As leaders and employees, we all want to be part of great companies. But the reality is that we are often so focused on delivering on the strategic imperatives or quarterly financial goals that we lose sight of the critical things that not only hold the company together but actually propel it forward. Regardless of the size of the company or industry in which it works, the concept of alignment and organizational clarity are fundamentals that must be addressed and constantly nurtured.

Clarity begins with a shared understanding of the foundational elements of an organization. When everyone can access the same fundamentals and expectations and belong to the same set of ideals, they begin the critical initial steps of creating important connections across the company.

One of the most critical and often forgotten areas that most impacts clarity is organizational identity. This is at the root of a high percentage of issues that we work through with companies of all sizes, industries, and stages. The issue lies in the reality that when people don’t have a sense of belonging their performance suffers, and they become disengaged. Every company has an identity, but many are poorly defined, not communicated or not effectively constructed.

When the foundation, identity, and culture are unclear, it provides no tether points for the organization to reach for and take hold of. Clarity can start to be achieved only when the identity is defined and actively protected. This means there is a clear purpose, a defined set of values, articulated organizational characteristics (the things that were true years ago, are true today and must be true in the years ahead), and accepted traditions.

In addition to the identity, other things that hold people back from organizational clarity include:

  1. Lack of a clear and articulated direction
  2. An accidental culture untethered from the strategy
  3. A psychologically unsafe work environment where there is an imbalance of fear, trust, and empowerment
  4. Deficit-based leadership focusing on the negatives of the organization
  5. A focus on best practices of others rather than your own organizations

Additionally, there are many accepted business concepts and even principles that masquerade as clarity and impede an organization’s ability to create alignment and drive performance. Some include a fixation on past performance, accepting compliance as a higher standard, accepting outdated mandates as today’s direction, an over reliance on policies to police the workforce, turning a blind eye to office politics, encouraging suck-ups and people-pleasers, to name a few. The unwillingness or inability to recognize and address these “masqueraders of clarity” can have a profound impact on the organization and its people.

Originally published on Quora.