Sensemaking is about finding clarity so you can move forward with confidence. Max DePree says “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” (The last is to say thank you if you’re wondering.) When you know where you ARE, you are better positioned to decide where you want to go NEXT. Like your GPS, it works on the endpoint in relation to your current position. Leaders work hard to know what their current reality is, to then understand it, and then look for the viable options moving forward.
In a recent session with a client, we began to prepare for her new role as a C-Suite leader in a significant organisation. As she prepared to step into this responsibility we framed up a way to make her first hundred days really effective. In other words, how to work out fast what reality is like and engage the right people to make quick adjustments where needed. We landed on four areas to explore.
- To be clear about how the team understand their mission, strategy, culture and future.
- To measure how engaged the team and organisation are in their key deliverables.
- To assess the capability of the team to deliver on change, mission and future strategy.
- To select the most effective development process and pathway for the team.
Understanding, engagement, capability and development – four parts of defining reality. Four stages of sensemaking. Getting clear on what is really going on is critical to begin a leaders journey. You can watch the sensemaking video here.
Sensemaking comes from the first two columns in the model below. Asking ‘what is working’ and ‘what is not working’ provide you with the ability to see the leverage and pain points side by side. Leadership is both those experiences, much of it at the same time.
Sensemaking – Model
NOTE: This is not an original model. It is well used and really useful.
Laura McNamara reflects on Karl Weick’s work on the sensemaking frame, and how he sees it helping leaders define their current reality. The abbreviated list below is in her words, and the bold italics are Weick’s ideas. McNamara introduces this by saying Chapter Two of Sensemaking in Organisations contains what is perhaps Weick’s most cited sentence, the recipe for sensemaking: “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?”
The seven ideas of sensemaking are:
- Sensemaking is a matter of identity: it is who we understand ourselves to be in relation to the world around us.
- Sensemaking is retrospective: we shape experience into meaningful patterns according to our memory of experience.
- How and what becomes sensible depends on our socialisation: where we grew up in the world, how we were taught to be in the world, where we are located now in the world, the people with whom we are currently interacting.
- Sensemaking is a continuous flow; it is ongoing because our interactions with the world and our understandings of the world are constantly changing. You might also think of sensemaking as perpetually emergent meaning and awareness.
- Sensemaking builds on extracted cues that we apprehend from sense and perception. Cognition is the meaningful internal embellishment of these cues. We articulate these embellishments through speaking and writing.
- Sensemaking is less a matter of accuracy and completeness than plausibility and sufficiency. We simply have neither the perceptual nor cognitive resources to know everything exhaustively, so we have to move forward as best as we can. Plausibility and sufficiency enable action-in-context.
Sensemaking is about knowing who you are, where you are and having the most realistic assessment of how it’s going. Good, bad, or ugly, leaders must “face the brutal facts yet remain optimistic.” (Attribution: Jim Collins) as you lean into the process hold to the following five convictions that will serve your learning and accelerate your growth.
- Be proactive. Leaders go first with curiosity and vulnerability.
- Be humble. We know you’re not perfect and we don’t expect you to be.
- Be calm. Feedback is telling you to do more of something or less of something, it isn’t failure.
- Be responsive. Find the specific things you can leverage and change right now. Do them first.
- Be active. Implement any changes as soon as possible. Leverage your mentor and your network.
When you have clarity on where you are, you can define your future with confidence.
Sensemaking seems to make sense, doesn’t it?
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.