Early on in Nancy’s photography business, we had a medium-sized stock photography outlet approach her about using some of her work in their stock-photography offerings.  They would compensate us, and it was tempting, considering the additional cash flow would have been helpful in a very young small business.

We thought about it, and came to the decision not to work with them.  We didn’t dislike the company; but after some discussion it became clear that the business, her business, was wedding photography, not stock photography.  That decision saved us lost time, frustration, and possible usage rights issues with her work.  It kept us from working on something that would not contribute to our ultimate goal – building an excellent wedding photography business.  If you’re been in business or leadership, you know that opportunities will present themselves that may or may not be the best fit for your company.

That’s one very simple, tiny example of how clarity can empower a small business.  We’ve been reading a lot about clarity lately, mainly from the excellent book The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.  Three of the four disciplines he outlines in the book are about clarity, and what it can do for your business.  If you want to learn more about organizational health, I highly recommend it.

So what can “clarity” do for your organization?  Why is it so great?  Each organizational culture has a certain level of ambiguity that it will tolerate.  As you trend towards really significant levels of clarity, you can see results improve.  Why does that happen?

Here’s five ways that clarity will empower your small business:

1) It empowers you to say no.  For us, this meant saying “no” to stock photography, so we could focus on what the business was really about.  If you have a clearly defined business goal, it makes saying “no” much easier for things that don’t move you towards that goal.  Furthermore, when you have a clearly defined value system, you’re empowered to say “no” when you find yourself presented with situations where those values might be compromised.

2) It gives unparalleled focus for your team.  Imagine two different scenarios with me.  One team has an understanding of what the business is all about, and their areas of responsibility.  With each member covering different areas of responsibility, they all feel that their specific area is of highest importance.  The other team understands the primary business goals, and they understand the number one priority right now.

Which team is going to be most effective?  Without a doubt, the team that understands with clarity the number one priority (what Lencioni calls the “thematic goal”) will be more effective towards that end, and less concerned with protecting their own areas.  We have a small team working with Nancy, but when everyone is clear on the objectives for that week, our top priorities, our work is exponentially more effective.

3) It minimizes confusion and disappointment.  Confusion comes from insufficient or ambiguous information.  Disappointment arises when people have unfulfilled expectations.  Where there’s confusion and disappointment, morale will steadily decrease.  Clarity provides sufficient information and helps manage people’s expectations.  Even if the news is bad, having clarity on it will prevent it from becoming worse because it’s not wrapped in confusion and misguided expectations.

We’ve failed to assign tasks with clarity before, and it’s caused disappointment and frustration.   The next time the team gathered, those “important objectives” were no closer to being reached, because we failed to clearly assign responsibility for them.

4) It eradicates large-scale poor decisions.  While this isn’t a guarantee, clarity can all but eliminate fatal business errors.  When you are clear about your core business, clear on your goals and objectives, clear about your values, clear about expectations, when you are clear with others on your opinions and thoughts… you might make some mistakes, but almost never will you make a mistake so bad that it ruins your business.

5) It promotes better communication.  Who hasn’t been frustrated with a vendor, customer, or team member over poor communication?  When you have clarity on your core business, your goals and objectives, your expectations, and so forth, it engenders more explicit, effective communication between team members and others.  When you’re clear on the really big issues like core business, core values, and goals, (they’re maybe a little more challenging to be have clarity about), it promotes clarity between team members about the smaller, operational objectives and tactics.

Clarity seems simple, and it is!  But it’s much more difficult to go through the hard work of creating clarity than to just leave issues ambiguous.  Work on it and reap its benefits!

When have you found yourself in a situation where clarity would have made all the difference?