There are a wide range of articles and research on the quality or skill that I call "Situational Awareness". Wikipedia has attempted to define this several ways including;
"Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening in the vicinity to understand how information, events, and one's own actions will impact goals and objectives, both immediately and in the near future,"
"Situational awareness is a state achieved when information that is qualitatively and quantitatively determined by given configuration as suitable for assumed role is made available to stakeholder by engaging them in to appropriate information exchange patterns. (Sorathia, 2008)"
"What you need to know not to be surprised" (Jeannot, Kelly, & Thompson, 2003).
The one I prefer is this; situational awareness is having a sense of your role and place in an organization; aligning your focus with that role, knowing how you are impacting others around you both positively and negatively and knowing how you are performing in that role.
Situational awareness was first coined by the military and emergency intervention services to describe this quality with regard to making "gut" or snap decisions that had life or death consequences. Successful members of the unit had the capacity to gauge the circumstances, measure the risk and make the right decisions consistently. Of course in these settings a poor decision only needed to happen once to have disastrous consequences. Because the term grew out of this setting researchers and leadership coaches tend to only consider this trait within the confines of high stakes situations or high level leadership. Yet I believe that this skill is a key success indicator across any organization and any role. It is really an indicator too of high emotional and social intelligence and a key indicator of engagement.
I have dealt with recruitment and dismissal of staff for over 30 years and I have had many discussions with fellow HR professionals and leaders across many industry sectors and the one thing that we agree on is that in the majority of cases where dismissal was required the personnel involved had a poor situational awareness. In fact it was often the case that even after having been walked through all the appropriate levels of escalation; verbal feedback, written feedback, mentoring and education, and formal warning many of these people were totally surprised at their dismissal!
On the other hand we have all marveled at those whom we have brought into a company or organization who "get it". They get to know all the players, have a keen sense of the corporate culture, become the "go to" people for projects and for information and typically wind up leading if not through position then certainly by influence. These people have incredible situational awareness and are typically those who will climb the corporate ladder much more quickly than those who lack this skill.
A case in point is Jane. She came to work at a high tech manufacturing company in a support position. She took advantage of that role to get to know all the people in her company and was keen to pay attention to all the office "chatter" regarding process gaps or needs and was soon quietly advocating for change not only because it made her role more efficient but also because it was good for the company. She was quick to pick up on how her colleagues were feeling and always sought to provide the best support possible. In due course she came to the attention of those higher up the management chain and she found herself promoted to positions of greater and greater responsibility. In each case she brought the same approach and situational awareness. And in each case she was a success; a really good example of how the situational awareness skill can bring success within a company. But the story does not end there.
You see as Jane rose in the ranks and got to know the company well, she also got to know the key leadership players and evaluate their impact on the company and its bottom line. Over the course of time as changes took place in the "C-Suite" leadership she noted a distinct change in focus and priority in that group. After much agonizing she recognized that the leadership was moving in a direction that could be disastrous for the organization. She made several attempts to advocate for change all to no avail and so she began looking for a new company and a better fit. Three months after she moved to a new firm her old company filed for bankruptcy protection. Jane's situational awareness was like an internal GPS that directed her both within the company and away from the company to a new one.
Gallup and many other organizations have discovered that employee engagement and some of the markers that go with it such as situational awareness are directly related to the person employees report to. Most people like Jane leave bosses they don't leave companies. You can work to get you employees engaged and take advantage of the insights that their situational awareness brings or you can watch your key players continue to move down the hall or down the street to a company and boss that they feel good working for.
Do you listen to your team? What is their situational awareness telling you and are you tapping into it?
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