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Outlook 2023: Organizational Capability

Our consultants saw demand for Organizational Capability (OC) support increase over the course of 2022. With many workplaces still in a state of transition we expect that demand to continue as we move through 2023. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the factors driving this demand and what we expect to see in the future. And if you need a refresher on OC, take a look at my colleague Hans Manzke’s recent piece on how The Clearing approaches the multiple disciplines that comprise organizational capability.

How 2022 Organizational Capability Trends are Shaping 2023

We heard the phrase “doing more with less” frequently in 2022 – and nowhere was it more common than in our organizational capability work. Our teams observed organizations still coping with the residual effects of the pandemic and employees; placing more focus on balancing their lives between work and home; and people leaving jobs at unprecedented rates. At a macro level, these are things that have changed the culture of our nation. At a micro level, we observed their impact on numerous businesses. As a result, we saw high demand from our clients to support them in efforts across the OC spectrum.

With the volume of people leaving organizations and the pace at which organizations are trying to keep up with their customer demands out of balance, organizations are looking for external support to support them in navigating the new, complex environments they are seeing. To that end, in 2022 our OC experts helped numerous clients with their organizational strategy, employee engagement and retention, and related reorganizations in order to meet increasing customer demands while countering personnel changes and shortages.

We expect to see this trend continue in 2023.

How The Clearing Helps Leaders Establish Organizational Stability

We support one organization that has had multiple leadership changes in recent years. This has created uncertainty throughout the organization and a perception from staff that the work they do is undervalued and unimportant. At the same time, they are experiencing demand signals from their customers that what they are doing is both important and needed. While the team takes pride in what they’re delivering, we discovered the leadership changes have left them feeling fragmented and lacking direction.

Now, the organization has a new leader in place, who wants to build on the good while working with their team at all levels to set a new direction. To that end, our team interviewed key leaders to identify what is working really well, what would further enable them to capitalize on their strengths, and reviewed their existing communications. We are also working with organizational leadership on ramping up strategic, proactive communication – particularly around those positives that are already happening. The more employees hear how their contributions matter and how their input makes a difference in moving the organization forward, the more empowered they feel to consider outcomes in terms of possibility instead of constraints.

2023 In-Demand Organizational Capability Services

I believe three areas will account for most of The Clearing’s OC demand in 2023:

Organizational Design. As organizations continue to reshape to reflect modern ways of working and the desires of the workforce, organizational design continues to be at the forefront of OC needs. These engagements range from organizational structure (i.e., who goes where in an organization to maximize impact, performance, and outcomes) to reimagining team cohesion, relationship building, problem-solving, and innovation to better meet the needs of team members no longer working from the office five days a week.

Change Management and Strategic Communication. We believe these two go together. First, successful organizational design requires strong change management – both in developing and implementing the strategy and managing those efforts. Second, it is exceedingly rare to find an organization that believes they are nailing communications. Sometimes we hear this directly from the leaders we work with, sometimes employees, and sometimes customers. Regardless, a proactive communications approach that ensures stakeholders at all levels feel informed is critical to change buy-in and success. In fact, my colleague Angela Radke recently wrote about the key role communications played in a successful workplace transformation for a major urban transit authority.

Organizational Strategy. Strategy is about helping an organization respond to a moment or challenge in a responsible, forward-thinking manner that meets their needs now and prepares them for the future. And because organizational challenges impact whole organizational systems, The Clearing’s cross-solution capabilities leave us uniquely situated to tailor strategy, customer experience, leadership, culture, and workplace expertise together to meet any demand.

Where Leaders Are Upskilling Teams in 2023

Collaboration and developing organizational resilience are two areas I believe will continue to receive attention.

Based on my experience, collaboration has become both easier and harder. In some ways, we are more connected than ever. Between smartphones, new project management tools, and digital communication platforms like Slack, staying connected to one another has gotten easier. However, even the best tools can’t overcome a team that isn’t on the same page. When you’re not seeing your teammates face-to-face every day, a lot of the little details you pick up when working together are lost. Naming this and determining new ways to work in a given environment is a skill set that needs refreshing, especially in a rapidly shifting world. And remember, when it comes to collaboration it’s not all hard skills. As my colleague Theresa West explained, soft skills such as communication and how to set boundaries in a world where work and home increasingly bleed together are equally important.

My Advice to Federal Leaders Entering the New Year

Take a moment to truly rest, reflect, and ask your teams to do the same thing. It cannot be oversaid enough.  Leaders are running so fast that they often miss the opportunity to do it better, thoughtfully, and patiently in service of doing it faster. Slowing down, reflecting, and reorienting will yield a better result.

It’s easy to read the news and think every modern workplace is thriving in a hybrid, so yours will, too. However, every workplace is not the same. Different people, different missions, and in the case of many of our clients, different security protocols. Declaring your workplace a hybrid without doing the groundwork on what kind of hybrid model will best serve your organization is a great example of missing the opportunity to think strategically and set your organization – and people – up for long-term success.

If you’re interested in hearing more about what our teams are expecting when it comes to organizational capability in 2023 or are looking for a partner to help your organization take the right next step, please reach out. I’d love to answer questions or chat about how The Clearing can help. You can reach me anytime at

Leadership: The Clearing Solution Areas Explained

The Clearing has focused on meeting the needs of modern leaders since day one. Our founders envisioned a metaphorical clearing as a place where busy leaders could escape distractions and the demands on their time to think critically and clearly on solutions to drive their organizations forward.

Today, we still focus on helping leaders focus on the fewest, most important priorities where they can drive the biggest organizational impact. What’s changed is the scope of our capabilities to help leaders and the fluidity our Solution Area operating model offers in tailoring leadership solutions.

Leadership Isn’t Static

Our primary clients are leaders in their organization – and many hold a c-level title or lead an enterprise-wide program. Working with them has helped us discover the true challenge with leadership: it’s not static. The environment in which a given leader operates is always changing, as are the people they manage.

Adding complexity is that “good leadership” doesn’t always translate across organizations. Different leadership styles may work in some circumstances and fall flat in others. That changing nature means many of the challenges our clients face center on how to best support their teams to drive peak performance and organizational effectiveness in specific environments.

Building a Deep Bench

We believe an organization is only as effective as its leadership “reserve.” Having the right leader in today’s environment is critical; however, having talent ready to step up if that person(s) leaves is often make or break. And as noted above, each situation is environment-specific. That’s why our team focuses on the self in our leadership development program – it’s the one variable you can always control.

We recognize that focusing on yourself might be intimidating; however, stepping into vulnerability is inevitable as a leader. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is fear in saying “I’m not good at this” or “I thought I was good at this, but I’m not.” We have a tendency as humans to want to be perfect and when we’re not good at something it can be difficult to ask for help.

This is especially true for people newly installed in leadership positions. Imagine being promoted (likely for doing great work) and then being asked to change (possibly because your leadership style isn’t working in your new role). We work with leaders (new and experienced) on how to take that step, adapt, and maximize potential. It’s this self-aware leadership team that becomes the foundation of your organization’s leadership reserve.

A Part of the Whole

That leadership reserve becomes even more important during transformation efforts. At The Clearing, we specialize in transforming organizations, cultures, and customer experiences. We speak from experience when we say these facets cannot be achieved without strong leadership. That’s because leadership is foundational. It’s often a key component when culture, strategy, or customer experience problems come to light.

I work with my fellow Solution Designers to integrate leadership work into many of our client solutions. Bringing leadership focus into the fold benefits employees, customers, and of course, leaders themselves.

Our leadership coaching program features one-on-one work with our clients to provide them a better understanding of the hows, whys, and whens of being an effective leader. This includes sessions on different leadership styles and when to employ them.
Leadership development programs improve the modeling of desired organizational behaviors. This empowers and encourages employees to focus on their own personal growth based on how their leader acts.
Those desired behaviors trickle down to customers, too. They’re more likely to receive the quality of service they were expecting (or above and beyond) based on positive behavior changes that manifest in service delivery.

In short, leadership is connected to the very idea of transforming or creating a culture where employees can thrive and serve their customers how they want to be served. Even better, The Clearing’s Solution Area-based service model allows for the fluidity required to address leadership challenges as part of a holistic organizational solution.

The Only Thing Predictable is Unpredictability

I wrote earlier that leadership isn’t static. In fact, it’s becoming less so by the day. Today’s federal leaders knew unpredictability before the pandemic; however, now change is happening at a pace that is truly challenging to keep up with. Like the trickle-down effect of good leadership, unpredictability also has run-on consequences.

The average leader is navigating an unprecedented amount of societal change. How they deal with it affects how their employees deal with it, which has an impact on end customers. That means leadership development must take in a different set of considerations. The same things won’t keep working because the volume and the pressure have increased. Leaders will need to continue to focus on “leading self” while incorporating how to get comfortable leading through uncertainty. The trickle-down effect means modeling the right behaviors and mindsets can be the difference between successfully navigating uncertainty and getting mired in it.

What’s Next

Keep an eye out for my fellow Solution Designer’s deep dives into their respective Solution Areas: Jason Miller on Culture and Yasmeen Burns on Customer Experience. And if you want to chat about leadership in any capacity, reach out to me at


            Sonya Patel                                        Jason Miller                                  Yasmeen Burns
Strategy & Leadership                                  Culture                                  Customer Experience

Drive Customer Experience with an Integrated Strategic Comms Plan

Federal leaders today have more customers than ever and more channels through which to reach them. Most recently, the President even highlighted this challenge with the new Executive Order seeking to transform the government’s federal customer experience. The ever-increasing access to and speed of information makes an integrated and strategic communications plan critical for your agency; however, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Today we’re offering a few tips to help you identify your agency’s needs to help you get started.

“The first step in building your agency’s strategic communications plan is leadership alignment.”

Tip 1: Level Set & Align on Goals Early In The Process

Like the old saying goes, to know where you’re going you must know where you’ve been. That means asking some key questions, such as:

Who are my agency’s customers and what are their needs? Remember to consider internal AND external customers.
How does my agency communicate to those customers today?
What do my customers gain from the information we communicate to them today?
Is my agency’s communications function centralized, decentralized, or a combination? Would a shift help better serve our customers?
Are my agency’s communications consistent and clearly branded regardless of who sends them?
Is my agency communicating at the right cadence? If not, why?

Answering those questions may be difficult – and may uncover additional issues to solve in the development of your strategic communications function. Two examples of questions that might arise include:

Q: Is my agency’s communications function centralized, decentralized, or a combination? Would a shift help better serve our customers?
A: Our strategic communications function is decentralized, but I believe centralization would be beneficial for our customers. However, there is a lack of trust that centralization will meet the needs of teams who have historically managed their own comms work.
Q: Is my agency communicating at the right cadence? If not, why?
A: No. There isn’t coordinated messaging which diminishes the overall understanding of our mission and makes it difficult for employees and customers to track what is important. We’re inadvertently oversaturating our customers.

What often becomes clear is the first step in building your agency’s strategic communications plan is leadership alignment on the audience and goals of communicating. That means engaging with your key customers as people, actively listening to their concerns, and co-solutioning the path forward. Taking the time to secure this buy-in upfront increases the likelihood the transformation you implement will stick.

Tip 2: Know Your Audience (and What They Need from You)
Customer personas

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. Remember your colleagues who have historically been running their own communications? Well, they’ve got their own audiences, too. Complicating things further, there’s likely overlap between audiences.

Where do you begin?

First, build out a customer persona – or more likely, personas. Use research to define audience segmentation. This runs the gamut from defining demographic traits to uncovering preferred audience information sources. For example, does your audience visit your website from their desktop or do they skew mobile? The goal is to uncover the characteristics that impact your agency’s interactions with them.

Next, develop a communications matrix covering what you need your audience to know and the best way to reach them. For example, your agency may issue reports for public consumption. And the data in those reports may be relevant to audiences across demographic spectrums. Combined with your customer personas, a communications matrix allows your agency to slot in the right content for the right audience in the right channel (i.e., social media; email; direct mail; etc.).

An example of a communications matrix for an organization.

Finally, track your learnings and use the data to optimize your communications strategy and KPIs. For example, does your output need to be more mobile friendly? Which of your reports gets the most visits on your website? Who opens your emails?

Feeding that data into your Customer Relations Management (CRM) allows you to take those learnings and create organizational value out of them. Ultimately, using data to improve your strategic communications plan improves your customer experience.

Tip 3: Incentivize with KPIs

Tip 2 covered the use of your CRM to optimize your strategic communications plans and function; however, your CRM is only as valuable as the data inputted. In large organizations, like federal agencies, the data that feeds your CRM isn’t coming from just one person – it’s coming from across teams, divisions, regions, etc.

This requires process education and active governance to make sure data is being correctly inputted. To encourage this, we recommend building CRM data input into your organization’s KPIs and personal performance plans, in addition to KPIs around performance, quality, and usability measures. This keeps communications priorities front and center and incentivizes the behaviors required to drive continued success.

This process may seem foreign to agency employees used to doing things a certain way. We recommend creating a visual stakeholder map including organizational information and how it flows. Add in who owns it and how it moves through the organization, including how it gets into your CRM. Taking the time to set this up creates a virtuous cycle of data-in, communications plans optimized, customer experience improved.

Next Steps

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Building a modern strategic communications function takes time, patience, and discipline. If you have questions around strategic communications or are wondering how to take your agency and customer experience to the next level, email me anytime at

Strategy: The Clearing Solution Areas Explained

How The Clearing Defines Strategy

Strategy work in the federal space requires a high degree of alignment between key organizational leaders due to the continually changing landscape of federal agencies. Many times what people describe as “strategy work” is actually implementation planning versus strategy development.

At The Clearing, we help our clients think about strategy differently. We focus on specific aspects of an organization to help leaders get crystal clear on where they should focus their efforts BEFORE developing an implementation plan.

We also put people at the center of our strategy efforts. That means we seek to understand the individual perspectives of those who are going to be tasked with driving the strategy forward and outfit them to ensure their teams are moving towards the fewest, most important actions to reach their goals. That people-first focus helps maintain alignment and cohesion throughout an engagement. We’re as attuned to achieving buy-in along the way as we are when delivering the final product.

“What makes our approach to organizational strategy unique is the fluidity between our Solution Areas.”

How Strategy Work Functions as Part of the Solution Area Ecosystem

The fluidity between our Solution Areas sets The Clearing’s approach to strategy apart. I work with my fellow Solution Designers to infuse best practices from our Culture and Customer Experience Solution Areas into the strategic planning process for our clients. This approach allows us to flex when new needs emerge and provide the best possible outcome for the work.

That fluidity also makes a large impact on how we gather upfront stakeholder perspectives, which is critical to how The Clearing facilitates the strategic planning process. We take pride in defining a client’s current experience (customer, employee, etc.) and defining the voices of those stakeholders. We believe those are the most significant drivers in setting an organization or agency’s overall strategy. It’s not just a check-the-box activity – it’s a key pillar of the process. It’s also where other Solution Areas often come into play.

For example, the whole structure and cadence of capturing voices and ensuring alignment along the way comes from our Culture Solution – we bring it in to influence the strategic planning process. The public experience is also a significant driver in how our federal clients are considering their strategic objectives. I’m fortunate that we have a dedicated CX practice to leverage for those purposes.

This becomes more important in today’s matrixed organizations, where problems may exist in isolation. It doesn’t matter if an organization develops a great strategy if it isn’t focusing on the experience of the client or the culture of those implementing that strategy.

“Many times what people describe as “strategy work” is actually implementation planning versus strategy development.”

Where Federal Strategy Work is Heading

I believe the emerging need in the federal space is for agencies to be able to rapidly and iteratively strategically plan and respond to change. Thanks to the speed of information, the days of setting a yearly plan, for better or worse, are mostly over. That means a significant part of our work is not only helping set the right strategic direction for clients, but ensuring today’s leaders are equipped to apply an iterative, strategic process; however, the budget process in the federal government makes it challenging for leaders to see strategy development as more than a static process.

The other big item is the impact the changing demographics of the United States has on how organizations act on their mission, including how they provide effective services to citizens, and recruit, train, and retain their employees. An iterative strategic process that considers these evolving factors will allow the federal government to be more responsive in service of the public. As we determine what strategy initiatives look like in the future, we must think about how to incorporate upskilling leaders and employees to meet that changing demand into strategic planning.

What’s Next

Keep an eye out for fellow Solution Designer’s deep dives into their respective Solution Areas: Jason Miller on Culture and Yasmeen Burns on Customer Experience. And if you want to chat about strategy or leadership development in the federal space, reach out to me directly at


            Sonya Patel                                        Jason Miller                                  Yasmeen Burns
Strategy & Leadership                                  Culture                                  Customer Experience