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Understanding Organisational
Self-Awareness

I’ve long been an advocate for the importance of self-awareness revealed by an individual. I define this as the void between that individual’s identity (how they see themselves) and their reputation (how others experience them); encompassing both what that individual knows, but also their ability to acknowledge what they don’t yet know. The larger the void, the lower their level of individual self-awareness.

I advocate this because I believe strongly that self-awareness, followed by a willingness to embrace it, is the key to overcoming any challenge or hindrance in work and life. However, I recognise true self-awareness and the ability to capture its usefulness takes courageous introspection, fearless truth-finding, and a willingness to exist in a vulnerable and often uncomfortable place. It is demanding, exhausting, and it favours the bold. It is not easy.

Extrapolated to encompass a whole community of people, organisational self-awareness fills the same space on a collective scale. Just like an individual’s self-awareness, organisational self-awareness is the void between its identity (how it sees itself) and its reputation (how others, internally or externally, perceive it to be).

In a period of cultural change, industry disruption, growth or adversity; how is an organisation, much like an individual, able to effectively identify it’s most positive and successful future state? How can it navigate the means of getting where it wants to be without first understanding what it knows and doesn’t know, and the gap that exists between these things?

 

What Makes an Organisation Self-Aware?

At a foundational level, organisations are simply the collective sum of their parts – their people, structure, systems and values. Great organisations are the collective sum of their great, acutely-aligned parts. People walk the talk. They manage unconscious biases. They question everything. They eliminate contradiction.

And this begins with the leaders. It is the leaders who are responsible, first as individuals, and then on behalf of the whole organisation, for beginning to build the scaffold of self-awareness whilst at the same time leading the way in climbing it. Through their own individual self-awareness they expose vulnerability, bravely face the unknown, and foster an organisational-level of reflection that will far exceed one part of the collective.

They ask; what have I achieved? Why has this happened? How could I have done better? What can I learn? What don’t I know? What do I need to own? What do I need to be cautious of? It is a shift from just cognition (just thinking), to cognition combined with meta-cognition (thinking about thinking).

It is not easy. It is not quick. But it can be simple.

 

Pertinent Questions to Consider

Let me ask; are your values visually decorating the walls of your office in a well-meaning yet impact-less way? Has their influence been neutered rather than nurtured?

Or, are they being experienced daily as a driving force, expressed by your people, structure and systems in a way that is dynamic and compelling?

A values-based culture has been recognised as the key to high performance and engagement. In Utopia, aligning behaviours and practices to values is unconscious and effortless. They are innate and instinctive.

In the real world with real people, however, there is a deliberate and thoughtful consciousness required to cultivate, grow and release the power of a values-based culture. Conveying values through behaviours requires constant effort, a self-prophesying mindset and active empathy.

It is not so easy. But it can be achieved. And it begins with organisational self-awareness.

Start by asking; what have we achieved? Why has this happened? How could we have done it better? What is there for us to learn? What do we need to own? What do we need to be cautious about?

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