Discussion – Building a Winning Career

Bill Cowan rightly pointed out in this week's workshop that most of us are good at our jobs, but not necessarily​ good at marketing ourselves.

I put myself in that category. Marketing is so very much harder and yet Bill's strategy for building a winning career seems highly achievable.​

That might be because at its core, it's a relationship strategy.

To continue the discussion I have here my top three takeaways as well as some next steps for you all.​​​​

First to my top three takeaways from this week's discussion.

#1 – Build a large network of friends and colleagues whom you can call on for advice. Never ask any of them to help you find a job: it is awful for both of you when they say ‘no'. They most likely won't know how to help you find a job and then the conversation gets awkward very quickly.

#2 – Know that connection matters as much, if not more than competence when hunting for a new role. We talked about how a ‘dad joke' bot helped my son get his first grad role in NYC … this was a lovely example of how this played out quite naturally and accidentally. Bill had quite a bit to say on this topic too.

#3 – Have courage to be ambitious about the sort of role you look for and, equally, to leave a bad one. Leave when three things are in play:

  1. ​your boss isn't helping you,
  2. ​you don't feel you are making a difference and
  3. ​the organisation itself is struggling.

​Bill believes courage is more important than confidence too, no matter what level you are at.

There were loads more, and I'd encourage you to go to the recording to listen. I have posted it as video, but you may find it a good one to listen to instead as it's more discussion than presentation.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.​

And to another opportunity to work on your own career
​​
Whether you were there or not, please do prepare for our next Winning Career discussions during the upcoming working sessions. Here's what to do to prepare:

#1 – Log in and register for the session that suits you best on the first Tuesday in February​​

#2 – Get hold of Bill's book Building a Winning Career if you can and also listen to my previous interview with him.

#3 – Regardless of whether you get the book or not, brainstorm out a list of things that you think make you distinctive in your career.

#4 – Bring the list with you to the session so we can work with you to help you clarify what is distinctive about you. This lays the foundations for helping you work out what direction to head in.

​Thanks again for being such active participants in this journey with Bill. He's been very generous with his time and I think well worth listening to.
​​​
Have a great week,
Davina


PS – Do let me know if there are other communication-related topics that particularly interest you. I would love to have one or two more speakers join us this year.​​

Please excuse the camera wobbles at the start … it gets better a few minutes in.

​​​


How to tell a story when you can’t offer a recommendation

I am often asked a question that goes a bit like this: “How do I use a storyline when I can't or don't need to offer a recommendation?”

There is at times a concern that storylining isn't fit for purpose in this setting.

We saw a terrific example of this play out in a December coaching session, which I'll unpack here for you.

The easy answer is that although we don't offer a pattern for this, you can easily use a storyline to provide a summary at the top and supporting levels.

Here is what that might look like at the top line for the stock review we discussed

For example, when writing a stock report you might want to offer a recommendation like this:

“We recommend adding Aristocrat (ALL) into your investment portfolio”
as this could be out of the scope of the work you have been engaged to do.

If you were to take this approach, the supporting points would be reasons, explaining why you recommend adding ALL to the portfolio. You would most likely use a version of the Pitch Pattern.

However, in some settings this is prohibited or unwanted. Your financial services license may not permit you to offer ‘advice', or your client may have specifically asked for your findings only.

If this is the case, you might offer a summary (akin to an ‘observation') that says something like this:

“ALL's acquisition of Playtech opens new avenues of growth and an early EPS uplift given the financial structure of the deal.”

This describes what has happened in the past quarter without saying ‘buy this stock'.

If you were to take this approach, the supporting points would still be reasons, but would put forward a different kind of argument. They would be explaining why it is true, or what evidence you have, to support the idea that the acquisition opens up new avenues of growth.

In either case the supporting points could follow a classic Grouping Structure.

You can download the example and/or watch the video of this session below.

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How often do you see decision making papers that begin with a section for background? And … how often is that background really, really long?

This is a problem on a number of levels, not only because board members and other leaders routinely list ‘too much background' as one of their pet hates.

Some audiences, however, have greatly mixed needs for background which creates some difficulty.

So, what to do?

I am offering five strategies you could employ depending upon your confidence regarding the audience's situation.

Where you are confident that the audience needs a ‘quick refresh' rather than an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues, adopt these two strategies:

Strategy #1 – Refer to and link out to any past papers to avoid repetition but still provide new members with access to the relevant history. You might say something like this: In last month's meeting we discussed four potential options for solving problem X (See last month's paper here). This is easily done where you are using an electronic paper system, such as BoardRoom.

Strategy #2 – Include relevant past papers in an appendix. This is useful when you don't have the ability to hyperlink to the past paper.

Where you are not confident that the audience will remember the content (perhaps because the discussion was truncated or you have a highly technical issue that is on the margins of their experience), include the information in the story in one of three ways.

Strategy #1 – Weave the messages into the new story. If reminding them about options discussed earlier, you might go with a deductive structure to allow more room for reasoning. Here are two suggestions.

  • Use a To Be or Not To Be structure to explain the options before making your recommendation, rather than just saying ‘Option B is Best before offering a list of reasons why you are recommending it.
  • Remind them of the problem being solved by merging Houston and To B or Not To B. You can use a Houston structure for your ‘statement', and following with ‘However, Option B is Best' for your comment and then leading into your therefore, implement Option B.


Strategy #2 – Use a Watch Out pattern to include a generous amount of detail on what's been done so far. This is always a useful pattern for when you need to change direction, but where your audience isn't keeping up with you, you may find it useful to be ‘fulsome' in your statement. The comment that allows for ‘risks ahead' can be tweaked in all sorts of ways to allow for necessary changes that you have just identified.

Strategy #3 – Add a section in your grouping to cover off on the ‘background'. This could be done (at least!) two ways:

  • In an Action Jackson story where you are describing how to implement something, start the first section with a message like this: “Become familiar with the options available”. This provides an opportunity for you to then describe the options as the first step in a process.
  • In a Pitch Pattern, weave the information throughout the story as you touch on key topics. If you are referring options, then describe the options in a deductive flow underneath the “We have a great solution” section.


I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina


Related posts …

How to know when you are stuck in the weeds

How to know when you are stuck in the weeds

Have you ever wondered how to know when it's time to ‘pop up' out of the weeds so you can see the big picture?

A number of people in the program have asked this question and a December working session focused on the issue in a way that is useful to all of you.

The key takeaway was that if you find yourself going really deep on one section of an issue before clarifying the top level you need to come back up.

This is particularly so when building issue and hypothesis trees when problem solving. There is a tendency to go and ‘do the analysis' to answer a question while the ideas are fresh and run the risk that we have spent significant energy doing the wrong analysis.

We also risk wasting effort if we dive in too deep when preparing our communication. We aren't always clear on what the messaging should be in a section of a story before we know what the high-level story is like for the whole thing.

This means that we can prepare pages in packs and papers that end up being redundant because we ‘chased a rabbit' down a hole.

So, here are some ideas to help you ‘stay out of the rabbit warrens'

  1. Take a look at the recording. Click here to access.
    1. The topic is simple and interesting (addressing an employee shortage in a US County) and illustrates very clearly the problem.
    2. It offers a chance to refresh or perhaps dig into the problem solving concepts in the Clarity in Problem Solving course.
  2. Stick to building your one-page storylines before building your papers or packs
  3. Go a step further and ‘hack' the high-level storylines before you get to building your one-pager. There is room for this in the storyline planner, and plenty of examples in the recorded sessions of this strategy at work.


I hope that helps and look forward to checking in again next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Don't forget to get a copy of Bill's Book, Building a Winning Career so you can contribute to the discussion during the mid January and early February working sessions.

Houston, we have a problem …

Houston, we have a problem …

++++++++++++++++++

ALERT – Those of you who are new may like to save this one for later. I am going deep on deductive storylines today.

++++++++++++++++++

The ‘Houston, we have a problem …' storyline pattern was a favourite during this week's coaching sessions.

These sessions, did however highlight a problem with the way my clients were trying to use the pattern that you may also be facing.

The challenge comes in getting the comment (the second of the three elements) right so the story is engaging and not duplicative.

Let me give you the high level of the story (using a Close the Gap pattern!) and then dive into the detail.

So I suggest adapting a Houston pattern using first principles if it isn't fit for purpose, supporting a compelling story for your situation.

  • An engaging Houston storyline always convinces the audience that the recommendation is right in the first two sections of the story.
  • However, these clients were struggling to force their story into the classic Houston pattern when it wasn't fit for purpose
  • Therefore, I suggest adapting the storyline structure by using first principles rather than trying to force your story into it.

Let me unpack that in a bit more detail for you now.

An engaging Houston storyline always convinces the audience that the recommendation is right in the first two sections of the story.

The key here is to introduce ideas that are new to the audience, which convey the sense of the problem they want to engage the audience in.

Each of the ideas listed below the statement will be reasons supporting the idea in the top line box. You might say, for example:

[Statement] Our first fleet driver data report positions 70 of our 88 drivers as high risk, highlighting systemically dangerous driving as well breaches to our vehicle policy.

  • There were a concerning number of incidents where drivers were demonstrating high risk behaviour
  • 70 fleet drivers were recorded as speeding frequently and excessively
  • 18 of those drivers were given the lowest possible rating
  • 17 drivers overall demonstrated moderate behaviours and only 1 consistently demonstrated low risk driving behaviours

In this example, each of the points below the statement provide evidence to support why we should believe we have a problem.

So far, so good.

However, these clients were struggling to force their story into the classic Houston pattern when it wasn't fit for purpose.

Here is what was happening: they were duplicating the content in either the statement or the therefore rather than truly explaining why their recommendation was the right one.

They were duplicating the information in the statement as they were trying to describe the causes of the problem, when this isn't what was needed for their particular story. Let me illustrate.

[Poor comment] We know two factors are the primary reason for our performance rating.

  1. Excessive speeding over the Q1 period where employees were travelling over 120km/h
  2. Repeatedly driving at excessive speeds of more than 20km/h over the limit

The problem here is that these points are actually evidence of the problem itself.

They overlap with the points in the statement and do not describe what has caused the poor driving. They also do not lead naturally to the recommended set of actions, as in this case they don't know the causes and may not be able to address them even if they did.

The other problem was highlighted through a different story, but I will illustrate using the high-risk driving example for the sake of consistency.

[Poor comment] We need to address the causes of our poor performance rating.

  1. Investigate to confirm the data is correct, so it will stand in a court of law if needed
  2. Create awareness of the problem by distributing the monthly driver behaviour reports
  3. Set expectations to reinforce our policy
  4. Performance manage where needed

This example justifies why each of their actions are the right ones, however they are so obvious it doesn't work. They are not insightful or useful in persuading the audience that their approach is the right approach.

I have seen far worse examples where just a list of actions is provided, but struggled to execute on this example given it's pretty simple. I hope it's a useful illustration all the same.

Therefore, I suggest adapting the storyline structure by using first principles rather than trying to force your story into it. There are three strategies I suggest you employ:

Follow the ‘classic' Houston pattern where you use the comment to define the causes of the problem, which are not self evident or known to the audience.

Merge a ‘classic' Houston statement with either a To B or Not To B or Pitch ‘comment' if you want to use the comment to explain the best way to solve the problem articulated in the statement. Go to this past session to learn more about ‘pattern flipping, where you merge and adapt patterns while meeting the principles of deductive storylining.

Adapt the pattern to explain in the comment why your recommended course of action is the right course of action as below:

[Better comment] We suggest a phased approach to cut the most risky behaviour of speeding excessively and repetitively over the coming three months.

  1. We expect that providing each driver with their driving score will shock most people into improving their driving behaviours
  2. We expect there will be little need to take further steps, but may need to understand the issue better to resolve fully (eg understand the causes, clarify standards and explore penalties)
  3. We believe a phased approach will reduce the effort leaders need to take in improving our driving behaviour while being highly effective.

Download the full example here to keep for reference.

I hope that helps and wish you a wonderful week. I'll be taking Boxing Day (26th December) off from emailing you all but be back again in the new year.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and looking forward to being back on deck with you all again in January.

 

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – If you have not yet received a copy of Bill's book, Building a Winning Career, and registered for our joint workshops in January please do!

These aren't listed as special sessions in the portal, but rather as working sessions. The relevant ones are the 8am AEDT on 18 January and both 8am and 5pm AEDT on 1 Feb.

Exploring bottom up and top down thinking when problem solving

This was a terrific session where we explored a concrete example that we can all relate to.

We dug into Ravi’s housing shortage challenge again to explore how we might use hypothesis trees, issue trees or design thinking to help.

We were reminded of a number of things during this session:

  1. Understanding the problem is vital in order to effectively solve it.
  2. MECE is a fantastic tool to use while problem-solving as it pushes us to look at the problem from multiple angles.
  3. Pulling back intermittently to check that you aren't ‘too deep into the detail' can help keep your problem-solving session on track.

Our notes for this session are available for download underneath the recording.

Keywords: Clarity in Problem Solving, State the Problem, Issue Tree

How to use a storyline as a thinking tool to develop your strategy

How to use a storyline as a thinking tool to develop your strategy

Two of this week's coaching sessions shone a very bright light on how storylining is about much more than ‘putting words on a page'. It's about surfacing the ideas that we want to convey.

So, this week I want to focus on how you can use a storyline rather than how you build one.

Let me give you the high level story first and then explain by way of example.

  • As you know, a storyline is a tool for mapping ideas, which can also be described as a ‘thinking machine'.
  • The thinking rules that make the ‘machine' work provide an opportunity to use storylines to develop our strategies not just describe them.
  • So, I encourage you to collaborate as you follow the storyline planner steps to develop and describe your own strategies

As you know, a storyline is a tool for mapping your ideas, which can also be described as a thinking machine. One of my old colleagues used to call it an ‘insight engine'.

If we understand the rules that hold our ideas together we can test whether the ideas on a page ‘fit'. If they don't, we can use the rules to work out what is wrong and to strengthen or replace the ‘misfit' ideas.

This both pushes and guides us so we think harder and communicate more impactfully because our ideas are more impactful.

In the classic sense, we can use storylines to prepare our communication so we engage our audiences better.

However, the thinking rules that make the ‘machine' work provide an opportunity to use storylines to develop our strategies, not just describe them. This can be particularly effective when we collaborate with our colleagues.

This is where this week's coaching comes in.

In both sessions we needed to prepare a story that the participants would deliver to their senior leadership in our final workshop together.

The stories needed to be practical and focus on live problems that were substantive enough to engage their leaders.

The challenge for these two groups was that they were not in the midst of a natural paper cycle, and so didn't have anything big enough to share.

Our solution was to use our storylining session to address a problem that they had not yet thought through fully and come up with a solution.

In one case the team developed a strategy for fine tuning their recent organisational transformation to agile ways of working. In the other, they did two things. They

  1. developed a new business case template that enabled them to use a storyline to convey their case in two pages rather than the eight that the previous template had required.
  2. pitched and gained approval for the new template from their Tribe lead and CEO in the final Wrap workshop

It worked a treat, so I wanted to explain how we used the storyline as a tool to help them work out what their strategy was, not just communicate it.

 

So, I encourage you to collaborate as you follow the storyline planner steps to develop and describe your own strategies. Here are some steps to take if that is your situation:

  1. Download the storyline planning template to guide your process.
  2. Work through the four sections, spending a fair chunk of time on the first ‘brainstorm' section so you can download your ideas. You may like to involve a colleague in this part of the process to draw out the key ideas. They don't need any special storylining knowledge to do this with you.
  3. If you can, work with a colleague to shape the storyline too, testing the rigour of your thinking as you go. If you need to work independently, then take the one-pager and share that with a colleague or two to test your ideas further.
  4. Come back to the Ten Point Test after you have received feedback and further refine your storyline to make sure the ideas fit both the structure and your purpose.
  5. Prepare any document you need to share your strategy with decision makers or those who may need to act on it.

So, even though we are using a communication technique here, it has a deeper purpose which you can take advantage of once you really lean into the storylining rules.

I hope that helps and look forward to seeing you at our upcoming working sessions.

Kind regards,
Davina

A script to help you get feedback on a storyline

A script to help you get feedback on a storyline

This week one of our number was using a storyline with their manager for the first time and was wondering whether there were ways to set up the conversation better.

In the spirit of helping, I have outlined some suggestions to help you explain to a ‘non storyliner' how to engage in a storyline.

Here's the draft for you to cut and paste into your own email or to stimulate a conversation as well as an opportunity to download the draft here.

++++++++++++++++++++++

Hi colleague / boss,

I have been thinking about X issue and have outlined my early thinking on a page for your consideration.

Before you review it, I'd like to explain how the page works so the diagram makes sense to you.

  1. It is a discussion draft. Although the ideas are I hope in a clear and logical place within the structure, the ideas are very much open for debate. I thought mapping them out like this would help us discuss the issue further so we can land on the final messaging.
  2. It outlines my current thinking in a way that may seem more assertive than usual. You will see that the ideas are anchored around a single message that is crafted as a point of view. The technique I am using encourages us to flush out the main thought and be upfront about it, before diving into the details below. As mentioned, the ideas are very much open for debate.
  3. Once we agree on the messaging, we can easily turn these ideas into a well-structured document of any kind. I would like to hold off on preparing the document until we agree the ideas to minimise rework. Focusing on the one-pager first will keep us focused on the main ideas and encourage us to ‘nail these' without being distracted by document formatting. My experience so far suggests we can save time this way.

I look forward to discussing issue X with you further in our upcoming meeting.

Regards,
Fred

++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – Watch out for a separate email this week inviting you to an opportunity to hear from William Cowan, on Building a Winning Career.

William is terrific and we are privileged to be the first to hear about his new book, which launches on the day of our interview.

I hope you can join us at 8am on Thursday 2 December Sydney time. We will of course record for those who can't make it.

The difference between being ‘clear’ and being compelling’

The difference between being ‘clear’ and being compelling’

This week's working groups provided an excellent opportunity to think about the difference between being ‘clear' and being ‘compelling'.

I have drawn out three key takeaways that highlight that although being clear is a useful place to start, it is often not enough.

Making the leap from being clear to being compelling required us to lean into my favourite question: why?

Did the ‘trigger' really describe why we were communicating about the information in the context? For example:

Version 1 – The Board has used this as an opportunity to review the Constitution and governance practices to ensure compliance and to identify opportunities for improvement.

Version 2 – We are proposing some amendments for your consideration ahead of the coming AGM

Did the ‘so what' synthesise the items together and explain 
why this group of actions was necessary?

Version 1 – Amending the Constitution will ensure it is able to reflect community expectations, provide flexibility, allow for technological advances and meet best practice governance standards.
 
Version 2 –The Board seeks Members' endorsement at the AGM to amend the Constitution to meet best practice governance standards and maintain full funding.
Did each top line point explain explain why each group of actions was important?

Version 1 – With one exception, was a list of topics rather than messages
    • Reflect community expectations [the exception]
    • Clarification and flexibility
    • Technological advances
    • Governance best practice
Version 2 –A list of outcomes that each group of amendments would deliver
    • Reflect community expectations by being more inclusive
    • Clarify lines of responsibility to tighten governance and qualify for future funding
    • Allow for technological advances
    • Update timeframes around the voting process

Here is the video from the working session.

How to make a deductive structure ‘really sing’

How to make a deductive structure ‘really sing’

 Have you ever wondered what holds a deductive flow together?

Part of the success requires the statement and comment to be tightly linked together, along with the comment and the therefore point.

However, weak support for any of the points, but particularly the comment can bring the whole story undone.

This played out with what was a ‘good cyber strategy’ that I worked on with a senior leadership team this week.

Let’s unpack what we did to convert it into a great cyber strategy.

  1. The introduction was tight and led to a clear and compelling ‘so what’
  2. The high-level storyline be a promising ‘Houston’ pattern. It set up the problem as the first point, explained how to fix that problem in the second and led to a clear and related set of actions
  3. The storyline was let down by a disconnect between the comment and its supporting points. This storyline fell into a common trap of outlining the actions in the strategy here rather than explaining why these are the right actions

I have simplified and sanitised the before and after versions here to illustrate. You can also download the example below in pptx format.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Regards,
Davina

How to discuss risks with decision makers

How to discuss risks with decision makers

When talking about the risks in a recent Board paper with a Chief Technology Officer for a national retailer, he said something very interesting.

The risks section SHOULD make us feel uncomfortable.

If it does, then we are not only being honest but can be confident that the leadership will trust us.

His view was firmly that if we are ‘gilding the lilly' by only including the positives, then they won’t trust us and neither they should.

He said if we did that we would also let ourselves down.

We would not be demonstrating that we have thought deeply about our recommendation and how we will counter the inevitable risks we will face in delivering on our commitments within it.

If we are honest and highlight the things that are keeping us up at night and can demonstrate how well we have thought them through they will trust us more.

It will also lead to a much more robust discussion with the leaders and lead to a better outcome for the business.

Look at Mary’s example regarding the risks associated with her new talent strategy. It highlights the shift toward a powerful acknowledgement of the risks versus a ‘tick a box’ list of items to be covered.

Old version asserting that ‘all is well’ was also quite process oriented –

We will review the impact and risk associated with implementing the strategy through the agile Quarterly Business Review process.

  1. We are clear on the risks associated with this strategy and have plans to address
  2. We will track outcomes through the agile QBR process

New version with a stronger list of risks to be managed focused properly on the risks themselves while also having a clear point of view –

We have mitigations in place to minimise the risks and ensure our strategy delivers full long-term value

  1. Cementing SLT approval for FY21 and FY22 budget of $X m
  2. Working with leaders to ensure they don’t refuse to move top talent or hold onto sub part talent
  3. Investing in chapter leads so they can drive talent development within chapters

The difference is quite stark, isn't it?

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Will I see you at this week's working sessions? We have some terrific documents to work through. Got to Session Registration on the top menu to register.

How to avoid ‘slippage’ in our introductions

How to avoid ‘slippage’ in our introductions

Last week's email focused on a common challenge with introductions: how to avoid drowning your audience in ‘background'.

This week I'd like to continue this theme by drawing on some insights from this week's Intensive Workshop.

Here was the group's big takeaway: It is easy to allow our content to ‘slip' into the wrong part of your storyline which muddles your message.

Here are two suggestions to help you avoid falling into the slippage trap.

  1. Watch that your ‘so what' doesn't slip into your trigger to surprise your audience with too much too soon
  2. Watch that your context doesn't slip into your trigger so you avoid explaining why you are communicating

Here is some more detail on each as well as a before and after example to illustrate.

Tip #1 – Watch that your ‘so what' doesn't slip into your trigger to surprise your audience with too much too soon.

Ask yourself whether the trigger you are using describes why you are communicating with this audience right now and whether it includes new and unexpected information.

Here's an example where the trigger is actually the ‘so what'.

Context – We are in a phase of the pandemic where the war on talent, the great resignation, the organisational disconnect resulting from 1 1/2 years of social isolation are putting us at risk of losing key business services talent.

Trigger – We need to engage, connect and invest in our talent.

Question – How do we engage, connect and invest in developing our talent?

So what – Organize a virtual business services summit.

As you can see, even though this leads to the intended ‘so what', it gives too much away too early. In this case, the audience were quite challenging and not convinced that ‘engaging, connecting and investing in talent' was the solution.

An alternative would be as follows:

Context – We are in a phase of the pandemic where the war on talent, the great resignation, the organisational disconnect resulting from 1 1/2 years of social isolation are putting us at risk of losing key business services talent.

Trigger – We need to focus our efforts on retaining key talent before it's too late.

Question – How do we do that?

So what – Organize a virtual business services summit to identify ways to engage, connect and invest in our high priority team members to keep them.

Tip #2 – Watch that your context doesn't slip into your trigger so you avoid explaining why you are communicating.

Remember that the trigger for doing something is not the same as the trigger for communicating.

Here's an example of where part of the context was written into the trigger:

Context – We've been asked to submit a proposal for stakeholder consultation and website review services.

Trigger – This is a competitive tender which will be assessed against 4 criteria.

Question – How can we show that we are the best providers for delivering on the project outcomes?

So What – What examples of our work can you provide that demonstrate that we are the best provider of these services?

Here's an alternative:

Context – We've been asked to submit a proposal for stakeholder consultation and website review services. This tender is competitive.

Trigger – I need your help to prepare the tender.

Question – How can I help?

Answer – Please provide examples of our recent work that help us demonstrate that we meet the following four criteria.

I hope that helps.

Have a great week,
Davina

PS – Momentum Folk – remember to register for this week's coming session.

The importance of asking ‘Why?’

In this session, we worked on Brooke's email which highlighted the importance of asking ‘why'.

  • Why might audiences be objecting (are they unwilling or unable?)
  • Why do you need to communicate? What is it you need them to know?

Once you have nailed down the ‘why', the storyline becomes so much clearer.

As always, we've included the notes below so you can see how we work through the storyline planner from the initial brainstorming through to the first draft of the email.

Hacking requirements for a job application

How do you handle being provided with 7 criteria that must be addressed in a cover letter when you want to offer a tight message highlighting your strengths?

In this short session, we showcased a strategy for ‘hacking’ requirements on a job application letter. This strategy allows you to give the potential employer what they want while making sure you also get to feature the skills and experience you wish to.

Including your storylining and communication skills, of course!

UPDATE: A few weeks later, we had the chance to work through the cover letter Andrew created as a result of our first session. I've included the recording below as it is a useful example of how to finesse the final product.

How to avoid being diverted by the back story so you can focus on the today story

How to avoid being diverted by the back story so you can focus on the today story

Has this happened to you?

You have an important presentation to make to a senior leadership group and a big chunk of the time is spent talking about ‘background’.

The leaders ask every question under the sun about the history of the program, what you have done in the past and you find yourself repeating your last five presentations. You use precious face time with them looking backwards rather than looking forwards.

This was a hot topic in today’s coaching session with the Senior People Leader at an Australian retailer.

Let’s look at what was going on before looking at a sanitised version of the before and after.

Here's what was going on : ‘Mary’ was going into way too much detail in the introduction

Mary would brace herself for these discussions as they felt a bit like an interrogation and to head off the questions, she included lots of background up front.

She referred to the history of the People Strategy and went into quite some detail about it.

However, in doing this she was also leaving the door open for questions as the first part of her paper wasn’t a complete summary, or perhaps described past events using new words which piqued the Board’s curiosity.

Her strategy was backfiring.

To avoid this, we suggest tightening your introduction to lead your audience directly where you want them to go (to the So What).

Here are four tips for doing that.

  1. Assume you must synthesise your context as tightly as you would synthesise your ‘so what’. Even for a lengthy paper, keep the context short, ideally to no more than 2-3 sentences in total.
  2. Stick to information that is or should be known to the audience.
  3. Ensure the trigger articulates clearly and simply why you are communicating with this audience about the topic described in the context at this point in time.
  4. Focus on material that introduces the topic as it stands right now. This will prime your audience on the topic that you want to discuss and open the door for the trigger rather than more questions.

Here’s a sanitised before and after to illustrate.

The ‘Before’ included far too much detail which gave the audience a chance to derail the conversation and not get to the so what

[CONTEXT] Talented people needed to deliver our ambition, has and been remains a business goal. We have focused on talent over the last 3 years – approach largely individualistic and limited by poor capability frames

Our new operating model provides an opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves in the talent market – move talent to max value work, no other retailer using this new operating approach, and we can become known for development

We have started implementing a 3-year strategy to drive enterprise talent & capability and that has changed the talent profile through recruitment. Development will be the focus in the following years

We will track impact and manage talent-based risk

[TRIGGER] We have a Talent strategy that we believe will deliver on our goal to win through talent.

[QUESTION] What is your strategy?

The ‘After’ is much tighter all round and led to a tighter discussion around Mary's agenda

[CONTEXT] Moving to the new operating model provides us with an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the talent market. This enables us to build on the foundations established over the past three years to develop a winning talent strategy.

[TRIGGER] We have a new leading edge Talent strategy that will enable us to capture the full opportunity that our new business model offers us.

[QUESTION] What is your strategy?

I hope that helps and look forward to checking in with you again next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – We have working sessions this week. Don't forget to register!

Closing the gap between what is in our heads and what is on the page

In conducting a quick review of Brian’s email we identified some common challenges that stem from a common problem.

 

How do we match what the reader takes from the page with what is in our heads as the communicator?

This can be particularly challenging when trying to follow the ‘rules’ of building a storyline.

With practice, these two things come together, but today’s example highlights some traps to avoid during this learning journey while also reminding us of how to bring the ‘real world’ together with the theory.

Need help getting started with the Program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.
How to ‘amp up’ your message

How to ‘amp up’ your message

In a recent working session, we worked up a ‘soft’ sales pitch for a software company to deliver to an existing client.

Hiding inside are some useful lessons that will help you increase the value you deliver when communicating.

To illustrate the point from the get-go: which is more useful to you?

  1. The most outstanding lesson to me is the difference between structuring our communication around ‘categories’ versus around ‘messages’.
  2. The most outstanding lesson to me is way we can ‘amp up’ the value we deliver by structuring our communication around ‘messages’ rather than ‘categories’.

My hope is that you went with #2!

The first is a bland statement, and the second offers a clear point of view. Let me unpack that more for you using today’s example and a couple of other recent ones also.

Today’s example emerged from a visually stunning template that hid the messages

Today’s initial draft that used the organisation’s ‘classic’ template had some terrific things going for it. It was stunningly branded and designed, had very little information on each page and was visually crisp. It had super short titles like:

  • Product name
  • Problem
  • Team

These are useful categories to cover but hide the message. What are you saying about the product name or the problem? In fact, what IS the problem you propose solving?

This is something I see a lot across all of my clients, especially when templates are in play, so I thought worth raising here.

Using message titles massively ‘amps up’ the value you deliver when communicating

The ‘amp’ comes from delivering a point of view rather than just data.

This requires us to take a risk when thinking through our communication which might feel a bit scary, but which demonstrates we are in a ‘thinking role’ not just a ‘doing role’.

If we want to transition from operations – or deliver maximum possible value in our operational role – I suggest that this is essential.

Business leaders who compliment their team’s communication are rarely first and foremost focusing on their language use.

They may comment on the polish as an aside, but they focus on the substance – the value-add.

You go from ‘product name’ to ‘Product X is a great fit for you, or perhaps Product X is well placed to solve Y problem (that you currently face)’

Or, perhaps, from ‘Team’ to ‘Our team can integrate seamlessly with yours given our existing relationship’

This is also relevant outside sales environments, such as this one.

So, let’s amp up your own communication by using 3 steps to layer messages onto the categories
  1. take advantage of your ability to categorise at the outset by jotting down the high-level categories you want to discuss in your communication. This will help you get started while also helping you assess whether the ideas are MECE.
  2. describe your observation about that category
  3. now go further and draw out your insightful message about that observation.

Here’s an example from a non-sales setting:

  • Category: Current landscape
  • Information: We need to understand the current landscape from everyone’s perspective
  • Insightful message: Understand that the current process isn’t serving anyone’s interests

You may also like to visit this post where I talk about the communication value ladder. It offers more insight and examples to illustrate the sorts of communication that adds value.

You will notice that ‘category' doesn't even make it to the bottom of our value ladder.

I hope that helps.

Have a great week.
Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

In conducting a quick review of Brian’s email at the start of this week’s working session we identified some common challenges that stem from a common problem.

How do we match what the reader takes from the page with what is in our heads as the communicator?

This is the holy grail of communication and can be particularly challenging to achieve when trying to follow the ‘rules’ of building a storyline.

With practice, these two things come together, but today’s example highlights some traps to avoid during this learning journey while also reminding us of how to bring the ‘real world’ together with the theory.

[As an aside, I want to thank Brian for sharing this one with us. There was lots of good to take away about the supporting structures … the opportunities for improvement lay particularly with the introduction.]

Tip 1 – Start the story ‘very close’ to the real event rather than going back in time

 

Starting with ‘screeds of background’ is one of the biggest complaints senior leaders have of decision-making papers and updates.

It is also a turnoff for other audiences who need to wade through it all before getting to the main game.

Yet, this is a very common challenge I see in corporate communication of all kinds, which stems I think from a fear of the audience not knowing enough history about the topic being discussed.

So, what to do?

Imagine yourself sitting down with your audience with a cup of coffee. Speak the words you would say to open the conversation. Out loud, possibly into your phone to capture them, not with your fingers on your keyboard.

These may well be the words to use at the start of your communication and if not, they will get you closer than starting ‘writing’.

Here is the difference you will see:

Context going too far back in time –

Regulations that came into effect on 1st June 2021 are being addressed in the Project by implementing a new database and new commissions processing system (Performio). Imagine a few lines of details explaining what has been done to implement the new system.

Context that reflects the right point in time (acknowledging the sentence is a bit long) –

One of the key decisions we need to make now before we go live on 1 October is whether we switch now to the new system or continue to operate the old system in parallel to allow more time to integrate Performio with its dependent systems.

Tip 2 – Avoid conflating the trigger for communicating with the trigger for doing something. These are not the same thing.

 

We use the trigger in storylining to explain to our audience why we are communicating to them about the context right now. We do this so that

The words we use in the trigger will prime them to ask the question we want them to ask.
The link should be so smooth and obvious, they can go nowhere else but to the question we are sending them to … so we can answer it with the ‘so what’.

We don’t use the trigger to explain what has happened to cause the problem or deliver the opportunity we are presenting. This will either be known to the audience and so appear in the context, or news and appear in the so what or the body of the story.

Let me use this example again to illustrate what I mean.

Trigger for communicating –

I have a recommendation for managing this process that needs your approval.

This leads to the question: What is your recommendation?

Trigger for doing something –

Testing analysis for both the database and system have revealed gaps and defects that are currently being fixed for retesting.

This leads to several questions, none of which help set you up to provide the message you need to provide: So? Why do I need to know that? How is this relevant to me?

 

Tip 3 – Craft the question to include only knowledge that you have provided the audience so far in your communication

 

In Tip 2 I explained how using the trigger for doing something sends the audience away from, rather than towards, our so what message.

Another challenge is drafting the question using information that is in our heads and not on the paper.

The initial question from this email was:

Question: Why do we need to retain BCS-BBC processing of Mixed deals in October?

This included information that was not presented to the audience in the context and trigger.

The question needs to flow naturally and so obviously it feels redundant. It might even seem stupidly simple.

Click here >> to get the full before and afters and view the recording.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Kind Regards,

Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.

Deciding how far to go when helping your colleagues improve their communication

 

We recently had a fantastic session with some of our seasoned Clarity First members about how to help your colleagues with their communication.

The session raised some really interesting questions:

From your perspective – How expedient should we be to protect our own workloads when helping others vs ‘going the extra mile’ to demonstrate to them the value they COULD add as well as the traps you see them falling into because they have some gaps or other inadequacies in their communication.

From the audience's perspective – What would you value from a colleague? A few quick tips or some strategically game changing advice?

From the business’s perspective – what is the greatest value you can add … by investing more in your own priorities or helping your colleague with theirs?

 Listen in to the great conversation for some practical tips and download the session notes below.

 

Keywords: Design your strategy, Develop your storyline, Patterns, Stakeholder management, Leadership

Need help getting started with the Program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.
How to differentiate between the CTQ and a deductive flow

How to differentiate between the CTQ and a deductive flow

I was working with a group of leaders at an insurer this week and we stumbled across a common challenge that I thought you may also relate to.

Those of you who aren't up to deductive structures yet, don't fret: there's something here for you too.

The nub of this challenge centres around how we differentiate between what to include in an introduction versus the statement and comment within a deductive flow.

Let me first explain the relevant principles and then offer the story to put the theory into practice.

The principles: knowing what needs to be known versus news helped us decide what to put where

The two different storyline elements that we needed to work with were:

  • The introduction (the context, trigger and question or CTQ), which contains information that should be known to the audience and sets that audience up to ask a question we want to answer with our So What.
  • A deductive storyline (a statement and comment leading together to a single recommendation), which contains information that is not known to your audience and persuades them that our recommendation is the right one.

The question then is how these two principles helped us sort out what to put where in the storyline.

The story: knowing simple storylining principles shifts the whole communication strategy, not just the words conveyed

First, I'll introduce the situation and then I'll outline the before and after storylines along with the epiphany that led to the shift from one to the other.

The situation …

We were discussing a stakeholder engagement strategy concerning a digital strategy. As with many a new strategy, stakeholder engagement can be as central to the strategy's success as the strategy itself.

In this situation, a new very hands-on CEO was in place and the team realised they needed to engage her in the early thinking behind the strategy before going any further, even though this meant going back in time from their perspective.

Their conclusion was that if they didn't, she would derail all of their work.

The deductive draft based on a Houston we have a problem pattern …

We started with patterns and then mapped out a Houston pattern which I have paraphrased:

Statement – Despite strong business and technology capabilities, we don’t have a cohesive digital strategy (supported by evidence)

Comment – However, aligning around a vision for the digital channel is essential if that strategy is to succeed (supported by explaining why this is essential in an unusually ambiguous and complex org arrangement)

Recommendation – As a result, we need to align around a vision for the digital channel (supported with steps for gaining alignment)

The epiphany that led to the change in structuring …

After drafting this, two epiphanies occurred:

  1. They didn't need general alignment across the organisation, but rather specific alignment with the new CEO who could then drive further alignment in the organisation.
  2. The idea that any kind of alignment around the strategy was needed was obvious to the two leaders who were to be part of the discussion, and so not news to them

It is interesting to me that reading this now, these conclusions seem pretty obvious. In the moment, though, the circumstances were so convoluted and messy because of the organisation ambiguity, that they felt like real insights.

The revised storyline to support a discussion with two leaders …

As a result, our statement and comment for a presentation quickly became the introduction for a conversation (not a document) as follows:

Context – Despite strong business and technology capabilities, we don’t have a cohesive digital strategy. Aligning around both the vision and the strategy for digital is essential to the strategy's success (no evidence needed: this was known by all).

Trigger – We have a suggestion for a way to gain alignment around the digital strategy.

Audience question – What's your suggestion?

So What – We recommend you (the two leaders in the discussion) meet with the new CEO to engage her in three potential options before we go further.

Supporting points –

Here's why we think that is the way to go:

  1. Her track record suggests that she is very hands on and is unlikely to support any initiative that she has not been involved in designing
  2. She has a vested interest in this area, heightening the need to involve her directly and soon
  3. Even though we are well progressed, going back in time to engage her in our foundational thinking around the options will enable her to contribute, allows us to incorporate her thinking and reduces the risk that all of our work will be junked

I hope that's useful and look forward to sharing more ideas with you in next week's email as well as in our regular Tuesday sessions.

Register by going to the Session Registrations tab if you are able to attend. We'd love to see you there.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Please note the site looks a bit different than it did two weeks ago. We hope it is easier to navigate: please do let us know if you find any glitches or we can improve further.

Need help getting started with the Program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.