As everything is moving faster and less predictable as it seems, organizations are struggling to understand what it means and what options to take and how to land on the right decisions at the right time. The results are often inactions or delayed responses that cost companies.
Both senior and middle managers’ job include understanding, interpreting and communicating options for executive decisions, both as change agents and advocates. The toolkit they have is very limited. Sensemaking is a vital skill and a new managerial discipline that is lacking across many organizations and functional units. How do we define sensemaking? It is how we try to make sense of the world and associated challenges so we can see and act in it. It also carries the concept of sufficiency, which is whether we know enough about the interrelationships and dynamics of the scenarios (events, places, people etc.) to make a contextually appropriate decision.
The two main academic thinkers in the field are Karl Weick and Brenda Dervin. Both of their work are very user-readable. Weick I think tends to apply a more normative and organizational approach while Dervin looks at individuals and communication. Karl Weick emphasizes the importance of “mapping.” It is not enough to collect a lot of data, as we do these days and it is often overwhelming for managers, what is really important is that we need to take that complexity and map it in a simple way that can be communicated and shared, so that a team or an organization can have a shared view of what the environment is like right now. Make complexity communicable but yet not making it overly simple.
I have seen people drawing simple circles or big maps with arrows and boxes but fail to communicate anything except the situation is complex and end up confusing themselves as well as others. So beware of those fancy arrows and boxes that are useless. Good mapping provide managers with the benefit of seeing what’s going on and comparing that with their mental models. Good decision making depends heavily on good sensemaking that includes important cues and signals, so managers and senior executives can have a bigger capacity to make sense of uncertainty and emerging behaviour. It has always been a core part of our strategic design thinking toolkit and there is no shortage of demand from clients to learn that skills.