Your self-aware people are your organisation’s competitive edge

Self-awareness at work
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Something we all know is that every person is different. Something we all know at Insights is that when people understand what makes them truly unique, they can leverage this knowledge to achieve better outcomes in their personal and professional lives. .

In fact, diversity of strengths, skills, preferences, work styles, challenges and areas of expertise is what makes teams and organisations stronger together. Like a rope fashioned from hundreds of fragile threads, the strength of the collective grows by a magnitude until, woven together just right, it has the strength to bear the heaviest of loads.

More than that, we know that organisations which create a working environment that values the ‘individual’ and which promote ‘self-awareness’ among leaders and employees - so that they truly understand these strengths, skills, preferences and challenges - enable business success.

A study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations backs this up. Researchers examined leaders to identify predictors of executive success.

The findings stated, “harsh, hard-driving, ‘results-at-all-costs’ executives actually diminish the bottom line, while self-aware leaders with strong interpersonal skills deliver better financial performance.”

Where can self-awareness take people and organisations?

Carl Jung said: "There is no cure and no improving of the world that does not begin with the individual himself." This notion of self-development, centres on the fact that awareness of self is the basis for all positive human endeavour and interaction.

Fundamentally, self-awareness revolves around our understanding of our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions and the unique psychological preferences that drive our behaviour.

At the individual level, this means professionals understand their own inherent qualities and how they can leverage these to be successful. At the managerial level, self-awareness allows leaders to more quickly identify competency gaps in themselves and their teams, which, in turn, promotes the skill development initiatives required to fill those gaps.

Self-awareness contributes to organisational success because at the micro and macro levels people, teams and leaders are having the right conversations in the right way, in support of the right projects aligned to business success. Without this base level of self-knowledge and understanding, organisations don’t know what they don’t know and are forced to pursue improvement and development blindly.

People are your business’ most critical asset and biggest risk factor

Numerous studies show that increased self-awareness at work can lead to better team building, improved communication, more effective leaders, and better staffing decisions.

By the same token, low levels of self-awareness can be linked to an increase in workplace conflict, less authenticity in relationships and a defensive attitude about personal shortcomings.

So while executive leaders might look to new competitors or changes in the economy as their highest risk factors, actually it is individuals in the workforce who lack self-awareness who pose the real risk to organisational effectiveness.

These people can be the bottleneck to inefficiency, and by ignoring or under prioritising the need to improve this, executives could unknowingly be putting their business at increased risk. 

‘Self-aware’ people can cope with change

A great example to illustrate the overwhelming importance of self-awareness can be seen through the complexities of change management.

When we talk about change here at Insights (which we do, a lot) we often quote the statistic which says that around 70% of change initiatives fail. It’s actually a pretty startling number, but it has somehow ceased to shock.

It’s accepted, even perhaps expected, that instituting organisational change is akin to pushing a rock up a hill: difficult, time-consuming, exhausting and ultimately pointless.

Like any positive change, skill development and personal growth start with an honest examination between the current state of affairs and the desired future state. Just as you have to know the physical location of your starting point if you want to travel to an unknown destination, you have to know the figurative location of your starting skill set, too.

Self-aware people who have been given the time and space to develop themselves, to understand their own strengths, what’s at the root of their personal workplace struggles, how they can be most effective, what motivates them, and what kind of leader they will flourish under, will be much more equipped to re-focus their priorities and put their skills to the test in new ways.

They will cope much better than those who have been slotted into a role and given no personal development since the day they got their key fob.

Resilience and agility come from ‘self-aware’ people

Sure, it’s normal for directional change decisions to come from the top. Those right at the head of the organisation are the ones who have the strategic vision, access to all of the pertinent information, and the ultimate responsibility for the organisational performance, so it makes sense for many companies that directional decisions are top-down.

This can only work however, if business leaders understand that the level of agility and resilience the organisation displays in the face of change will come from the bottom up. And that’s because change doesn’t happen to organisations – change happens to the people who make up the organisation.

‘Self-aware’ people can cope with a constantly evolving environment

In a stable environment, people generally know what they’re getting when they show up to work each day. They’re faced with work they know how to do, goals they’ve long been on board with, and a leader who’s been around long enough to really get how they tick.

But in a constantly-evolving environment, all that comforting familiarity is lost. If the organisational goals shift, so do the goals of the people who make up that organisation. So one Monday morning you hit your desk, and your workload could be different, you could be matrixed into new teams or given new priorities.

For lasting change, you need all of your people to get on board, inspired and most crucially, to understand how their role fits into the whole process. As we become aware of how we and those around us typically respond to change, we will begin to understand behaviours (ours and our colleagues) during times of change for what they are, rather than giving a more sinister interpretation to what we experience.  

Invest in your people to invest in your business

When relationships improve, so does productivity, communication, customer service, organizational culture, teamwork, engagement levels and leadership effectiveness.

By improving thousands of interpersonal interactions across your business every day, the business-benefits are felt organization-wide almost immediately. At the end of the day, if it is your workforce that unlocks your organisation’s potential, your business should focus intently on unlocking its workforce’s potential.

It is this interconnectedness between the effectiveness of the individual, team and organization that warrant organizations to lean on learning to reach their business goals.

CLO and writer Dan Pontefract said, "When an employee discovers their personal purpose and it is lockstep with the role they perform in the organization, both the employee and the firm benefit."

I firmly believe that when organisations show their dedication and commitment to creating a working environment that values the individual and helps them become ‘self-aware’, they release their people’s brilliance and enable their business’s success.

About AndyLothian

Andy Lothian

EY Entrepreneur for the Year for Scotland in 2016, CEO Andy Lothian is dedicated to the connection between personal development and business development.

Andy founded Insights Learning and Development with his father, Andi Lothian, more than 20 years ago and has turned a two-man operation into a successful global development company. In his dual roles as Insights’ Chief Executive and Head of People (Human Resources and Talent Development function), Andy is passionately committed to enabling profound people development, whether for the organization’s clients or employees

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