How to Use “Clear Pressure” to Drive Success

by Katy Beloof

Is organizational complexity making it difficult for your teams to successfully accomplish projects on time and within budget? Multiple communication channels combined with cross-functional teamwork can cloud accountability and muddle decision-making authority, resulting in a lack of employee ownership in a project or process.

One solution to this lack of ownership and its effect on performance is “clear pressure”, a form of peer pressure based on the idea of giving employees real-time visibility into the progress of everyone’s work, so they can hold each other — and themselves —  to a higher standard. But are the tools that provide visibility enough to create a culture of clear pressure? Or do leaders need to think more broadly about a solution?

What is Clear Pressure?

First coined by Chris Matthews, former Global Marketing Manager of Specialized Bicycle Components, the phrase “clear pressure” was used to explain the dramatic improvement in on-time delivery of their globally distributed projects. When the entire company had real-time visibility into everyone’s work, there was a profound and positive impact on performance.


3 Layers of Visibility Your Business Needs to Compete

But making clear pressure work involves more than using tools that provide everyone visibility into how work is progressing. In her Harvard Business Review article Four Tips for Building Accountability, Rosabeth Moss Kanter cautions that tools in and of themselves aren’t enough to hold people accountable. Here’s how she describes it:

The tools of accountability — data, details, metrics, measurement, analyses, charts, tests, assessments, performance evaluations — are neutral. What matters is their interpretation, the manner of their use, and the culture that surrounds them. [...] In successful organizations, they are vital tools that high achievers use to understand and improve performance regularly and rapidly.

If tracking data and metrics in and of themselves isn’t enough, what is it that successful organizations must do to create an environment in which these tools of accountability can work? What else do business leaders need to put in place for clear pressure to thrive? The answer lies in clear expectations and clear accountability.

Clear Expectations + Clear Accountability = Clear Pressure

Essentially, clear pressure is the sum of clear expectations and clear accountability. Without a shared understanding of where the team is going and what is expected of them, visibility into how work is progressing can only go far. Teams need to know what needs to be accomplished and who is responsible for doing so.

  1. The first step is for business leaders to provide clear expectations to the team. What needs to happen? What does success look like? Leaders can provide context around how the program or project fits in with the larger mission of the organization, and provide details around the initiative at hand.
  2. Once a leader has made their expectations clear, it’s time to assign clear accountability to the steps of a process or project. Clear accountability means that everyone knows who is responsible and accountable for which tasks and processes. It’s writing down what needs to be accomplished and putting down dates and names next to those key tasks and milestones.

Only once clear expectations and clear accountability have been established can clear pressure keep things aligned through transparency and visibility into work execution.

Visibility: Putting the “Clear” in Clear Pressure

Once clear expectations and clear accountability have been established, using tools to provide real-time visibility into how projects are progressing can improve team performance. When all progress on all activities is transparent, no team member wants to be the one to hold up a project timeline or let the team down.

How Transparency Drives Success

With transparency into team performance, accountability becomes something more than finger-pointing when something goes wrong. Instead, team members deliver on the commitments they’ve made and uphold their responsibility to the ultimate outcome. Team members are more responsive and more readily cooperate in moving the whole project forward.

Tools that give teams visibility and transparency into work progress as well as individual and team performance can help motivate teams to stay on track — or even complete work ahead of schedule.

Using Clear Pressure to Drive Success

Simply providing employees with tools that give visibility into their work execution may not be enough to encourage them to excel in whatever tasks they undertake. But when combined with clear direction in the form of well-defined expectations and accountability, clear pressure can inspire teams to challenge each other, stretch themselves, and ultimately drive success in their organizations.