context

Why Context Is Critical to Success

 

A few weeks ago I spent a wonderful week at my cottage north of Toronto with a really good friend and her awesome kids. We had the best time splashing in the lake, exploring the local town, heading to the beach, eating, sleeping, playing Scattergories, colouring, and just chilling out.

I particularly enjoyed it because it was my first real downtime in a while – even when I’ve been at the cottage other times this summer, I’ve been working on it, readying it for rent through a shared rental service (something I started this year in order to cover rising operating expenses), and not simply enjoying it.

One of the things you have to do when you rent through a third party is to take extra care when preparing the space. This means you don’t just clean and tidy – you fluff pillows, you fold a bright and cheerful dishtowel over the edge of the sink “just so,” you wash the floors, you make smart “hotel corners” on the bedsheets, and you ensure the faucets are sparkling. Why? Because you want that coveted 5 star rating, which will get you more renters.

I have an amazing team who usually looks after this for me, so it was with some dismay that I found myself reverting to my picky nature when tidying and cleaning before my friends and I left to return home.

At one point everything was pretty much done, save cleaning out the fridge and taking out the trash. On my way to the kitchen I walked by the living room and nodded with satisfaction when I saw the blankets properly draped, the pillows smooshed just right, and the magazines fanned out nicely. Then, a few minutes later I walked by again and noticed, to my dismay, the kids flopped out on the sofa and rooting through the coffee table for the colouring book and crayons.

My reaction? Frustration/annoyance/panic (I had to be out by a certain time that morning.)

I did NOT say what first popped into my head. I ended up saying “If you kids mess this up, I’m going to end up cleaning it using YOU as a mop!” This sounded dumb, and elicited giggles, thank goodness. Then I took them on a walk up the driveway to water the flowerpots and look for bears.

And this applies to work how?

Here’s the thing. I believe I was annoyed because “those kids don’t have a clue how much work it is to prepare for the guests! If only they knew!”

If only.

Why didn’t I take the time that day to explain what was going on with all the hustle and bustle and why it was important? I bet they would have not only understood, but offered to help.

The same thing can happen to any leader at work.

We keep things from people because

  • we don’t think they care to know,
  • we don’t think they need to know,
  • we don’t realize they want to know.

I believe most of the time we don’t realize they want to know.

A few years ago I was talking to my team about the upcoming budget requisition season. I launched in to the savings we had to find and how we would work those savings into this year’s process. A couple of people were not paying attention, and I started to get annoyed, but I didn’t say anything.

Later, there were a couple of screw ups. Nothing awful, but to me they seemed obvious and avoidable.

When I met with the team and we talked about what happened and what we could do differently next time, one person spoke up and said, “Ruth, I think it would help if you explained how the whole budget process works. Some of us just don’t know.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Of course they need to know! If they don’t know, how can they understand why the little things are important, which things need to be prioritized, where to get details, and why they should be concerned with the outcome.

Tell the story.

In the absence of information we make things up, and without the right context, we can’t expect everstoryyone to do their best work. It’s up to you to provide the back story and to not just drop people into Chapter 13, expecting them to know how you want the story to turn out.

If you’re seeing spotty results, can you look back at your communications to people and determine whether you started at the beginning of the story?

Some people have been reading the book along with you, and some haven’t. The effective leader knows the difference and covers both situations.

Until next time,

Ruth.

 

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