Depending on which dictionary you use, the primary definition for the word “cognizance” will vary. According to YourDictionary.com, cognizance is defined as “perception or knowledge,” and especially “the range of knowledge possible through observation.” In Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, cognizance is primarily defined “a distinguishing mark or emblem,” while Dictionary.com defines cognizance as “awareness, realization or knowledge.”
I write deeply about this subject in my new book Death of The Org Chart.
When it comes to the concept of Organizational Cognizance, all of these definitions are in play. Within an organization, each employee should have sufficient knowledge and awareness about the inner workings of the company and the things going on around them. Certainly, they should be knowledgeable about all of their personal responsibilities within the positions they fill, as Individual Contributors.
In addition, Organizational Cognizance should also connect with the idea of being a distinguishing mark. In past eras, a “cognizance” referred to a heraldic badge worn by members of a noble house. Items bearing a specific cognizance identified the property of a noble house, and individuals who wore the cognizance were either members of the family represented by that emblem, or individuals who had sworn loyalty to the noble house and the family behind that cognizance.
To that end, Organizational Cognizance is a mechanism through which the Individual Contributors of an organization can be linked together, with a thorough understanding of how they fit together with the rest of the workers inside the organization.
In general, employees begin their jobs without having a firm understanding of how their performance intertwines with the rest of the activities occurring throughout the workplace. They may have an understanding of the tasks they are required to perform in order to be successful in their jobs, but the relationship between their job and the rest of the teams and workflows that exist within the organization often remains a mystery.
In order to infuse an organization with cognizance, I recommend something called the Organizational Cognizance Model. On their very first day of employment within a company, individuals should be presented with a document that maps out an assortment of key interactions and relationships they will be expected to participate in within the company in order to achieve success. Those workers will be provided with valuable answers to questions ranging from what they are responsible for in terms of productivity, to who they are expected to answer to, what meetings they should be attending, and who they should turn to for help.
Being provided with this information allows employees to become fully cognizant; they are fully aware of the requirements established for them, combined with what it means for them to be an active contributor to that organization. Just as important, those Individual Contributors will also possess complete accountability, because they will fully grasp their roles and expectations, along with possessing a firm understanding of their own importance to the productivity of the company and how many coworkers their actions influence.
Most employees crave accountability because they want to be able to take ownership of a role that they can excel in, and also feel consequential to the process of achieving success. Accountability provides individuals with an organization’s inherent trust, along with an opportunity to prove themselves to be competent and reliable. Embracing an Organizational Cognizance Model is an ideal way for your company to iron out potential misunderstandings that might exist within your organization, and it will also allow your employees to understand and embrace the ways in which they are accountable from the very first moment they set foot in your company and get down to business.