Have you ever found yourself in a team meeting or taking a brief from a client and you notice you’re struggling to get to the core of the request? Perhaps an issue has arisen that requires further analysis, or an opportunity presents itself that demands deeper exploration to map out all the factors to be considered before a response or decision can be made.

The 5Cs serve as a tool to assist you, either individually or collectively, to gather crucial data so you can not only navigate this kind of situation with greater confidence and clarity, but also delegate more efficiently and make more effective, informed decisions.

What are the 5C’s?

1.  Colour: By asking the client to ‘paint the full picture’, essentially you’re asking the ‘what’ question: what is it that you want to do? Other questions here can include: what is the clear intention we’re setting? What is the level of importance to be assigned? It would also involve answering the question: “when all is done, what does ‘done’ look like?”

2.  Context: Since nobody has full optics on all areas of an organisation, it is essential to establish the broader context. This is the ‘why’ question which anchors and explores why this is so important, and what is happening in other areas that will impact or be impacted by this request, decision or deliverable. To understand the context in which it’s happening, not just in the organisation, but also outside the organisation, is key. What’s happening with the competitors, partners, country and maybe even as expansive as in the world? What circumstances and perspectives need to be considered? What is the appetite for change? What other stakeholders are involved or need to be consulted?

3.  Connective Tissue: Like the connective tissue in our bodies which creates a network mesh between all other tissues of the nervous system, this metaphor speaks to key dependencies and areas of impact. Are these dependencies strong or weak? What other initiatives must be considered? How does this plan, strategy, decision or deliverable solve, amplify or hinder what’s already happened or happening currently? Or, how might it lay the groundwork for what hasn’t yet occurred, but is part of the future vision?

4.     Cost: While this might seem obvious, this delves into the range of total costs, not just financial. In other words, what will it cost us to do this in terms of budget, but also time, focus, priority shifts, resourcing, etc. Is this cost tolerable? Expected? Agreed upon? It is useful to also question if these costs are accurately forecast, or possibly even controversial. How will they be communicated?

5.     Consequence: What are the consequences of not doing this? The most compelling question here is what’s at stake? Of doing this and not doing this. What might the consequences be of getting it wrong? Are there any unintended consequences that we, or other stakeholders, can anticipate or problem-solve for now?

The benefits of this tool

The 5C’s are easy to remember and while a basic tool, it can practically build a leader’s conversational and managerial toolkit on critical tasks like decision-making and delegation.

So many struggle with being in the weeds of operational issues and are familiar with the tension and deliberate effort required to lift up to a strategic level. And sometimes the requests being made are at such a high level they feel vague and gauzy and so you need to drill down to a more concrete base level to gain clarity. To apply the 5C’s effectively requires pausing long enough to unpack and explore each of the nuances.

You can also reimagine the 5C’s as a staircase that safely transports you—and helps you as a leader transport others—from the proverbial balcony overlooking the dance floor, to the dance floor itself, and back again. It’s a helpful and fun visual reminder to be deliberate about knowing when you’ve zoomed in too close, and need to climb the stairs to see the full dance floor from the balcony, where you can view the big picture and maybe even right-size the ask.

To zoom in and out is a skill set. Without the 5C ‘stairs’, you could have a limited flat view, or feel like you’re free falling from a height – you have to intentionally, and carefully, take one step at a time to unpack the data.

Lastly, consider how the 5Cs could support you in better delegation, strategic thinking and decision making. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, said “what stands in the way becomes the way’, so be sure to name what might be getting in your way of asking for the 5C’s when next there’s a lack of detail or clarity.

By Julia Kerr Henkel – Executive Coach and MD of Lumminos