The Myth Of Common Sense And How To Fix It

Imagine if your team could read your mind so that the simplest of directions could lead to spectacular results. I would love it if mine knew exactly what I meant when I provided direction or gave advice. Even that phrase right there, “provided direction or gave advice” – if I’m not clear on my own intent, how could I expect the person I am communicating with to know? Fortunately, there is a solution to the common sense myth that companies have been effectively deploying for decades.

The phrase “common sense” gets batted around a lot, often in an incredulous tone dripping with disbelief. Examples include:

“I can’t believe they show up ten minutes late every day. Don’t they know how bad it looks? It’s just common sense!”

“I just found out they thought I was watching the clock to see what time they come to the office. I don’t care what time they work, only that they get the work done. No one has common sense anymore!”

“They’ve had three poor performance evaluations in a row and were surprised when we fired them. What did they think was going to happen?”

“They never told me it was a big deal. Just that there were areas to improve. They had lots of good things to say too. How could they not warn me this was coming?”

Common Sense Isn’t Common

In theory, common sense is a way of thinking or behaving common to a similar group of people. It considers peoples’ orientation (the glass is half full or half empty) and their experience that brought them to where they are today. Applying the construct of common sense to a family makes some sense. Brothers, for instance, that grew up in the same household will have had enough common experience and framework to perceive some things as common sense. “You sleep in on Saturdays when there’s no school or work. It’s just common sense!” or “Of course you get up early on Saturdays. All the chores that piled up all week have to be completed. Everyone knows that.”

But the further groups of people move from common experience, the less common their sense will be. In a world where diversity of perspective and experience is valued, in a country where we encourage diversity of cultures and customs, it’s no surprise that our sense is no longer common.

But the idea of common sense is so seductive. We can’t explain every single expectation to the nth degree – it would be impractical, micro-manage-y and downright unproductive. Instead, we need to find ways to create an understanding of what “common sense” in our organization means. Some might call this understanding the vision of the organization – it’s purpose, core values, brand promises, and priorities.

Organizational Common Sense

There are lines on the road that can be articulated to indicate expectations and teach the specific organizational common sense for your business:

  • The purpose or “why” of what we do.
  • The mission or what we’re hoping to achieve in the organization.
  • The core values or behaviours that people like us, at this company, have.
  • The brand promise – what people get when they buy from us or what people get when they work for us.
  • The priorities that we’re going to focus on in the coming quarter, year, and beyond.

In any organization, this framework or “Vision Summary” outlines what common sense means here.

As an example, core values provide a portion of this framework. People like us, at this company, do things like this. At Bellrock, one of our core values is, “We believe in communicating directly.” In practice that looks like talking about all sorts of things candidly, not ambiguously. People’s feelings sometimes get hurt, but in our company, the benefits that come from clearly expressing a perspective and without reservation outweigh the potential drawbacks. We also recognise that there is no “truth”, but rather an intersection of perspectives. Without direct communication the intersection is more difficult to uncover, and a lot of time can be wasted trying to figure out what the other person is really thinking. Subtext isn’t how we roll. If I have spinach stuck in my teeth, and you notice it, tell me. Why would you send me out in the world looking like that? It’s just common sense!

Every Organization Has Common Sense. The Best Ones Articulate It.

Every organization has got their lens of common sense through which they view the world. Only the best have articulated it in such a way that others can quickly absorb and understand it. When it is well articulated, organizations hire better (i.e., the people that don’t fit tend to self-select out) and perform better as everyone is more likely to be working towards a common goal and within a common framework.

Codifying the vision and values of an organization is an exercise measured in months and years. That said, a good first draft can be developed in a couple of days. If you’re hearing the common sense lament a little too often around the water-cooler it might be time to do something about it. After all, people like us don’t just experience the same problem over and over again and expect it to magically disappear. Why would you do that? It’s just common sense!

Bellrock offers business leaders a different perspective on strategic challenges. We also translate that perspective into actionable plans that improve results and train managers on execution. Our purpose is to develop life-long relationships and raving fans. If you found this article valuable, don’t be stingy. Share.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

More By This Author