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Context Changes Everything


The 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”!


  1. Hi Julie,
    The very 1st question is quite important to each and every personnel.. I too believe that setting some basic sense for our statements what we are going to do/develop/deploy.. this 3 steps plays major role in any organization.. every one needs a perfect context who wants to be a leader. in other words perfect guide. this is what i understand from your post..

    Surprisingly.. this is the topic we discussed early this morning in my company. and i am the head of discussion. thanks for few more tips & giving me some more awareness.

    Wish to see more and more posts from you, they are very useful & quite effective on employees strategies.

    All The Best. God Bless You.

    Praveen Kumar

  2. I’m so glad that you found it helpful, Praveen. And, given the recent events in your own life, I would imagine it’s top of mind right now for you. I like the way you liken context to a guide… it’s nice imagery and spot on from my perspective. Thanks so much for taking the time to share here.

  3. Julie,

    First of all, I’m so glad to hear your son will make a full recovery.

    Secondly – I agree that context is so very important – it really does help create perspective so that the people receiving the information know how to react.

    • Thanks so much, Jennifer. You’re right. Reactions really are a product of context. And I find that in business too few employees have the visibility they need to the issues that impact the business… leaving them adrift and unable to respond constructively. In my experience, just a small investment of time on the part of leaders to share a bit of context can go a long way. What are you finding with the individuals and organizations with which you work? How alive and well is context?


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