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.

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 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.