical! I learned to ride a unicycle because I had to be able to –I was rather competitive–and I needed to be able to do something my big brothers couldn’t do. So that’s why I learned to ride the unicycle. And then when one brother started to learn to ride the unicycle, I needed to up the ante. And so I picked up the canoe.
Amanda (02:03):
That’s hilarious. That’s so amazing. That is truly amazing. I noticed that you and I have other interests in common, we both like to hike and we both took up ice hockey at a very mature age. I loved it and I was so bad at it, but it’s so fun, even if you’re bad.
Ann Latham (02:20):
Yes! I specialized in always skating to where the puck used to be.
Amanda (02:24):
I know what you mean, following the crowd around. It’s still fun though. So how do you think about integrating the fun parts of your life, the hiking, et cetera, the unicycle riding with your work, or do you try to keep those separate so that the play can rejuvenate your mind for the work?
Ann Latham (02:44):
Well, that’s a great question. You know, I, I just came back from hiking for three weeks in the Swiss Alps, and I have to admit that my work did not enter my mind much at all, but I think that’s because all the time in the Swiss Alps you have these spectacular views! But I would say normally when I’m hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I’m often writing articles on my way up, because a lot of the time you get lost in your own mind because you’re in the trees and you don’t have a great view. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens the next time I get up to the White Mountains, whether I go back into the books and the work, or whether I truly can separate my brain from those thoughts.
Amanda Setili (03:25):
I found I was, it was a few years ago. I was just working so much. I was always thinking, oh, I’m working, doing too much multitasking. And my husband and I started to kiteboard, which I just really, really, really love. And I noticed that, so I made a commitment to spend more time doing that. And I noticed that my work became so much more efficient. Like the time off, the time doing something where I really couldn’t think about work, or at least I didn’t have a computer or a pencil in my hand, seemed to just rejuvenate my brain where I was just a much clearer thinker and a much better contributor when I was working.
Ann Latham (04:04):
Yeah. I think that’s absolutely true. And the best example for me of that is when we moved to downtown Boston for one year. It was our “urban experiment” and we got an apartment there and we, we were right in the center of town. So all of a sudden I had this great motivation to finish my work early every day so I could get out and explore and walk all over town, especially in the summer with the outdoor concerts and everything. And so it, it really did focus me much better on getting the right things done early in the day so that I could be free to do other things.
Amanda Setili (04:38):
Boston is such a great town for walking at least most, many months of the year. And what I loved when I was going to Harvard Business School was the bike path along the river. You could just ride up the Charles as long as you wanted, and then, you know, crossover on whatever bridge you wanted and ride back the other way. And it was just such an incredible amenity, I thought for an urban environment.
Ann Latham (05:04):
Yeah. It’s a great walkable town and there’s a Harbor Walk now that goes all the way along the shore. You can go around the entire peninsula on this Harbor walk right on the water. And it’s just wonderful.
Amanda Setili (05:13):
I’m going to do that next time I’m there. That sounds fantastic.
Good. Well one of the things that I thought was very cool about The Power of Clarity is how you talk about the fact that the world in general has gotten pretty good at optimizing physical processes. We have lean and all of these techniques to, to really drive costs out and drive productivity up, but we haven’t really figured out cognitive processes. So can you talk about why that gap occurred and how your techniques helped to bridge the gap?
Ann Latham (05:50):
Yes. That’s a good question. So you’re absolutely right with lean and all the other process improvement efforts have been focused on, primarily on our production processes. Whether you’re a manufacturing company producing parts and assemblies and things like that, or a service business where you’re delivering services, it’s whatever that production, all those production processes have been really streamlined in most cases. So we know exactly what people need to do at each step of the way, whether they’re processing mortgage applications or selling product in a small store or manufacturing airplanes. So those are quite streamlined and well-known, but as you move away from the people who are directly involved with those production processes and move farther and farther towards the CEO, who’s at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, you are spending less of your time dealing with hard core, physical objects, like raw materials or orders or products or you know, order forms and templates and things like that.
Ann Latham (06:59):
As you get farther away, you’re dealing more with cognitive processes. Knowledge workers and people in the middle of the company are spending most of their time trying to move ideas and plans and decisions and things like that that are cognitive. They’re not visible. They aren’t these physical easy things where you, you know, you can see them and touch them and watch them move. So there’s this huge area that I call the ‘cognitive zone’ in the middle of most organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, where you’re not spending your time with physical objects. You’re trying to move ideas, plans, and decisions, and working with other people. And we don’t have the processes to do that. Furthermore, we don’t even think in terms of processes when we’re moving those. People get in a room for a meeting and they talk, they don’t think “Well, what’s our process? What are we actually trying to accomplish in this meeting? What’s going to be different when we’re done. And what’s the process we’re going to use to get there.”
Amanda Setili (08:03):
You talk about six verbs or six words that you should think about that should be, or that are typical of the output of anything, any step in the process. Can you tell us a little bit about what those six words are when you use which ones.
Ann Latham (08:19):
Yeah, I call them my six cognitive objects. And when you’re not building something physical or creating a marketing brochure or something like that and you’re trying to move decisions and ideas, you only make real progress when you’re actually creating these cognitive objects. And there are six of them that are critical.
The first one is a decision. I mean, decisions are so incredibly important. We make hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of decisions a day and some are easy and some are hard, but they are the forks in the road that if we can make a decision, we move forward. If we can’t make the decision, we get stuck. And it’s like, if there’s one thing, that’s the most important thing you do in your business life, it’s probably making decisions. And you know, it’s what you spend a lot of your time on. And as I mentioned before, we don’t have any processes really, to do these things.
Ann Latham (09:11):
If you ask the people you work with what their processes are for making decisions, I pretty much guarantee you would get more answers than the people you ask, because there is not an agreed process. We don’t have a vocabulary for it. We don’t have a process for it. We don’t know how to talk about it. But so anyway, decisions is the biggest. If you’re making a decision, you move something forward. So that’s my first cognitive object.
The second one is a plan. And the plan is, it’s a plan. You agree on what needs to be done. And when you’re finished with that, you’ve got a plan. You’ve got something concrete that allows you to move forward so you can get on to next steps.
The third one is a problem resolution. So if you are, you know, you’ve got a problem you want to solve it. You’ve got to reach that problem resolution. It’s a, it’s a tangible, solid cognitive achievement that helps you move forward.

Ann Latham (09:57):
The fourth one is a list. And the reason I put that on that list is when you’ve made your list, you’re done with your list. You’ve made progress. When we make a decision, we don’t necessarily make the entire decision at once. Or when we make a plan, you have to do it in pieces. It is a process. It’s a process. So for instance, with a plan, there are a lot of potential lists that go into your plan. For instance, you might have a list of things you’re trying to achieve. You might have a list of limitations. You might have a list of action items. You might have a list of resources. So each one of those, as you accumulate those parts of a plan, each one of those is a list. And if you focus on one list at a time, you are achieving honest to goodness, tangible progress.
Ann Latham (10:48):
The fifth one is confirmation and confirmation to me is this. It’s a really simple, and it’s powerful. Suppose I’m working on something. And often this happens in a meeting. I walk into a meeting or I’m talking to a colleague and I say, okay, so far I’ve done this. And I plan to do this next. Does that make sense to you? You’re just looking for confirmation and all you want is a yes or a no. And when you get that yes or no, if it’s a, yes, you can move forward. If it’s a no, if it’s a, no, you have to ask for more information, but it frees you up. It’s concrete, tangible evidence of progress. And what happens of course, in the real world, is when you ask for confirmation, especially in a meeting, everyone starts throwing advice at you. They don’t just say, yup, sounds like you’re on the right track. They start telling you their war stories, everything that they think you should do differently.
Ann Latham (11:44):
And the sixth one is, is authorization or approval. And a lot of times, all we need is a yes or no. And we move ahead. Do I have permission to implement, do I have permission to do this next? One of my favorite examples of this is, I talk about it in the book, is a client of mine was filling me in on what was going on in his world one day. And he says, “well, you know, I did give my boss a marketing plan and I wanted approval on it. And I asked him to review it. And I, you know, I haven’t heard back from him and it’s been three weeks now, I guess I should follow up with him.”
Ann Latham (12:33):
And I said, “what did you ask for?” And he says “I asked him to review it.” And I said, “what do you need?” He says, “I need approval to implement.” So all he needed was authorization, but he asked for a review. And you know, to me ‘review’ is what I call a Treadmill Verb, because there’s no way to know when you’re through reviewing. You can review something for almost anything, but all he needed was approval. He needed authorization. The next day he asked for approval and the answer was ‘yes.’ Three weeks, much enthusiasm, and probably a good deal of confidence all lost because he was so vague.
So those six cognitive objects are essential to moving things forward. You need to make decisions, establish a plan, find a problem resolution, make lists, confirm, or authorize. And those add up to tangible, real honest to goodness progress.
Amanda Setili (13:25):
Right. That’s good. So you bring up an, or this raises in my mind an interesting question, which is this all sounds very logical and I kind of came from a similar background as you, sort of a stem background. And for the first half of my career, I just thought that everything was logic. And if you just applied enough logic, you would prevail in the end. And the older I got, the more I realized that there’s, that people make decisions based on emotions. And that sometimes there’s lurking emotions that are not surfaced during a logical discussion that later on trip you up. And so an example, which I write about in my book, Fearless Growth, is fear. People know they need to do something, but they’re afraid. And the fear is legitimate. They’re afraid that they’re going to embarrass themselves. They’re afraid they’re going to have to lay somebody off. They’re afraid that they’re going to damage the brand that their company has spent so many years building. They’re afraid that their partner’s going to let them down. They’re afraid that you know, they’re going to miss their budget. How, how do you, in your clarity processes, your cognitive processes deal with the lurking emotions.
Ann Latham (14:41):
I love that. Okay. So I have a whole chapter in there on process clarity that’s called Playing Cards with the Pope. I really believe that if, if you are focused on the people the emotions are more likely to come into play. If you can focus on the process, you can avoid a lot of those emotions. You can, you can level the playing field. So for instance, if you agree that, okay, these are the four steps we’re going to take. It’s like, it’s like playing a card game, playing cards with the Pope. Okay. So if you agree on the rules of the game, then if someone skips your turn and jumps in ahead, and you can say, “wait a minute, it’s my turn.” Or if you don’t, someone else will say it for you. And it doesn’t matter if the person who skips your turn is the Pope or not.
Ann Latham (15:31):
It’s just like, well, these are the rules of the game. This is how we do it. So for instance, if you’re making a decision and people are worried about speaking up, because they’re fearful and you have a process, and the first step for instance is What are the objectives? What are the decision criteria? What are, how are we going to know if we’ve got a good decision? And almost anyone, if you asked that question, it’s, it’s an unemotional question, can contribute to that level of discussion, you know? And they say, yeah, well, I think we need to worry about this. And I think we need to worry about that. It doesn’t have to be personal. It’s just ideas of theirs that you need to worry about, you see? So you create your decision criteria.
Ann Latham (16:26):
The next step is to look at alternatives and you’re saying, well, we can do this and this and this. And pretty much anyone can throw out an alternative. There shouldn’t be a lot of fear involved there. You’re just following the process. You don’t even have to like your alternative. You’re just suggesting an alternative. And what I find when I–one of the things I do a lot of is facilitating groups through really difficult decisions–as you go through these steps, you find people starting to get uncomfortable. They’re pushing back. They’re not sure. And they’re worried maybe that you’re going down the wrong path and you’re going to make a decision that’s uncomfortable for them or for others.
When you sense that, you take the pressure off the people, by going back to the process and saying, “Okay, you know, there’s discomfort here. What are we missing in our decision criteria, for instance.” And then you have enlisted the help of everyone in the group to try to understand what the discomfort is because that discomfort is caused by something missing in the decision criteria. Almost always.
Amanda Setili (17:22):
That’s a really good way of saying it that you, you I, I think that what often happens is you list your decision criteria and that decision criteria is things like profitable growth, can be implemented within six months, whatever these really practical business things are. But then it turns out that the real decision criteria is I really don’t want to have to lay Sam off, or really don’t want to have to explain to my customer why this change needs to happen, or I’m afraid I can’t make my sales numbers if we, if we make these changes. And that’s when the kind of emotional things come out. And if you can circle back to the decision criteria and either decide, is it legit to put on this list that we can’t lay off Sam?
Ann Latham (18:18):
Or we can agree that we have to bite the bullet and consider laying off Sam.
Amanda Setili (18:19):
Right, right. And so I think that that’s a really good thing that you point out that put it explicitly on the decision criteria. And some of these emotional things are very, I mean, I typically find that they’re very legitimate. I mean, emotions, the more I think and read about emotions, emotions can be like a cognitive shortcut to summarize everything you’ve learned in your life. That, that, you know, you can’t really spell it out, but you can just say, this just doesn’t feel right to me. And I don’t know why, but you’re, you’re explaining how you can make it more concrete which enables you to play cards with the Pope.
Ann Latham (19:03):
Right. And literally you can enlist the help of everyone in the room by saying, okay, we’re missing something here because I’m sure so-and-so, who expressed the discomfort isn’t the only one in the room with that discomfort. So again, now they’re feeding the process. They they might be speaking from their own heart or they might just be brainstorming, but they don’t have to say “I’m most worried about this.” They say, well, I think we should consider putting this on the decision criteria list.
Amanda Setili (19:34):
Yeah. Right, right. They sometimes will bail their friend out by speaking something, their friend doesn’t want to say exactly. Or the call. It could be their, their colleague that they don’t even get along well with. Right. okay.
So what about this idea of ‘don’t start with should,’ what are the kinds of things that people think they should do that they may not actually need to do?
Ann Latham (19:57):
Well, there’s so many of them! We use ‘should’ all the time. I mean, for instance, every company needs a mission statement, right? This is a ‘should.’ And we need a vision statement. This is a ‘should’ And it’s like, you know what? You can actually do what you need to do without either! I end up getting caught, pulled into arguments so many arguments about what really should be in the vision statement and what really should be in the mission statement. And it’s like, why are you arguing about that? Leave that for the marketing people, what do we really want to accomplish here? How are we going to win in the game of business? What’s our niche where we can add value best? Those are the kind of questions you want to answer. Not let’s make the perfect mission and vision statements. Or let’s make the best list of values. Well, what, why do you need values? Well, you need values because you need to understand how you want people in your organization to behave. So answer that question instead of making a list of values.
Amanda Setili (20:55):
I think that, yeah, the ‘should’ idea often leads to a sense of shame also. I mean, I think of it mainly in terms of like me not keeping my house as orderly as I should. And then I’m like, oh, I don’t want to have people over because the house isn’t clean enough. And that just means you sub optimize your life. Like, no, have them come over and they see your mess and they realize that they can have you over to their house when their house is messy. And everybody’s happy. You know,
Ann Latham (21:26):
I almost think we should get rid of that word from our vocabulary. The biggest story, it will take a minute or two here, when I–I won’t even explain why–but I ended up responsible for the quality in my organization for a while, probably because I asked too many questions and resisted authority! So I discovered that everyone who was dealing with the ISO certifications for quality would explain what they’re doing by saying, “we’re doing it for ISO.” We’re doing it for ISO. So they’re relying on these ‘shoulds’ instead of thinking about, wait a minute, what’s the value that we’re trying to achieve here? What do we get out of ISO? ISO is the international standards that are supposed to add value to your organization. And so I told them we had to abolish the words, “we’re doing it for ISO.” We’re not going to do anything because we just ‘should,’ you need to dig in and find out how each of these clauses is supposed to add value to the organization and how can we do it in such a way that it adds to our ability to execute efficiently, effectively, and with high quality?
Amanda Setili (22:35):
I think that’s a really good example because the people who wrote the ISO standards were attempting to drive value and consistency. They were doing their best to explain what would need to happen to have that, to have that occur. But that doesn’t mean that it’s exactly practical for your organization. You need to think what makes sense for us. And it’s such a good, you know, kind of example of how the CEO or the boss tries to explain what they want, but when it gets down to the bottom level, what they explained might not have taken into account everything that you know about how things should be implemented. And so it’s another case of, you know, the boss said we should do this, but oh, when the rubber meets the road, it doesn’t make sense. So let’s circle that back to the boss and say, here’s what we think.
Ann Latham (23:29):
Yeah. And when you first dive into ‘should,’ you’re, you’re sort of forgetting, your – it’s an abdication of the responsibility to think!
Amanda Setili (23:39):
Good point, good point. Good. So there was a section in your book that I thought was really good, which is kind of a simple section, but it has to do with focusing on one thing at a time, finishing whatever that thing is, and procrastination, how you think about procrastination. So maybe we can kind of tie that all into one question, which is just tell me about that part of your product productivity formula.
Ann Latham (24:10):
Okay. So what you just asked about four questions, let me just zero in on the procrastination piece. So, and then we’ll go back to focus. When I was in my final semester, senior year in college, I had taken the previous term off and I came back and saw all these people procrastinating. And that was the most shocking thing to me after having a term off. I was working on an independent study during that time, so I wasn’t completely off, but everything was at my decision. You know, it was, at my pace, I did things when I wanted to do and all that. So I come back and start seeing all these people procrastinating like crazy and putting things off. And I realized that, whoa, no, no, no, no, just stop! Either sit down and get the work done or just walk away and go have some fun. This limbo in between of procrastinating, it’s such a waste of energy and time, and you just feel guilty when you’re doing it. So I’m a big fan of decide when you want to work, sit down, get to work, and get it done. And by the way, the best way to get it done is to figure out what object do I need to create. And if it’s a cognitive object, what decision do I need next? What plan do I need next? What problem resolution, what lists, what confirmation, what authorization moves me ahead?
Amanda Setili (25:30):
Such a good point. And often the lists. I mean, you know, when you’re put off by the magnitude of something that you’re facing, that you need to accomplish, like writing a new book or something, just the list can be a huge step forward, make a list of the things that you want to address in your next book. But it’s so easy to put off because you’re so overwhelmed by the enormity of the big thing.
Ann Latham (25:54):
Right. But if you say, okay, the first thing I need is a rough draft of the, of the table of contents. And that’s going to be a list of 10 chapters. And you say, that’s just the first draft. So you sit down and you write those 10 out. You’re done, you’ve made a substantial step forward. Now you might change all of those later, but at least you’re done. And then the next question, because process clarity itself is so important is, okay, what are my next steps? What are the steps that I will take to get to– not to necessarily write the entire book, but the next steps that will move me forward in the next, you know, whether it’s the next quarter hour, hour, day, week, whatever it is.
Amanda Setili (26:38):
Right. Right. I see companies procrastinating. Also. They have big things on list and they talk about it over and over again, without ever really taking any concrete steps because it’s a big thing and they feel overwhelmed by it. But I think if they use one of your six steps to simply come up with either a plan or decide to postpone, the decision, or, you know fix the make is applied the simplest fix to the problem that would, would hold, hold them over for a few more months. They could think about how they can get something done. That’s not procrastination, but actually some kind of accomplishment.
Ann Latham (27:24):
Yeah. You said that they just talk about it and you’re absolutely right. And, and I remember being in a– I write about this, I call it my “focused executives.” I remember being in a meeting with a bunch of executives and they needed to deal with an issue before they got to the reason I was in the room. And when they dove in–it was an urgent problem–they dove in and started talking about it. And I finally interrupted them and I said, look, you know–and of course they just glared at me with “Why are you interrupting” dagger eyes. And I said, look, you might not realize it, but you are talking about five different decisions and two different plans simultaneously. And then the eyes really started burning into me. And I said, look, these are, these are the five decisions.
Ann Latham (28:04):
And I listed them and I listed the two plans and they had immediate recognition. And it’s like the anger dissolved into recognition and they went, oh my God, she’s right. And more so it was completely obvious what order those five decisions needed to be made in and what they needed the first steps on each of those plans. And so instead of just talking and, you know, you call the procrastinating or whatever, but talking about it and going round and round–I swear if I hadn’t been there, they would have talked about it for the full hour and then rescheduled the meeting. Instead, they made those five decisions and laid the first steps of those two plans within 15 minutes and they were done.
Amanda Setili (28:45):
Good work, Ann Latham! That’s really good!
Ann Latham (28:48):
What are the concrete next steps you need? What needs to be different at the end of this next five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes is usually a decision plan, problem resolution, a list, confirmation, or approval.
Amanda Setili (29:05):
That’s so true.
Another thing I was quite fascinated by in your book is a story that you tell about a person that was reporting to you named Ken. And he had some rough around the edges, people skills, and was causing stress among the people he was working with, although he was a good technical producer. And you asked him to, to make some changes in, in what he was focused on and it didn’t lead to the exact outcome that you expected.
The reason I want to explore this story is because I’ve promised my listeners of the Fearless Growth podcasts that I would explore the idea of how we can find more joy in our work, how we can just make it where everybody really loves their jobs, their work. And I think that one of the things that’s important to do to create that kind of environment is that people are working on things that they feel they can be competent at that fit their skills, that fit their passions. And so they can get kind of in a state of flow as they’re working and people appreciate what they’re doing. And this is an example of the story you tell about Ken of how that got a little bit out of whack. And I would like you to just talk a little bit about how we can get the employee’s measurement of success in line with the organization’s measure of success.
Ann Latham (30:27):
Right. Okay. So let me tell you what happened with Ken. I was new in the organization and Ken had been reporting to me for about six months when I had to do his performance review and when I first arrived there, he was literally making people cry all the time. And if they didn’t do exactly what he needed them to do, he would just go step in and do it himself. And so he wouldn’t help them learn. He wouldn’t teach them anything. He just was very impatient and just like, just get it done right. And he lost all patience. Anyway, so I worked with him and helped him see that he really needed to help these other people succeed as well. That it had to be teamwork because he needed them. They needed him. And there was no reason why he couldn’t give them, you know, more answers to their questions, be a little more patient, whatever.
Ann Latham (31:18):
Well, miraculously three or four months later, he was totally different. He was doing a fabulous job of working with these people and, and making, you know, helping them do their jobs well. And so when I sat down with him for his review, I told him how impressed I was and how he had done such a fantastic job of shifting his attitude and the way he was behaving with people. And he literally started crying because he explained to me that he felt like this entire year, including before I got there, was such a complete waste because he hadn’t had time to do … and then he listed off all these technical accomplishments about improving certain tools or systems or installing new software and things like that. And all, that’s how he measured his success. That’s all he cared about. That’s what he thought about. And so he felt like all of this time had been a complete waste, whereas I saw it as just tremendous improvement.
Ann Latham (32:20):
So here’s an example of, you know, I had given him clear expectations. He understood those expectations. He did them, but it didn’t align at all with the way he measured his own success, which was in terms of technical accomplishment.
So once we recognized that gap, once you, you realize you’ve got this complete disconnect–finding that disconnect, first of all, is absolutely critical–because I think I was able to help him see that the things that he had improved on were really important to the organization. You know, they were essential to the organization’s success that he helped these other people succeed. And he was doing that. Now in the end, and then I understood that on the flip side, that these technical accomplishments were what were so important to him. So in the end, the question is, does he have interest in developing those personal skills? Is he able to see that that’s valuable to the company? Can he feel good about that? Can that become part of his passion? Because if not, you know, he, he may have to go somewhere else where he can just put his head in, you know, in a hole and do his thing without having to mess with other people. But I think in this case, the long story short- that company got dissolved shortly after that.
Amanda Setili (33:41):
Not due to your helping Ken be a much better team player.
Ann Latham (33:44):
I think he was able to see the added value, whether that was enough for him was another question. Well, you have to have alignment between our passions and the expectations, otherwise we’ll never really feel, even if we do everything right and achieve everything, we’ll never really feel personally satisfied.
Amanda Setili (34:08):
Well, I hope that when he went to apply for jobs after he was left that company, that he had much better self-awareness into what he wanted and what he was willing to learn and continue to do on the people’s side. And I, I bet you that, you know, your, the experience of working for you was really transformative in his life, Either he said, I only want to do technical stuff and he found a job where he could do that. Or he said, Hey, this is a skill set that employers value more than I expected. And I’m willing to, to put on my growth mindset hat and, you know, continue to learn how to be a great people manager.
Ann Latham (34:46):
Right. And I’m hoping it was transformative for him. It was for me because I realized that even though an employee, you set expectations, you say, this is what I need. And even though the employee says yes, and they try to achieve it, it does not mean it really isn’t in alignment with their passions, their interests. And so you’re, you know, you’re only going to get so far with that and you’re not going to be very happy.
Amanda Setili (35:06):
And it can go off the rails later.
Ann Latham (35:09):
That self-awareness is critical for employees and a manager’s ability to try to determine whether that person is developing that necessary self-awareness and keying in so that their passions are in alignment is huge.
Amanda Setili (35:26):
Definitely. Well, Ann Latham it’s been so great talking with you today. And again, I urge all our listeners to go out and get The Power of Clarity, because it’s such a helpful, helpful book. And it’s easy to just, the table of contents is an education in itself, and it leads you very directly to the parts where you, where you need to spend the most time. So I just really, really enjoyed it. And I hope that everybody will buy it and tell their friends about it. Thank you so much for being my guest today.
Ann Latham (35:57):
Thank you, Amanda. I truly do believe that the opportunity that is presented by the value of greater clarity, the power of clarity, is really enormous. We can save so much time and so much conflict and really empower people to do their jobs better.
Amanda (36:14):
Definitely. Definitely. All right. Thanks so much.

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