SenseMaking for Leaders


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One of the key tasks that leaders face is to make sense of all the different things that are happening around them – the shifting technology, geopolitical and competitive landscapes and respond (or find the opportunity within the context) appropriately.

Nitin Nohria also writes about this in a HBR Magazine article titled – Leaders Must React. You can read the article in the magazine or online here. He also shares a framework called “The Reactive Management Framework”.

The framework clearly looks at the various signals that leaders need to process and make sense along from the perspective of how any of these signals might develop over time {how these issues appear (small or significant) vs their potential over time (small vs significant)}.

Another Perspective:

We could also look at the very same thing from other perspectives as well. Let’s explore from a different perspective, which involves using multiple filters to decide how to make sense of incoming stimuli and how to respond to the same.

Here is how it could potentially work:

1. Relevance: The first step in the process is to check if the input is relevant to the goal that we are pursuing as a team. This assumes that we are very clear in terms of the goals and objectives that we are trying to achieve.

Once we are clear on this, then this first step can help us sort out signals from the noise coming our way. If the input is not relevant to our existing goals, does this provide or open up an opportunity for us to exploit to achieve something different from our existing goals. If yes, explore this further. If not, ignore the input as noise and move on.

2. Impact (positive or negative): Once we have determined that the input or information is relevant for us (one way or other), the next step is to estimate the impact that it can have on our existing goals or the size of the opportunity it opens up.

All we need is an estimate and not the exact impact that this can have. If we think that the impact is not big enough for us to explore this further, we park this input in the category of a watchlist and come back to it to explore how this develops over time. If we deem that the impact is high enough to warrant further attention, we move to the next step in the process.

3. Time sensitivity or Urgency: This is all about how urgent do we need to act on this new bit of input or information for us to realise the impact that we have estimated in the previous step. Is it something that we need to act on or respond immediately, in days, in a week (urgent) or can we take sometime to deliberate and act in a few weeks (Not urgent).

If this is urgent, we progress to the next step. If not urgent, then we schedule some time on the calendar to get back to it when we feel is appropriate, so that we don’t miss out acting on this in our busy schedules.

4. Act or Delegate: Assuming that think that we need to respond to the input urgently, then we think about whether we are the best person to respond or is it done better by someone else, either on the team or someone else in our organization.

Can we use this as a coaching or teaching opportunity to someone on our team? If yes, go ahead and delegate it to them responsibly. If this is not an option and it is important for us to respond, then we go ahead and respond.

This 4 step process allows us to process all the inputs we get and separate the noise from the signal and only respond to those signal that are both urgent and absolutely need a response from us.

This also allows us the opportunity where possible to coach the next level of leaders in the day-to-day routine and therefore develop leadership pipeline.

This also serves dual purpose. We process all inputs that are relevant to us based on their urgency, importance and do so at the right level, while at the same time force us to look for newer opportunities as and when they arise. This is what I call positioning ourselves to get “lucky by design”.

And to top it off, if we can find sometime to reflect on our decisions over time and learn based on how our actions turned out, we get better with each iteration of this sense making process.

In conclusion:

In conclusion, as a leader, it doesn’t matter which framework we use to make sense of all the incoming information or inputs as long as we use one.

This ensures that we are being systematic in our approach and don’t miss anything important, whether urgent or not for our current goals, while also leaving the possibility of discovering new opportunities to explore.

Here are a few more sense making frameworks that you can explore and use the one that seems the most relevant for you and is the easiest to implement in your life. You can find another compilation of different sense making frameworks here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mukesh Gupta
I currently work for SAP as Customer advocate. In this capacity, I am responsible to ensure that the voice of the customer is being heard and play the bridge between customers and SAP. Prior to joining SAP, I have worked with different organizations serving in different functions like customer service, logistics, production planning & sales, marketing and business development functions. I was also the founder-CEO of a start-up called "Innovative Enterprises". The venture was in the retail & distribution business. I blog at


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