Everything we do, everything we hear, or see, or participate in has a context within which it happens.
Context is very often invisible.
Although it is there, it isn’t obvious or up-front so it sometimes gets lost. But, the thing is that a lot of times it makes all the difference to the situation. Learning to look for the context in the situation you are in will help you make better decisions, build better relationships, and come up with better solutions.
The definition of context is ‘the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea and in terms of which it can be fully understood and addressed.
You can’t fully decide how you will react to an event until you have the context around the decision in order to be able to fully understand the situation.
Understand Your Process for Considering Context
Understanding how often you consider context when you make decisions is an important tool in building your emotional intelligence.
The more you understand about the context of the situation, the better able you will be to respond in a manner that aligns with your personal values.
And, I’ll take it a step further and say that when you become good at identifying context, you can help your colleagues as well. When you are in a meeting and an issue comes up, if you are able to ask questions that help uncover the context, everyone involved will have more information to fully understand and address the situation.
How To Uncover Context
There are some questions you can use to help uncover context:
One of the important things to keep in mind when you are asking questions in order to draw out context is to make sure the questions are coming from a place of curiosity. You are asking the questions in order to have a more rounded understanding of the situation; to be able to give yourself a fuller picture that will allow you to draw from a wider selection of responses.
This is curiosity.
If you ask the questions in a manner that comes across as accusatory or judgmental, the person you are talking with is likely to shut down.
Don’t React – Take the Time You Need
If you are the type of person who reacts, this may feel a little foreign to you. It may seem like it takes longer. But, reacting without gathering information about context can have consequences. Your colleagues may feel that they can’t trust you because your reaction hasn’t taken their point of view into account.
Using Context to Design a Business Process
Or, on a less personal level, a reaction can result in a less efficient or less effective process. When designing business processes, understanding context is critical in ensuring efficiency, ease of use, and even adoption.
For example, I’ve been working on designing a new customer portal for our help desk. I’m not in a customer facing role, so I don’t have a lot of context about what kinds of things our customers come to the customer portal to get help with.
As we were defining the options they can select, I had to ask a lot of questions to be able to find a solution that would be effective for them.
I asked questions like: “Does the customer know which of our products they use, or do they just think of our product as ‘our company name’? Designing a process that assumes the customer knows or distinguishes between our different software products is not effective if the customer doesn’t have that context.
Another question I asked was “why would a customer come to the customer portal in the 1st place?” I needed the context of what the customer is thinking in order to be able to define a process that will be efficient for them.
Use Stakeholder Analysis
Another important way to gather context for business process solutions is to use stakeholder analysis. When you are faced with an issue or challenge, how often do you step back and assess the people who are impacted?
Who are the people – whether individuals, departments, or groups – that are impacted? Is your solution taking all of these stakeholders into account?
In the coming weeks, observe yourself as you are faced with issues or situations. Is your natural tendency to think about the various stakeholders before you make a decision? Who are you considering when you come to a conclusion? Are you casting a wide enough net?
In this episode, you’ll learn:
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We’ve all been involved with situations where something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen because of a lack of clearly defined expectations. A customer gets mad because the repair guy didn’t show up when he said he would. The repair guy is stressed out because the appointment scheduler is scheduling him into appointments with no time for driving from one place to another. The scheduler is trying to meet metrics set by the boss.
Think about your own situation. Is there an area where it seems like everything isn’t lining up? Where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Is someone making decisions or taking action without considering how it impacts others in the process?
Today, we are going to talk about a tool that can be helpful in these situations. Its called the RACI (race-eee) matrix. It is a project management tool that you can adapt to your job.
At its core, the RACI matrix is a responsibility matrix. You simply list tasks down the left side and people or departments across the top to form a matrix. Then, at each intersection of a task and person, you list the role the person plays from a responsibility perspective.
The R in RACI stands for responsible. If the person is responsible for performing the task, then you put an 'R' in the cell. Responsible for the task means they physically do it. They are the boots on the ground, the hands on the keyboard, or the person who actually shows up at the client’s home to make the repair.
The A in the RACI stands for accountable. This is the person who ultimately makes sure the task gets done. They are the ‘buck stops here’ person. They are the person who makes sure something happens – even if they don’t actually perform the task. This is the VP of Customer Support in our repair example.
The C in RACI stands for Consulted. If the person has specialized knowledge or is going to be impacted by the task, they may be consulted as part of the task. This is someone whose input adds value even if they aren’t going to be responsible or accountable for making it happen. In our example, our repair guy may make a call to the product engineering department to get an answer about a product specification in order to be able to properly resolve the issue. The product engineering department has no responsibility for customer repairs. But, they do have specific knowledge that can contribute to the process when the situation calls for it.
The I in RACI stands for Informed. This means the person would know about the task but they don’t have input into it. This is one-way communication whereas C – Consulted - is 2 way communication. The accounting department is informed that the repair has been completed so that they can bill the customer for it. They weren’t responsible for making sure the repair got done, accountable for making sure the repair guy showed up, or consulted in the process of making the repair. But, they need to know it happened so they know to send the bill.
So – RACI. Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.
Benefits of a RACI
Any process benefits from a RACI because it helps to clearly define the roles played by each person involved in the process. It helps clarify who does what so that everyone is on the same page. It helps you think through a process more thoroughly to ensure that you have fewer unintended consequences to decisions or actions taken within a process.
Having a RACI matrix is a way of forcing you to think about the process and all of its stakeholders. It is a way of planning for different scenarios by proactively identifying who does what for each process.
Because each of us tends to get focused on our own day-to-day job, it is easy to just do what we do and lose track of the stakeholders to the process. The RACI gives you a chance to take a step back and think about the impacts you have on others within the process.
We’ve got 2 episodes that would make a great companion to this one – one about the difference between Systems and Processes, and one about Stakeholders.
Cross Functional Processes
There are very few processes in modern business that are isolated. Almost any process you can think of is cross functional – meaning it involves people from across departments. When you involve people from across departments, you are bringing together people with different objectives, different skills, and different focus to solve a specific task.
Because there are so many variables, having clearly defined roles helps take away one variable.
If I know I’m a C – Consulted – in the process, then I know my role is to give input, but I also know I don’t have to actually deliver anything. I also know that the other people involved know my role is limited to consulting, so there shouldn’t be confusion about who is doing what. When something doesn’t get done the way it should, everyone knows that the right person to go to is the person listed as 'responsible' on the matrix. And, if that person doesn’t get it done then the issue is escalated to the person listed as 'accountable.'
This about one of your processes that could use a RACI and spend some time to put one together. I think you'll find that the process helps identify potential areas of problem in the process and will help you resolve them quickly.
If you are a subscriber to Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you’ve got a RACI matrix in your mailbox. If you aren’t, you can sign up here.
Today, we are going to cover the topic of choosing the right communication style when communicating change. This is something that is a very simple concept, but companies get it wrong so often. If you learn this concept today and commit it to your memory, I promise it will pay off at some point in your career.
Let me start by giving a quick lesson on the change curve. This is the process we all go through when faced by change. Everybody goes through these steps every time. Some people go through the steps faster than others. Even the same person might go through the steps at a different pace for different changes. We did a series on each of these phases, so if you want to dive deeper into the phases, I encourage you to go back and listen to episodes 13-16.
Episode 13: Components of Change Management: Awareness
Episode 14: Components of Change Management: Desire
Episode 15: Components of Change Management: Knowledge
Episode 16: Components of Change Management: Ability & Reinforcement
Think about a major change that you’ve gone through in your past. When you became aware of the change, how did you feel? You may have felt betrayed or you may have been in denial. Your head was probably spinning with thoughts of ‘what does this mean?” and all of the different concerns you have about the change. Your mind is going 80 miles per hour – with lots of questions. You are in a bit of a fog best case, and you could be really emotional worst case.
Because of the state of mind you are in at the time you become aware of the change, the best communication style is an informative one. Just the facts. Keep it simple. With everything else going on in your mind, there isn’t room for a lot of additional information. And, in the event the change is really big, you don’t want to hear a lot of inspirational talk. It will feel insincere. So, at the start of a change curve, communication needs to be informative.
As you work through the Desire phase and into the Knowledge phase, you begin to move into what is called Identify Crisis. At this point, your head isn’t spinning about the change and you are starting to understand what your new world will look like, but there are still a lot of unknowns so you are still unsure of your ability to step into the change. During this identity crisis phase, the best communication style is supportive. Communication needs to be softer than just the facts. It needs to give a sense of support for the impact it is having on employees. It should reinforce that the change process is normal, everyone goes through it at their own pace, and that nobody is going to be left behind. It should also be supportive in the literal sense. Provide resources people need to gain knowledge about the change and clearly outline the process they should follow if they need more support.
Finally, as you move out of knowledge and into ability, you are starting to gain a new identity. You are searching for solutions about how you will operate in the new normal. At this point, communication should be inspirational. This is when you start to paint a picture of the new world and how much better it will be than the old one. This is the time to celebrate the change. Trying to communicate inspirationally when you first announce a change will fall on deaf ears because there are more immediate needs at that time. But, one everyone has gotten through their initial shock and been able to get a better picture in their mind about how their world is going to change, they will be ready for an inspirational message to help propel them forward with confidence.
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