1 Story, 3 Lessons

1 Story, 3 Lessons

In our most recent working session we helped Brooke prepare a ‘quick’ storyline. Even though on the surface this story appeared straightforward, it turned into an onion.

The more we layered into it, the more we found we needed to think through.

There were enough layers, in fact, to lay the foundations for at least two weeks’ worth of emails.

I have drawn out the three main lessons we took away from this story to share with you in this post:

  1. What to do if you have more than one purpose?
  2. How to decide if the story should be a grouping or deductive?
  3. How to slice and dice ideas into a strong hierarchy that resonates with your audience?

You'll find the recording of this working session at the bottom of the page.

 

Lesson 1: What to do if you have more than one purpose?

 

I’ll start at the start and share insights from the early parts of our discussion regarding the notion of ‘quick and easy' as well as the purpose.

Firstly, when you become bogged down with questions preparing your ‘quick and easy' communication, slow down. Don’t keep trying to smash through.

We began this working session optimistic that we would help with two pieces of communication, one for Brian and one for Brooke.

However, as we started probing and attempting to smash our way through Brooke’s story it became evident that this wouldn’t work.

Every time we thought we had something right, another question would arise that made us ask more questions.

We may have kept pushing for too long as we really wanted to make time for Brian's story, but it was an interesting exercise.

The eight or so people in the room could all see that we needed to slow down and stop smashing it out.

If you watch the recording, you will see what I mean.

Regardless, listen to your instincts and slow down when your drafting starts to feel ‘tense’ and ‘off’.

Secondly, avoid compound purposes and instead favour using the higher order action.

This single sentence provided a remarkable amount of discussion for what was in the end a fairly simple script for a presentation.

I have attached the four draft purpose statements we crowd sourced in the chat from our call along with my commentary.

The bottom one provided some extra useful debate around the right verb to use.

Did Brooke need endorsement, approval or support … or all three?

We landed on support as it required stakeholders to both endorse and approve.

If she asked for endorsement or approval, then there was no guarantee they would offer practical support.

If they committed to support, however, they would by implication be endorsing AND approving.

So, such a lot of discussion for such a small thing but very instructive all round.

 

 

Lesson 2: How to decide if the story should be a grouping or a deductive?

 

In this lesson, we continue unpacking Brooke's presentation by drawing lessons from our journey solving the top-line story structure.

As we wrestled with Action Jackson and then Watch Out, the nature of the reasoning required emerged as the decider.

We chose Watch Out as the reasoning was relevant to the whole story, not just one section. Let me unpack that for you here.

We firstly explored the Action Jackson pattern

In Brooke’s story, we initially thought we could use an Action Jackson story to explain the impending changes, as follows:

This story structure worked until we learned two important things. Stakeholders were under the impression that all forms would be migrated to the new platform by October. These same stakeholders could cause delays if unhappy that not all forms would be migrated immediately.

In other words, the mini deductive chain under the discussion about the second top line point related to the whole story, not just that section.

So, what to do?

We elevated the reasoning to the top line and quickly flipped to Watch Out

We flipped into a Watch Out pattern to provide room to explain why an interim solution was needed. Here is where we landed: 
:

We thought Watch Out built with what would be comfortable and easy to agree to. It confirmed that high-use forms would be migrated as they knew before setting them on the path to wonder what would happen to other lower-use forms.

Once they were ‘warmed up’, we could then explain why those other important forms would not be migrated to the new platform as quickly.

Assuming this persuaded them, the natural question then would be around the implementation, which we discussed in the third, therefore point.

Lesson 3: How to slice and dice ideas into a strong hierarchy that resonates with your audience

In this lesson, we look at how to structure the supporting elements for the ‘therefore’.

There were a few considerations here that I hope will help you in your own storylining.

The key takeaway relates to how we slice and dice ideas into a strong hierarchy that also resonates with your audience.

We agreed that we had some choices about how we organised the actions at the end of the storyline (under the ‘therefore’). We could categorize them by type of query, by type of solution or perhaps by frequency of use within the ‘medium use’ chunk.

So, we started by ordering them by type of form with the type of workaround for each kind of form nested underneath, as follows:

Therefore, we propose to use existing systems for these queries

  • Access general maintenance forms in system X (paper workarounds, digital forms, redirects to existing systems, etc)
  • Access loan forms in system Y (paper workarounds, digital forms, redirects to existing systems, etc)
  • Access account management forms in system Z (paper workarounds, digital forms, redirects to existing systems, etc)

This however, proved unsatisfactory was too general and didn’t connect to the stakeholders’ current working processes. They may be left asking “but … how do I do that”.

So, we fixed the situation by explaining how to change their process rather than ‘what to do’. Here is where we landed:

Therefore, we propose to use existing systems for these queries

  • Use ‘a different’ pathway to access the same general maintenance system for XYZ queries
  • Swap paper forms for the ‘bla bla system’ to access loan forms
  • Swap temporary digital forms for ‘this’ system when solving account management queries

Please excuse our creativity around masking specific details … I hope you can see the point lurking beneath them.

You can see where this section fits in the overall story below.

I hope you have found this series of lesson learnt from Brooke's Watch Out story helpful.

I have included the recording of the session below in case you would like to watch it.

Talk soon,

Davina

 

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.

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 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!

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.