Are You Paying Attention?

A natural leader is a person who has worked out what's going on around them and is willing to be proactive by taking considered action. While you don't need a fancy title, you do need an open mind, concentration, courage and common sense. This Tip introduces a concept known as Situational Awareness, developed by the chief scientist for the US Airforce, Dr. Mica Endsley, and its application to franchise leadership, especially the role of the field consultant.

Situational Awareness (SA) measures the ability of people to really understand what is going on in the situations they find themselves in. High levels of SA are particularly important when we need to quickly interpret a lot of information in a fast moving, high pressure environment. Think of playing team sports, cooking in a restaurant, doing emergency services work, facilitating difficult groups or making effective leadership decisions in complex, ambiguous situations.

The 3 levels of awareness

To achieve a high level of Situational Awareness we first need to notice the basics, known as Level 1 awareness. When walking into a franchisee's business, a field manager needs to be aware of customers, staff, the franchisee and the facilities around them.

Level 2 awareness is considering the state of each of these elements. For example how busy things are or how the business has been tracking.

Level 3, the highest level of Situational Awareness, is where the field manager is able to predict what is likely to happen next, based on how things are unfolding around them. For instance how a franchisee is likely to react to being presented with certain information. This enables the field manager to respond thoughtfully and effectively.

Sensing danger

When I was a field manager with the Brumby's bakery group I used to pay particular attention during my visits to what activities people were undertaking and who was operating what pieces of equipment. I remember walking into a busy bakery where there was just one very anxious looking teenager serving a shop full of agitated customers. She was pushing several loaves of bread through the bread slicer and I could tell the slicer blades were blunt by the way the loaves were squashing together in the machine. My first thought was "danger, don't distract her, be helpful." So my immediate action was to smile confidently at her and ask if I could help out by serving some customers. My goal was to take some pressure off her and reduce the risk of an accident, as well as helping the business deliver a better customer experience.

A less experienced field manager may have taken a judgmental approach to the situation, thinking "Why is she so inefficient and why is there only one person serving at such a busy time?" Then stood back taking notes for a "feedback session" with the staff member. This would have exacerbated an already difficult situation. Two things I later learned was another staff member had just gone home sick and the franchisee had not been following proper equipment maintenance processes, an issue that was not the fault of the staff member.

Factors that undermine effective Situational Awareness include:

  • Paying attention to just one thing and not scanning for all the relevant information
  • Anxiety, stress, impatience and tiredness
  • Making wrong assumptions about the way the world works
  • Having inappropriate goals, leading us to focus on the wrong things
  • Tools and processes that overload us with too much irrelevant information
  • Getting distracted, for instance, texting, reading emails or thinking about another situation

The CORE model

We've recently developed a new model to assist field managers, based on some of the situational awareness research, called The CORE Model. It stands for:

Check-in. Are you mentally focused and prepared?
Observe. Are you paying attention to the right things?
Respond. What is the best course of action under the circumstances?
Evaluate. Is your response working and if not, what's your back up plan?

So, are you aware of what's going on around you? Are you paying attention to how people or things are behaving? And are you anticipating what is likely to happen next?

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