Mastering Specificity: Bridging the Gap from Vision to Execution for Enhanced Team Performance

Mastering Specificity: Bridging the Gap from Vision to Execution for Enhanced Team Performance 1200 844 James Knight

This article explains how the gaps from Vision to Execution can cause significant issues in your team—and what you can do to solve them.


Often, issues between managers and their reports arise due to a gap in “Specificity” — the level of abstract vs. concrete thinking a person is most comfortable with. You can think of this as a spectrum, with the most concrete, detail-oriented people on the far left and the most abstract, big-idea people on the far right.

Low v. High Specificity

Highly specific thinkers require concrete tasks with well-described details. If given an abstract request, they may become overwhelmed and either freeze or choose the first option that comes to mind. However, when given a well-defined task with clear success criteria, they excel.

Low specificity thinkers are the opposite. They thrive with poorly defined tasks. Detailed requests may disinterest them, leading to procrastination and potentially incomplete tasks. Yet, when presented with an unsolved challenge, their interest is piqued, and they are energized into action.

Low to high Specificity — moving from WHY to WHAT to HOW

As you move along the spectrum from high to low specificity, individuals’ primary interests change. Highly specific individuals focus on HOW — they care about implementation and its details.

On the far right, low specificity individuals concentrate on WHY — they are more concerned with the problem and understanding why it exists.

Between the two, individuals focus on WHAT — solutions. They are greatly interested in understanding what will be done at a high level to address the issue.

This spectrum can also be seen as a range from Vision (low specificity) to Execution (high specificity), with Strategy in the middle (mid specificity). Vision answers WHY, Strategy answers WHAT, and Execution answers HOW.

Seats on the Spectrum — The Visionary, Architect, Conductor, and Contributor

In modern organizational lingo, the lowest specificity seat on the spectrum is often called the “Visionary.” These individuals love big ideas and asking big questions but are not concerned with how those questions are answered or implemented.

Moving up in specificity from the Visionary, we reach the Architect. This role sits at the border between WHY and WHAT. Architects translate the vision into a low-specificity WHAT for the team below them, focusing more on the big picture and less on the details when reporting back to a Visionary.

Continuing upward, we encounter the Conductor, who sits at the border between WHAT and HOW. Their primary job is to receive the strategy from the Architect and translate it into executable tasks for their team. When reporting up the chain, they should focus more on the strategic picture than on the tasks themselves, assessing the success of the underlying strategy rather than merely reporting on the tasks.

At the far end of the Specificity spectrum sits the Contributor. Focused almost exclusively on the HOW of a task, their job is to execute the task assigned by the Conductor to the best of their ability. When reporting back up the chain, they should concentrate on the task’s success (or failure) rather than the details of its execution.

Ensuring the seats are covered

A good team covers the entire spectrum. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean four separate individuals occupy each point. In reality, most team members will fall somewhere between these points and have a range of specificity in which they’re comfortable working.

In real life, few people are full Visionaries or Contributors. Likewise, for Conductors and Architects in the middle. Visionaries must be comfortable operating at the Architect level, while Contributors need to understand the reasons WHY they’re doing WHAT they’re doing to avoid being micromanaged.

A good Conductor should meet Contributors halfway and step up towards Architects, helping them understand the team’s capabilities. Architects, in turn, need to shift towards the Visionary to develop inspired strategies.

Understanding where an individual sits on the specificity spectrum is key to recognizing how they can best contribute to the team.

Gaps in Specificity

Many team issues arise when large gaps in specificity occur. If nobody sits at the border between Vision and Strategy, the Vision and Strategy will be poorly aligned, resulting in a team with low Perception. If nobody occupies the border between Strategy and Execution, the Execution will be poorly targeted, leading to a team with low Control.

Teams with low Perception struggle to get the right things done, while teams with low Control struggle to get anything done at all. More often than not, low Perception and low Control are caused by large specificity gaps within the team.

Filling the gaps

As teams grow, it’s essential to monitor how Perception and Control change over time. Misalignments between Vision, Strategy, and Execution often stem from large gaps in Specificity. Filling those gaps, either by finding individuals capable of filling them or by training individuals on either side to increase their range, is crucial to resolving these alignment issues.

Individuals who can fluidly move from one level of specificity to another, at least on short time scales, make excellent candidates for leadership. A Visionary who refuses to get their hands dirty or a Contributor who needs detailed instructions for every task is not an ideal leader.

The ability to move up and down the spectrum, even if most comfortable operating at a specific point, demonstrates an understanding of the value that aligned Vision, Strategy, and Execution provide. This adaptability is a strong indicator of leadership potential.

Understanding Specificity

Understanding and managing the Specificity spectrum is crucial for effective team collaboration and success. By recognizing the different levels of specificity — Visionary, Architect, Conductor, and Contributor — and ensuring that the entire spectrum is covered, teams can optimize their Perception and Control. This enables them to get the right things done and execute tasks efficiently.

Addressing gaps in specificity and fostering adaptability among team members are essential aspects of building a strong and aligned team. By mastering these concepts, leaders can create an environment that nurtures growth, fosters innovation, and ultimately drives outstanding performance.

Solving for Specificity

Take a look at your team: where does each member sit on the Specificity spectrum? Where do you have gaps? And what can you do, as a leader, to help fill them?

Need help identifying and understanding these gaps?