With a wider awareness, you will be surprised less often

With a wider awareness, you will be surprised less often

With a wider awareness of what’s going on in your business, you will be surprised less often. One of the first things I do in any new role is study, with the goal of building my awareness. Who does what? Who is helpful? Who is not helpful? How does work move? etc.

“My only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully, and yell for help if you need it.”
― Judy Blume, Author

With a wider awareness the less surprised you will be. But in order to widen your awareness you must study to gain knowledge. There are many types of studying you could do; watching, listening, stapling, collaborating, measuring, asking for help and many more.

To help with this ongoing and essential activity I fall back to useful models to help shine a light on what I’m aware of, and what I not.

The first circle in this concentric circle model are things you are totally aware of; yourself, what your team are working on (hopefully), your purpose, your obstacles etc. This is an essential element of the Releasing Agility model I use with clients.

The second level are things you have a decent level of awareness about but they’re not crystal clear; a personal challenge one of your team are having, some process issues in a team somewhere else, some personnel issues in another department, some changes to the strategy that you’ve yet to hear about but have heard rumours, some customer complaints you’re hearing about, a person of interest in another department etc.

The third level are things you’re only somewhat aware of – you have a partial awareness; rumours, hear-say, grapevine, passing comments, observations without facts, people in other teams you’ve not met yet etc

The fourth level are things you have zero awareness of; you know nothing about these things.

Wider Awareness – bringing things in to your awareness fields

A good manager is aware of the various moving elements in a business and tries to get clarity over items in levels 2 and 3, in order to move them to level 1.

For example, let’s say there is another manager or exec in a different department that you need to align with to achieve your goals. They may be in level 2 – you know them but not well, or level 3 – you know of them. It could be that you’re given their name and you’ve never heard of them until now – a level 4.

Your goal now is to grow a positive relationship with that person so they are in level 1. Level 1 would mean you work together, or collaborate, or cooperate, or have a weekly 1:2:1 with. You are growing a wider awareness of people and the work they do, so you can help to grow your business results and increase your knowledge. By knowing more people in the business you will hear about changes, strategy shifts, layoffs or anything else sooner – and be surprised less often.

In another example, let’s say you have heard that a new strategy has been designed. You heard it on the grapevine and it will likely have some impact on you and your team. You could leave it alone and be potentially surprised at how reaching it is and how it will deeply affect your hard work. By going out and bringing that into level 1 you can work on it. And if you’ve already been widening your awareness, you could have been one of the early one to hear about this on the grapevine.

Let’s say you hear about a disgruntled customer who is unhappy with the latest feature your team shipped. You heard it as a passing comment in a meeting. You could leave it alone or you could be pro-active and ask questions, seek knowledge and gain an understanding of what has happened and how your team are involved. In an ideal world you’ll have great relationships with people in support (level 1 – in your awareness) and you will already know before you hear in a meeting.

Too many managers sit by and wait for surprises to come to their teams. Good managers go forth and build a wider awareness.

Increasing your awareness of the world around you is one of the most fundamental activities a manager can do. Having a narrow awareness field of your domain, your skills, your work environment, your product or your role is giving you fewer potential choices, fewer creative connections to your problems and fewer channels to hear about business change that will affect you.

What about people?

You can use this same model to work with people in the business.

Let’s say someone new joins as the head of sales. You are aware of them but you don’t know them, how they work or whether their new approach will affect your team.

You could wait until your paths cross – or you could go forth and introduce yourself.

Experienced managers quickly work out who is helpful and who isn’t – this is widening an awareness of people.

What about you?

Widening your awareness about yourself, your work and your strengths is an essential step to becoming a better manager.

The more you know your own limitiations the better equipped you are to make. It’s why I build the Pillars of Life and the Trinity of Career Development – to get to know myself better.

Awareness and Learning

It is fair to say that if you surround yourself with people who think like you and confirm your beliefs, you’ll not expand your awareness of new ideas and ways of working.

Real learning comes from the clashing of ideas and concepts leaving your brain to mash it all together. I build my Personal Knowledge Management System to help me do just that – to capture, curate, crunch and contribute.

“Awareness increases our knowledge and knowledge enriches us” The way we are working isn’t working – Tony Schwartz (aff link)


Some Ideas on building a wider awareness

Speak to customer Services

They are on the front line of dealing with customers and have rich insights into the challenges customers face. They have relationships with customer and they are dealing with incoming challenges all the time. Help them and they will help you. Help them and you will improve the lives of the customer’s too.

Speak to Sales or Account Managers

These people sell your product or service and maintain relationships with the customers. They will have more information than you would imagine. Build relationships with them and nurture this network. The information and knowledge flowing from the front line of the business is something you really should be aware of.

Attend a sales pitch

You will learn loads, trust me. You’ll also see the types of questions your customers ask and it will give you rich insights into how to improve the service or product.

Talk to customers

You can learn a lot speaking to customers. You will almost certainly have a wider awareness of the business and how customers interact with it, simply by sitting down and speaking to them.

Attend meetings, speak to people – network like a pro

Your biggest asset as a manager and individual in the commercial world is your network. Nurture it, take care of it, prune it, grow it and cultivate it. It will pay you back ten-fold.

Your network is the wider community, but it’s also your colleagues at work. Don’t overlook the very people you work with. Your work becomes easier and you developer a wider awareness when you meet plenty of people.

Industry news

There are literally thousands of online resources around your industry and your product or service domain. What’s happening in the industry? What’s trending? How is the industry changing? What regulation will affect us?

Research. Study. Gain knowledge. Build a wider awareness. Be surprised less often. Head off the surprises in the first place.

Social Media

Social Media is a pulse check on what’s hot or not. It’s a vehicle for industry news, but it’s also a chance to find like minded individuals or companies and see how others are moving things forward, disrupting their worlds or pushing boundaries that will affect you someday.

Read books about other industries

You’d be surprised at how much learning can happen when you read books about other industries. I have some recommended books here. You will build a wider awareness of your industry simply by learning more about it, and lessons from others.

With a wider awareness, you will be surprised less often.