Fostering Clarity & Alignment in the Face of Change and Disruption

The American Psychological Association reported in 2022 that 87% of adults believe that there has been a constant stream of crises without a break since 2020. And this stress quickly bleeds into the workplace. Consequently, it’s not surprising that today’s average employee can only absorb half as much change as they could in 2019 (Gartner, 2022).

So what do we do? The rate of change and disruption isn’t slowing down anytime soon; we can’t control the never-ending stream of crises; yet there is important work to be done, and people want opportunities to meaningfully contribute at work.

We are in no way trying to over-simplify the complexities of change in today’s environment. And, we have been consistently finding with our clients that leveraging a simple, yet powerful tool can make a tremendous difference in fostering clarity and alignment. It’s a tool we use from the Dare to Lead program called the 5C’s. But before we get to the 5 C’s, we need to look at the 2 vantage points of work.

Are You Working on the Dance Floor or the Balcony?

A common metaphor used to describe the key aspects of work is being on the dance floor or the balcony.

    • Dance Floor – when we are on the dancefloor, we have a limited vantage point. We can see a sliver of the dance floor around us, see some lights and hear the music. This is like being in the weeds of implementation and execution of work. For example, servicing customers, compiling data and reports, and completing day-to-day work.


  • Balcony – when we are up in the balcony, we have a broader vantage point. We can see the full dancefloor (vs. just a portion of it), the entrances and exits, who is coming and going, and more. This is like being more at the strategic level and looking at the complexities of how the various pieces fit together in service of the organization’s purpose, vision and goals.

Most people need to understand how their work makes a difference and is relevant and know the WHY behind changes and requests before being onboard with new initiatives. Yet so often the people primarily working in the balcony fail to recognize this and wonder why people aren’t successfully implementing or aligning with new processes and changes.

Enter the 5C’s. They act like a staircase to help guide people from the dance floor to the balcony and can create clarity and alignment to help them better support and implement the work at hand.

    • Color – Paint the full picture by setting a clear intention, determining the level of importance and aligning on “What does done look like?” So often this is where things first go astray – because there isn’t clarity and alignment on what the task at hand actually is or what is trying to be accomplished (and why).


    • Context – No one has a line of sight into everything that is happening in an organization. This can lead to silos, frustration and an inward mindset. Provide additional information on what is happening in other areas that will impact or be impacted by this deliverable or decision. For example, is another area being slammed with a high priority project or staffing changes that will impact their ability to contribute? This can help people adopt more of an outward mindset, reduce frustration around priorities and pacing of work, and support people in working smarter.


    • Connective Tissue – How does this deliverable / plan / strategy / decision either solve or amplify what has already happened or what is currently happening? Or, how does it lay the groundwork for what is forthcoming? People need to know how their efforts fit into the bigger picture and see the thread that ties various aspects of work together.


    • Cost – What will this cost in terms of money, time, bandwidth, focus, priority shifts, and more? Are the costs tolerable? Expected? Agreed upon? Controversial? Communicated? So often we don’t discuss or align on the costs and what is required of people to support the work at hand. We need to be having these discussions and including this in communication.


  • Consequence – What is at stake? What are the consequences of not doing this or getting it wrong? Can we anticipate or problem-solve any unintended consequences now before we get into the work?

So often people struggle because one or more of the 5C’s is missing, and they don’t fully understand the picture of what they’re being asked to support. For a great example of the 5C’s in action, listen to this podcast episode with Brené Brown where she discusses leveraging the 5C’s to navigate between the balcony and dance floor.

And not only can we use the 5C’s to help us in leading others, work and projects, we can use it on a peer level and even to lead upwards to seek the clarity we need to be successful in our work. For example, imagine you are interviewing for a new job (or having a stay interview or 1:1 conversation with your leader) and leveraging the 5C’s. It might look like something like this…

  • COLOR: What does success in this role look like?
  • CONTEXT: What other functions are impacted by this role/the work of this role?
  • CONNECTIVE TISSUE: What problem(s) does my role exist to solve (current or future)?
  • COST: What might my work cost others (in time, tradition, bandwidth)?
  • CONSEQUENCE: What are the consequences of not doing this? Doing this slowly? Differently?

Very few people actually have this type of conversation and have full clarity over their roles and work. Yet imagine how energizing it would be if everyone was having these conversations and clear and aligned on their roles and the work.

3 Areas to Put the 5 C’s into Practice
Here are three key areas where you can start putting the 5C’s into practice and leverage them to foster clarity and alignment and support people in navigating change and disruption.

    • Revisit Your Meeting Invites. For the next 30 days or so, look at every meeting invitation you’ve initiated. Add in notes to the invite to include the 5 C’s so people are clear on the intent, purpose and importance level of the meeting, what you’re looking for from them as participants, any context that will be helpful for them to be prepared to meaningfully contribute, how this discussion and content connects to other organizational initiatives, what it will cost them in terms of energy or time to prep before and follow-up afterwards, and anything important regarding consequences. Then, look at any meetings you’ve been invited to; email the meeting organizer and ask for the clarity around the 5 C’s. See what happens when you start to be more intentional to create clarity so people know how to best contribute.


    • Revisit Communications. Pay keen attention to communications regarding programs, processes, policies and initiatives. When you communicate or launch something, make sure to include key information related to the 5C’s so people have a greater line of sight into what is being asked of them and why. Also, as you’re thinking about work and decisions, ask who needs to be kept up to speed and be aware of what is transpiring and who else might need to be consulted and weigh in on things. So often we’re either missing key voices or are not staying connected to people who are impacted by the work at hand or can impact the work; and we end up with unnecessary struggle. Start being deliberate about how and who you communicate with and see what happens.


  • Revisit Delegation. We’ve all probably experienced a “just get it done” moment where we were either delegating a task to someone else or on the receiving end. In hindsight, there was likely confusion – and even frustration – due to some key aspects not being present or not having full alignment. Be deliberate to include the 5C’s when you are delegating work and see how it helps foster greater alignment, provides opportunities for a learning or teaching moment, and supports a better outcome.

We would love to support your organization’s leaders and teams in being more aligned and effective. And we’d love to hear from you what you notice as you put the 5C’s into practice.

Stay HUMAN. Stay connected. Stay safe. Show Up as a Leader.

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📢 Effectively Navigate and Move Through Change with Confidence!

Join Rosie Ward, Ph.D. as she takes you on a journey of discovery in her new webinar series on fearless leadership.

May 23, 12-12:30 pm CDT
3 Keys to Foster Alignment & Clarity

Amidst Change!

 According to Gartner HR, our ability to cope with change has dwindled to half of what it was in 2019. So, we must be deliberate about how we lead and influence others in effectively embracing those changes.

Rosie’s 30-minute webinar will unpack three tools she uses with clients to help promote alignment and clarity, enabling them to navigate change and foster alignment with confidence and ease.


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