“My only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully, and yell for help if you need it.”
― Judy Blume, Author
The wider your awareness the less surprised you will be. But in order to be surprised less often you need to listen, embrace help from others and take an active approach in widening your awareness.
To help with this ongoing and essential activity for managers I fall back to a trusty nested circle model. In the centre of the circle are things you are totally aware about (your work, your team, your skills and experiences).
The second level are things you have a decent level of awareness about but you’re far from complete (a personal challenge one of your team are having, some process issues in a team, some personnel issues in another department, some changes to the strategy that you’ve been made aware of).
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).
The fourth level are things you have zero awareness of (you know nothing about these things).
A good manager is aware of the various moving elements in a business and tries to move those important elements nearer towards level 1 – total awareness. This doesn’t mean be a busy body, gossip or intruder to personal lives. Instead it’s about looking at how these moving elements may effect your work and becoming aware of them.
For 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 wait to see what happens, or you make a pro-active move to gain knowledge.
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.
Too many managers sit by and wait for surprises to come to them. They then enter reactive mode and deal with fires. The best managers gain knowledge. They seek information and facts and are ahead of the impact to their teams. They can plan and accomodate change because they are aware of it.
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 make and fewer solutions to bring to your problems.
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 to be introduced and hope that the business has good communication systems to introduce new people and flow knowledge (hint – not many companies have that). Or you could be pro-active and introduce yourself and maybe book a 1:2:1 to get to know them.
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.
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”
The more you know your own limitiations the better equipped you are to make the changes you need to make.
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 work out how they all piece together.
The secret is in increasing your awareness and being able to see the world and all the lessons around you.
“Awareness increases our knowledge and knowledge enriches us” The way we are working isn’t working – Tony Schwartz
Some Ideas on Widening Your Awareness
Speak to the Support Desk or Customer Services
They are on the front line of dealing with customers. People spend a lot of money trying to find out what customers think about your products or services. It’s likely your customer support team already know. It’s just a shame that so few people really ever think to speak to them.
Speak to Sales or Account Managers
They 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 about the product or service. All of this can be brought back to your team and used to improve the service or product. Improving the processes and systems that help people build a better service or product is your job as a manager.
Attend (or give) a training session on the software to real users
You can observe your customers using the software first hand and see which bits trip them up or confuse them. You’ll have an opportunity to observe, ask questions and get involved. This can then be brought back to any team in the business who are directly involved in the product or service.
Talk to the customers
The majority of customers are more than happy to talk about what works, what doesn’t and how they use your product or service. This is gold for managers – what better way to work out whether you are meeting your teams/company purpose than to see your customers using the product or service – and to hear what they have to say! (Of course, this is assuming that you have correctly identified your purpose as being to provide value to your customers…. 🙂 )
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 your awareness broadens with the more people you know.
If you are good, helpful, nice and consistent in your delivery then you will be trusted. Your personal brand will grow and you will become a trusted colleague at work. This helps you to grow your network which in turn means you’ll find out about surprises earlier and you’ll have a load more options open to you.
If you struggle with networking then keep your eyes peeled for me running a public communications workshop near you.
There are literally thousands of online resources around the tech industry and your product or service domain. What’s happening in the industry? What’s trending? How is tech changing our domain or product industry? What regulation will affect us?
Research. Study. Gain knowledge. Widen your awareness. Be surprised less often.
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.
In the tech world there’s lots of people bringing in ideas from Lean Manufacturing for example. I prefer to look further afield at the medical industry, social media industry or teaching.
Doesn’t matter what industry it is in – what matters is that you’re engaged and motivated to read it (watch it, listen to it, learn it), and that you’re open to learning new things.
Widening your awareness will lead to a much broader knowledge base, more connections, more diverse learning resources and a much more pro-active mind-set. No more fighting fires and reacting to everyday suprises. Grab hold of your awareness and try everything within your power to widen it.