Context Changes Everything

    By Julie Winkle Giulioni | Small Business

    Context Changes Everything image context 169x300contextThe actual, unedited text exchange to the right between my son’s girlfriend and his loving mother (me!) might leave the uninformed reader confused. What could possibly be good or exciting about salmonella poisoning? Why the celebratory tone around news of such a terrible diagnosis?

    If we’d heard the news five days earlier, the conversation would likely have been very different. But after several days in the hospital with my 22-year-old, several doctors who couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him, and several life-changing conditions that were being considered, ‘salmonella’ was a blessing… music to our ears. It can be treated and cured with no lasting side effects.

    In that moment, I understood the power of context. I also understood that it’s a tool that most of us as leaders could use more frequently and powerfully to our benefit and to the benefit of others. Now, I’m not talking about scaring your people with the specter of layoffs so they appreciate having a job or threatening them with grave budget forecasts to squeeze out greater productivity.

    What I am talking about is letting employees in on the context that surrounds the day-to-day work that they do. What do your people know about:

    • How globalization affects your business?
    • The impact of changing demographics?
    • Governmental regulations that are being contemplated that might impact the business?
    • Changing customer bases and expectations?

    This kind of information is context and it can change everything – from how people work to how they feel about their work. Consider cultivating context with your employees. There are countless ways of going about it:

    • Enhance your regular meeting agendas to include a discussion of a current event or a change that’s affecting the business.
    • Put trade publications in the break room.
    • Allow employees to volunteer to research different factors affecting the business and report back to the group.
    • Invite customers into your meetings or schedule a field trip to a customer site to learn more about his/her perspective.
    • Take turns inviting employees to attend senior level meetings during which they’ll be exposed to the bigger picture.

    Having a visceral understanding and broader perspective of the world within which work operates provides employees with the context they need to be better business partners and architects of the future. It also improves engagement and job satisfaction. Because context changes everything.

    What about you? What role do you see context playing in your workplace? How do you help others understand it? PS – I’ve since learned how to spell “Salmonella”!

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