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Sensemaking

Seven years ago, I had the great fortune of meeting a young woman who was in the midst of discovering her career path. In business, she worked in sales/customer service but her creative passion was photography. I hired Shanann to take photos of my kiddos, who were seven and five at the time.   Shanann’s laid back style, affable disposition and generous heart allowed for an environment where my rather shy, introverted kids felt comfortable and free to express their playful ways. Introducing a picture frame at the park was all my kids needed to “ham” it up and Shanann was there to beautifully capture their essence. We used Shanann several times following that initial day in the park and her photos adorn our walls today which has brought smiles to my face over the years-as I remember those experiences fondly. 



When I heard that Shanann and her children were murdered, I sat in disbelief at the horror of what had occurred. The photos that have brought me so much joy now seemed to be a reminder of the loss of such talent, kindness and generosity that I believe Shanann offered the world. 


Over the eight months since her death, I’ve teetered in this state of how to make sense out of the senseless? As tragic as this was, what lessons does it hold for me in both my professional and personal lives? As I reflected over the months, I kept being drawn back to something I learned in my PhD program around Sensemaking in Organizations. Sensemaking is thought to be a collective process where people work to understand issues or events that are confusing or violate our ways of knowing. Events such as Shanann’s murder, the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida or even natural disasters such as Hurricane Maria are all examples of events that challenge our default ways of thinking. They can sometimes leave us in a fog and stay with us until we can reconcile what has happened with our views and ways of knowing the world.


 Karl Weick, the organizational expert on sensemaking, suggested that sensemaking can help us have hope, confidence and ability to move from anxiety to action. It is our responsibility then to work through the sensemaking process, understand the lessons and be able to apply actions for not only ourselves, but the greater good. So, for me, walking through this process of sensemaking over the past eight months and trying to find a way forward has drawn me back to remembering the positive way that Shanann touched our family’s life. Our simple exchanges years ago have stayed with me to my benefit.

The question becomes what specific actions can I do with what I’ve learned through this process-both personally and professionally? For my personal life, it starts with a recognition that what gives my life meaning are the experiences and connections with others. Therefore, balancing and focusing on priorities that foster relationships that are important to me. For my professional life as a business consultant, encouraging business leaders to bring humanity into our workplaces with rigor and authenticity. Cultivating human centric workplace designs that fosters opportunities for employees to be creative, work collaboratively and enjoy what they do. Ultimately, recognizing that employees can’t leave their “humanness” at the door when they come to work.  Yes, there is evidence to suggest that this will improve an organization’s bottomline but more importantly, it will be a testament to the type of organization that leaders want to promote. Knowing that we all have a choice in the ways we show up on our jobs, the ways we interact with others and the environments that we create, let’s make the choice that will better our world. And,  for me personally, as I make sense of the senseless and think about my actions, I look to Shanann as a model for how I want to be and my hope for us in the future.  

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