I have been coaching a Clarity First client through a particularly sensitive piece of communication this week, which has highlighted some insights that I thought might help you also.

This case highlights how delivering communication is the easy part, while the strategy and problem solving that drives the right messaging can be hugely challenging. 
​​Let me unpack the situation for you as well as our solution and story.

The situation was politically fraught

Clive is a consultant helping solve a range of productivity problems in a large organisation.  He is a gun problem solver and regularly called in to help leaders solve difficult problems.

This one was highly sensitive: he had a tough message to deliver just before performance evaluation and bonus time.

To add to that, his ‘client' was two people with conflicting agendas: a Chief of Staff who needed a team's performance to improve and the team manager who was the cause of the problem but who would need to be positively engaged in the solution.

And, of course, it all had to be sorted yesterday.

Ultimately, the message was that the team manager needed to lift his game so that the team could deliver critical work on time. 

The team needed greater clarity around resourcing, work allocation and priorities.

So, what to do? Here is how we tackled it.

The solution required a mix of skills

We used a mix of clarity, care and discipline to craft a proactive and constructive message that left nobody in doubt that improvement was needed. 

Clarity: We first got absolute clarity on the message that needed to be conveyed, even if we were not going to deliver it ‘straight up' and blunt. The ‘blunt' story was deductive and looked like this:

The team needs stronger leadership if it is to start delivering

  • The team isn't delivering because they have allowed themselves to be over run by un-prioritised and unstructured demands
  • However, the leader needs to step up so the team can take control of their priorities and their time
  • Therefore, we recommend helping the leader step up

Care: We thought carefully about the issues facing all players:

  • How to act with integrity as a consultant aiming to add real value?
  • How to respect the Chief of Staff's situation: she needed the team's performance to turn around pronto.
  • How to deliver a tough message in a way that maintains the relationship with the team lead so they are willing to step up?

Discipline: We held firm to storylining principles so we delivered a constructive recommendation that kept the team leader onside.


  • Focused on what was happening rather than the person causing it (it was tempting to rant!)
  • Offered solutions rather than labouring problems
  • Made sure the story structure was tight so that our reasoning was compelling while also being kind.

The story required structure 

Here is what the story structure looked like after we finished:
Changing the operational approach will enable the team to manage conflicting demands and deliver on its priorities more easily

Three conflicting and chaotic work stream makes it very difficult for the team to deliver critical work on time

  • Open-ended demands from SMEs and the GM make both planning and execution difficult
  • Unstructured demands without upstream prioritisation makes prioritisation very challenging

However, changing the team's operational approach will give greater control

  • Clarifying upstream priorities before allocating work to the team will reduce distractions
  • Embedding a specialist in each major project will improve resourcing and focus
  • Coaching the team so they can better understand Agile ways of working will help the team plan and deliver

Therefore, we recommend changing operational approach

  • Embed a specialist in each major project
  • Segment responsibility: one deliverable, one owner
  • Rationalise governance participation
  • Coach the team on best Agile practices at key milestones of each project
  • Coordinate with Agile ways of working


Putting the ideas on the paper and having the conversation were the easy part.  Solving the people and business aspects of the issue was much harder!

To learn how to prepare clear and compelling communication using top-down structured thinking techniques such as these, check out our Clarity First Program.

PS In case you are not familiar with the term ‘Agile‘, it refers to a popular project management approach.


I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com


(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.