7. Awareness: The Intersection of Information & Relevance
Think of the last time you made the right choice. What led you to it? Meaning, how did you know that would be the right choice? Now, think of the last time you made a choice that turned out to be wrong. What led you to it, and why did it turn out to be wrong?
Choices come down to awareness at the time they’re made. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why did the company…launch a product this month / choose that strategy / do A instead of B / hire that person / locate the office there / release that marketing campaign?” Each of us has had those thoughts about many companies’ choices. Most of the time we’ll never know their rationale, and therefore our own conclusion or assessment is based on incomplete knowledge.
Like a Polaroid picture or a balance sheet, awareness is the manifestation of understanding at a certain point in time. It drives confidence, both warranted and false. It informs choice, both right and wrong. It discerns differentiation, and similarity. It broadens perspective, and therefore acceptance or rejection. It provokes judgement, forcing side-taking. It is the summary of the current state. And yet, crucially, it is not a guarantee of future success.
Awareness is most often assessed in terms of the past.
What was known and when?
Was a cost-benefit analysis done? What did it show?
What was the expected result? What was the actual result?
Who participated? Were they qualified?
Too often, awareness is an afterthought when analyzing results. It’s important to realize that awareness is a skill and capability that needs to be utilized at all times. Leaders’ capacity for awareness and the processes that accompany it determine the path to performance for teams and companies.
What is the Awareness Intersection?
Awareness is the intersection of information and relevance (see Intersection 7 image below). Information and relevance are incomplete on their own and can lead to detrimental results if not considered in conjunction with each other.
“Send me all the information you have on the topic.” That’s a common business refrain. The assumption being that stacks of paper or, more relevantly, giga-bytes of files are helpful. On one hand, information is truly amazing. It’s what we track and use to try to make the best choices. On the other, I’ve seen many useless presentations comprised of irrelevant information.
My favorite display of information arrogance is when a person or team comes into a meeting with executives and slams down inches thick stacks of paperwork to ‘prove’ how much work was done, how much information they processed and, of course, how much value they’ve added to the business, knowing that no one wants to flip through that much information.
Early in my career it’s possible that I actually did that once or twice (i.e. it definitely happened), proudly and stupidly believing that I had actually added value. What I know now is that information without context is worthless, regardless of the quantity of it.
Intersection 7: Awareness = Information + Relevance
Relevance is the context-creator for information. It shapes information, making it useful and usable. Relevance provides the user of information with the knowledge required to extract value from it.
Relevance is an umbrella term that when applied to information can encompass the following:
Timely -> Is the information current and up to date?
Quality -> Is the information pure and uncontaminated?
Appropriate -> Is the information useful for the opportunity or concern in question?
Complete -> Is there enough information?
Quantitative / Qualitative -> Does the information contain the needed quant / qual factors?
Available -> How easy is it to get the information, and how frequently?
Valid -> Will the information be acceptable to the end users?
Reliable -> Are the information sources legitimate?
Relevance is the secret sauce in awareness. The terms above refer to the ‘science’ of relevance, but there’s also an art to applying relevance to information. The art is as much about how to ignore the noise as it is about how to find relevant information.
The volume of information available is overwhelming. It takes skill to sift, sort and identify a set of information to which relevance can be applied. Knowing which information is and isn’t applicable is incredibly important. That’s why there are people, teams and entire companies and professions dedicated to doing just that.
What Can Leaders Do?
Leaders must first realize that awareness is a pre-requisite for both decision-making and performance. Next they need to educate their teams and other stakeholders that information without context is useless and results in inefficiency. Context comes from relevance. Leaders should create a mindset within their teams and companies that relevance is part of the attention-to-detail expectation required of everyone.
In my experience, this type of paradigm shift is best implemented with very tactically focused tools, such as creating a checklist with the components of information relevance listed above (i.e. timely, quality, etc). If adhered to, improved awareness will become quickly evident in the form of quicker, better choices and more useful reporting.
Awareness is a capability good leaders have mastered, albeit sometimes hard to pinpoint.
Wrap Up & Up Next
The good news is that awareness can be learned and improved. It takes the diligence and focus of leaders to ensure it becomes ingrained in a team or company.
Next time we’ll examine the 8th intersection of performance, which is the Innovation Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.