The Six Core Questions You Must Answer to Achieve Clarity in the Workplace

Note: As many of you might know from reading my blogs, I am a big fan of the work of Patrick Lencioni. His latest book, 'The Advantage,' on achieving clarity in the workplace, inspired me to answer the same questions for myself.  Since it is so long, I have split it into two parts; Part 2 next week. As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at

Why Do We Exist?

1. Why do we exist? (Why am I in business?)
My accountant would probably say that the reason for being in business should be to make a profit. I would disagree.

Our core purpose is what gets us out of bed, lights us up inside, keeps us inspired through the roller coaster ride and rewards us with that immense sense of satisfaction when we work towards it.
For many of the people I’ve met, worked with and coached, money ain’t it. Yes it plays an essential part in running a healthy business, but there’s a deeper ‘why’ beyond the money.

My primary purpose at its most basic level is about helping people. Being profitable enables me to keep helping people and growing my business helps me to help more people. It’s a simple tweak in perspective which enables me to pursue my business wholeheartedly.

Sometimes our ‘why’ has nothing to do with what we do. Here is an example of a paving company that realized its core purpose wasn’t about driveways at all. It was about providing jobs in their community. In fact, if the paving industry went away, they would move onto roofing or something else. That’s what motivates them to run a successful business, to do a good job and get paid for it.

For my friend Dennis, it’s about supporting and enabling his son to pursue his tennis career, so for him, business opportunities are only ‘fit for purpose’ if they allow him to be flexible and meet those commitments.

When we are clear about our core purpose, and stay true to the fundamental reason why we do what we do, it gives us motivation, direction, fuel and fulfillment.

2. How do we behave? (What are my values and how do I live them out?)
Values are who we are. Not who we would like to be, not who we think we should be, but who we are in our lives, right now. And the essence of who we are is captured in the way we behave and how we do business.
I describe a core value as something you’re willing to get punished for, and violating it would be like selling your soul.

A funny example is from Southwest Airlines when they showed their “fun loving spirit” value in action. When a customer complained that there were too many jokes in the safety announcement, instead of apologizing, toning down the humor and assuring that safety would be taken more seriously in future, CEO Herb Kelleher replied with a three worded letter, “We’ll miss you!”

One of my core values is generosity. That means I give a lot of information away freely, on my blog, in talks and in conversation, and sometimes some people will take only the free stuff. That’s OK – I know I have even more to give to my clients. It also means I collaborate better than I negotiate!

This is about being you, not all things to all people. Knowing what makes you, you, and living that out in your business. When you do:

  • Your offering becomes much more distinctive. You stand out from the crowd.
  • You operate from a place of strength. These are the things that come naturally to you.
  • You stand your ground, instead of chasing every possible lead, and start attracting clients who value what you value, making your work far more rewarding and fun.

Exercise: Imagine that you’ve been asked to re-create the very best attributes of your organization on another planet but you have seats on the rocket ship for only five to seven people. Whom should you send? Most likely, you’ll choose the people who have a gut-level understanding of your core values, the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest levels of competence. More:

  • If you awoke tomorrow morning with enough money to retire for the rest of your life, would you continue to live those core values?
  • Can you envision them being as valid for you 100 years from now as they are today?
  • Would you want to hold those core values, even if at some point one or more of them became a competitive disadvantage?
  • If you were to start a new organization tomorrow in a different line of work, what core values would you build into the new organization regardless of its industry?

The value of the last three questions goes to their enduring value. Core Values should not change.

What are your core values? What do they look like day to day? How do you live them out in the way you do business?

Examples of Permission to Play Values: i.e., Patrick Lencioni (below) defines these as the minimum standard behaviors to work here:

  •  Integrity.
  • A positive, coachable attitude.
  • Body, mind, and soul care.
  • Simplicity
  • Authenticity
  • Teamwork and trust.
  • Continual growth and learning.
  • A healthy work ethic.

3. What do we do? (What do I do?)
Yup, the simple “does what it says on the can” statement. What is the nature of your business? What do you do? Can you describe that clearly and accurately, in a way your prospective clients, networking contacts or a five year old can understand?

If you just want to help people, how specifically are you going to choose to do that? What’s your stake in the ground that says “this is what I do”?

4. How will we succeed? (How will I succeed?)
This is your strategy. There are lots of paths to success, and strategy is about choosing yours. Rather than having every detail mapped out, I suggest having three ‘strategic anchors’ that inform day to day decisions.

For example, Southwest Airlines’ strategic anchors are to “keep fair prices low”, “create fanatically loyal customers” and “make sure the planes are on time” so would they invest in the latest reclining seats or a fancier on-board menu? Well, that would probably push their costs and prices higher, so probably no.

On the other hand, my daughter’s friend Liz runs a cupcake company that is all about handmade, delicious, fresh cupcakes. Would she look at getting her cakes mass manufactured? No. Would she offer to match decorations to a bride’s bouquet or make the Superman figure on a six year old’s cake look just like the birthday boy? Yes.

One of my strategic anchors is building personal relationship. So given the choice between advertising in a magazine and writing for them, I’ll go for the writing every time. Given the choice between sponsoring and speaking at an event, I’d choose to speak, because it gives me a voice and an opportunity to connect with people on a more personal level.

When we are clear on our strategy, it’s much easier to distinguish between opportunities and distractions, decide what’s important and what’s not, make day to day decisions and filter down from a myriad of “all the things I could do” to what you are choosing to focus on and do exceptionally well.

Next week: Part II - The Six Core Questions to Achieve Clarity