Leslie Braksick: The absence of clear boundaries can lead to inconsistency, confusion, chaos


I grew up in the Northeast, where the year had two seasons: winter and construction. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we have five seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer and a fifth I have come to know as repainting the lines. Repainting the lines comes as predictably as the other seasons, and it happens every August, just before children head back to school.

You can see the fifth season everywhere: workers wearing neon vests, orange cones and bright floodlights highlighting workspaces at night when traffic is lightest. The season disappears as quickly as it comes, leaving crisp center lines down the middle of the road, “fog lines” along the edges, crosswalks clearly drawn and parking spaces neatly marked. White and yellow paint, perfectly applied, all to prompt the desired behaviors of drivers.

We have our corporate seasons, too: planning and reviews of strategy, capital, operating expense, succession, talent and performance. They happen predictably no matter who is in the leadership chair.

But do businesses have a season where the lines routinely get repainted? Should they?

Boundary lines are multipurpose

In companies, lines that are regularly repainted are highly visible to employees and customers alike. They remind everyone what your company stands for and what the boundaries of desired behavior look like.

You might assume that everyone knows where these lines are, even if they are faded or invisible. You want to believe that centerlines are never crossed, crosswalks are honored and parking lines are respected. But in reality, what is not visible to people does not influence behavior. More often than not, the absence of clear lines leads to inconsistency, confusion and even chaos.

As a leader, it is your job to ensure lines of importance are repainted regularly. They are needed to prompt and guide the right behaviors — and clarify when unwanted behaviors occur. The business performance will never be advanced by higher-order work if the basics are not happening well on a consistent basis.

Include in your communications examples of compliance/non-compliance and the impacts on the business. Quote customer feedback so people are reminded what is valued and not. Or take actions that engage people even more, such as asking your employees to specify or renew the company’s core values and behaviors that underlie business success and definition of the brand. 

It’s all about execution

Every game, including that of business, is won or lost on execution. Execution is often a lot less glamorous than strategy development, and often feels about as rewarding as painting lines on roadways — but those lines of execution define your culture and your brand, and are critical to getting the right base behaviors that ultimately determine the performance of your business.

You may be the most visible line painter in your company, but know there are others who, day-in and day-out, have to follow those lines to enable everything else to happen. They are the people who check valves, tighten screws, review orders and inspect products. They match orders with invoices for correct billing and ensure service contracts are renewed.

They are the people whose actions must stay within the lines, day-in and day-out, doing the basics reliably, in order for your enterprise to perform well. Is it time to repaint the lines in your company? ●


Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. coauthor of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or [email protected]. For more information, visit www.clg.com.