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

 

One important consideration for progress updates

One important consideration for progress updates

As always, my week unearths an interesting conundrum that has some useful insights buried within.

This week's insight came from helping a team update their Board on their progress over the past year.

Here's my number 1 takeaway that I want to share with you also.

Your ‘update' will be more useful to you and more interesting to your stakeholders if discuss what you delivered rather than what you did.

I have included the before and after below to illustrate what I mean while also offering three suggestions.

Firstly, you may note that the ‘after' uses a variation of the Traffic Light story, which I think is very useful for this kind of update.

This is where we focus the storyline around the different measures for success, or KPIs if you will.

Secondly, the supporting points in the ‘after' are again skeletal, but follow a useful pattern. They enable us to explain what our own view is on our performance and then support that by offering external validation.

Thirdly, ‘sketching out' a storyline in the way we have for the ‘after' is just the start. This helps surface the broad themes. The real value comes in being highly specific and drawing out a message for each point as a fully formed thought.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – We will have a working session this coming week. Do register on the Sessions Registration page . We will offer only one during July as I will be taking some time away. Sheena will, however be on deck to help with any logistical questions you may have.

BEFORE

AFTER

Diving Deeply into Big Picture Thinking and Synthesis

Diving Deeply into Big Picture Thinking and Synthesis

Over the first half of 2022 a small group of us have been working on a conundrum: what process can we use to synthesise ideas?

We observe that this is a huge challenge for people when communicating and solving problems that storylines and issue trees help solve.

 However, in making full use of them we need more.

 So, we resolved to meet monthly, use the problem-solving tools discussed in the Clarity in Problem Solving course as a process map and work on it.

 This is the third discussion in that series which might start to be useful for those outside the sessions themselves. Do let us know if you would like to join the working group.

Why thinking into a doc is dangerous

Why thinking into a doc is dangerous

I was reminded this week how we must get our thinking straight in a one-pager before we prepare a document.

In using client material to prepare some exercises I had to work backwards from a document into a storyline.

Wow.

It is so incredibly easy to miss the thinking errors in a document, especially in a PowerPoint deck.

I have pulled out the main problems I gleaned from this example which would have been more easily avoided if the author had prepared a one-pager first.

I have described the top-line first and followed with three prominent errors I saw throughout the deck.

Spotting the top-line problems was easy as it was neatly laid out on an executive summary page. Take a look below to see what I mean. How many problems do you see?

The confluence of factors affecting the market have created significant uncertainty

0. Spot and futures prices are high relative to historical benchmarks and have increased significantly from uneconomic lows only 18 months ago

1. The are many internal and external factors influencing current market outcomes

2. The impact for energy companies has varied and one of the key differentiators has been plant performance

Finding and fixing errors in the supporting pages was difficult as the language and links between ideas were at best muffled. Here are three traps that I drew from the top and supporting areas of this story for your inspiration.

Ban meaningless words … say what you mean! Look at how general the language is and how lacking in specifics. There are very few descriptive words and even fewer numbers.

Follow through when you set up with a frame … Point 2 above references internal and external factors influencing (how???) market outcomes (meaning???). If you are going to introduce concepts like that, use them to group the ideas below.

Avoid repeating higher level ideas within sections … I commonly see people repeat the idea above in the same or similar words. Most often this will be the last point in a list. Be careful to avoid that sort of repetition within your storyline. These sorts of ‘tell them what you told them' tactics can be useful in a document, but muddy the thinking within the storyline itself.

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

Cheers,
Dav

PS – A warm welcome to our new members.

I have opened the doors to Early Birds and at the time of writing we have half a dozen who have joined today alone. We look forward to working with you!

If you are enjoying the program, please do tell your friends and colleagues about it so they can join. Download the brochure here to share with them.

How to ‘flip’ storyline patterns

How to ‘flip’ storyline patterns

Sometimes clients tell me they use our storyline patterns exactly as they are. They assume that the collection of seven will work for any situation without adjustment.

While I think the patterns are a terrific place to start, I suggest they are just the start.

So this week, I wanted to share three strategies for ‘flipping' patterns, which we will explore in more depth at this week's working session.

Here are the three strategies, which I expand further on below.

  1. Use opposites
  2. Merge two patterns into one
  3. Recut using first principles


Use opposites. For example, our Houston pattern kicks off by explaining that there is a problem. We can flip it to become a positive story, though, by beginning with an opportunity. I call this flipped version Opportunity Knocks. Let me illustrate.

Houston goes like this:

  1. We have identified a problem (support with explanation of the problem, ensuring you explain why it is a problem)
  2. However, ‘this' is the best way to solve that problem (support with list of reasons why)
  3. So, we recommend doing ‘this' (support with a list of actions)

Opportunity Knocks is very similar, and goes like this:

  1. We have identified an opportunity
  2. ‘This' is the best way to capture that opportunity
  3. So, we recommend doing ‘this'

Do you see what I mean? The pattern is largely the same but it is flipped at the start to allow for a different scenario.

Merge two patterns into one. If I were to again use Houston as a base, we can merge it with a number of different structures. I'll illustrate by merging it with To B or Not To B.

The merged Houston-To B Cross looks like this:

  1. We have identified a problem (support as explained above)
  2. Option B is the best way to solve that problem (support by explaining why B is better than the others)
  3. So, implement Option B (support with a list of actions)


Recut patterns using first principles. This strategy is most useful for grouping structures, so I will illustrate with Traffic Light.

Traffic Light typically supports a ‘so what' asserting that ‘everything is on track':

  1. We have completed X
  2. We have started Y
  3. We have a clear path to deliver the rest on time

We can, however, support Traffic Light many ways if we go back to the standard ‘structure, time or degree' strategies for ordering groupings.

The classic Traffic Light pattern uses time (past, present, future), so let's flip using ‘degree' as the frame. Here is how that would work:

Everything is on track because:

  1. We have gathered all the necessary data
  2. We have cleansed 70% of the data
  3. We have analysed 20% of the cleansed data

I hope that helps and look forward to talking more during this week's session.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS You can register for this weeks working session here >>

Why not to use tables alone when recommending which option to use

Why not to use tables alone when recommending which option to use

When I heard that NASA spent millions of dollars trying to find a ball point pen that would withstand the challenges of space I didn't query it too much.

Until I heard that the Russians went with a pencil, that is.

What's wrong here?

While not being present in either decision-making process, it highlights the value of thinking hard before proceeding.

It might also point to the value of pushing ourselves to think through options, which was the topic of a client discussion this week.

We observed that providing a table with ticks and crosses to discuss a series of options is, although common, inadequate. It requires the audience to interpret the table rather than you sharing your insights about what it means.

So, this week I offer a framework to help you develop and chunk your criteria so you can avoid leaving your insights ‘on the table', if you'll pardon my pun.

I offer three steps to employ this idea:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the framework
  2. Think about how to use it
  3. Refer to an example.


Familiarise yourself with the framework. Here are the four considerations that I think need to be canvassed when evaluating options for solving problems:

Strategy – Does this option help us deliver against our strategy? If so, how? If not, why not?

Return – Does this option help us deliver a strong return? ‘Return' might be considered many ways. It might be purely a financial measure, or alternatively consider softer issues such as social or environmental returns.

Practicality – Is this option easy, or perhaps even possible, for us to implement?

Risks – Does this option raise risks that will be hard for us to mitigate against? Or not?

 

Think about how to use it. As with all frameworks, we can use them to generate and to evaluate sets of ideas by helping us identify and fill gaps in our thinking.

Frameworks such as this stimulate us to ask whether we have covered all relevant issues, and whether we have done so well or not.

It is then up to us to measure our options against each criteria, draw out what this means for our decision making and make appropriate recommendations.

The framework helps you prioritise each of your criteria so you can calibrate your tradeoffs more effectively.

Refer to an example. This is a set of criteria for evaluating a set of options relating to a case study, which we explored in a program MasterClass some time ago.

The class focused around options for solving a disagreement about the best way to run races close to the daylight savings changeover when days are short.

Note how I have grouped the different criteria that emerged from the the discussion about the options.

In doing so, the tradeoffs become apparent given the first and third options have the same number of ticks and crosses each.

This then leads us to make a tradeoff between return and strategy: which one is more important?

That way we can decide which option is better. 

 

I hope that helps. More next week.

Davina

PS – this follows on neatly from last week's email about pros and cons (click here to read the post). 

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

I had a fabulous question this week: where do we fit ‘pros' and ‘cons' in our storyline?

That is a ‘ripper' of a question.

My answer is this: lists of pros and cons don't belong in your communication, they help you think through that message. 

Let me explain.

If we provide lists of pros and cons for an idea we are providing information rather than insight. This matters, because we are asking our audience to do the thinking work for us. Let me illustrate with an example

Pros of skiing in Whistler in January

  • Skiing is fun
  • There are lots of things to do when not skiing
  • Terrain is amazingly diverse
  • Resort is huge, with lots of different areas to ski
  • Altitude is relatively low, so altitude sickness and asthma risk are lower than other resorts
  • Easy access from Sydney (single flight + short bus ride)


Cons of skiing in Whistler in January

  • Snow can be patchy, especially early in January
  • Skiing is expensive
  • Snow can be ‘heavy' compared with other resorts
  • It rains more here than some other resorts
  • Costs have risen since Vail took over the mountain


If, instead, we do the thinking for our audience, we will deliver insights that emerge from our own analysis of that pros and cons list. In comparison, here is what that might look like:

Despite Whistler's snow not being as light and fluffy as at some other resorts, it is the best place for us to ski this coming January.

  • The skiing is incredible (diverse, expansive, sometimes fluffy snow)
  • The village is fun when off the slopes
  • It is easy to access from Sydney (single flight + short bus ride)
  • Costs are manageable (know lots of people to ski with so don't need lessons, can invite friends over to eat in, etc)
  • The low altitude means vulnerable family members stay healthy


If your audience is explicitly asking for pros and cons lists, pop them in the appendix. Focus your main communication around your interpretation of that list instead.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – For those of you in our recent group session who were asking about the recording in the portal about ‘taking a great brief', click here to access. 

How to kill off unwanted email chains

How to kill off unwanted email chains

I wasn't sure if we'd have anything to work on during today's working session, but as usual I was proved wrong and wanted to share the insights with you.

In walking the line between ‘what to storyline' and ‘what is too small to worry about' we extracted four useful takeaways:

Storylining is worthwhile if it saves you work. In this case, Mia offered up a question about a short email that led to a useful structuring discussion. She wondered what she could have done differently to avoid a reply which led to another email on her part. 

Structuring helps work out what is wrong with even a short email. In this case, almost all the elements were all there, but the structuring wasn't quite right and something was missing which kicked off an unwelcome email chain.

In reworking it to follow a CTQ format, we were able to craft something that was still short but which would have avoided the email chain.

It's OK to write too many words in your first draft. Sometimes in drafting a communication we start with waaaay too many words, which is what happened for us. However in doing so we were able to identify the key points and easily strip it back to a sensible length.

Matching language patterns is a powerful way to untangle ideas within a list. In this case we had a couple of ‘random' points that we grouped as ‘things to note'. When we did this, we could see they weren't initially parallel, which in turn led us to question whether the ideas were MECE. Unpacking it further, here are the commonalities we noticed between the two items. They

  • both discussed invoicing which meant we had a common category to work with (or, as Barbara Minto says: a common noun, which means we can group them legitimately)
  • could be ordered by time, ie a current and future invoice (past was irrelevant, so we can see this was a complete set of relevant invoices to discuss)
  • both included an action, eg ‘is attached' and ‘is still pending', which completed the matching


I've included the before and after email below, along with annotations to highlight the changes we made. 

So, even though this was a very simple email, we were able to rework it and extract some useful learning from it.

You can watch the full recording and download the session notes below. 

I hope you can use it as a pattern for your own simple emails so you too can minimise the risk of kicking off unwanted email chains.


Kind regards,
Davina

The power of explaining ‘why’ in getting actions and decisions

The power of explaining ‘why’ in getting actions and decisions

I have been enjoying a terrific discussion with one of my corporate clients this week that has some insights for you also.

My client is head of strategy at a sovereign wealth fund who has asked me to work with some of her less experienced colleagues.

In reviewing one of the storylines we built in a coaching session she had a question for me that nails one of the biggest challenges I see in articulating recommendations and business cases.

She said: “It feels like the author told his readers about the model but did not explain why this is a good model.


This is a common trap when preparing recommendations and I want to share some thoughts on how to avoid it.

The ‘Pitch Pattern' provides a useful frame to explain what I mean and illustrate how to avoid this trap.

I have worked through the pattern here point by point, italicising the reasoning elements to help you see what I mean.

Point 1 – We understand the problem / opportunity. This point demonstrates that you have defined the problem accurately and insightfully. For example, you might say:

Our project is behind schedule and puts our ability to meet our quarterly goals at risk. Here is why:

  • Half the team has been away ill over the past two weeks, seriously affecting our ability to deliver on A, B and C
  • If we do not deliver A, B and C before month end, Team Z won't be able to start their program of work.


Note that I did not just say “half the team has been away ill” without explaining why that matters. Likewise, I explained why it mattered that ABC may not be delivered by month end, rather than just stating that they may not be delivered.

Point 2 – We have a great solution. It is tempting here to describe the solution without explaining why it is the right solution. This is where my client came unstuck. For example he said something like this:

We suggest ‘borrowing' two people from Team Z to help us get back on track.

  • Mary has the right skills to complement Fred's work and is currently under utilised
  • Bill can quickly fill hole X, and is currently working on tasks that are not time sensitive


Note that I did not just say ‘We suggest ‘borrowing' two people from Team Z' without explaining why and then support with further evidence. I have used the same pattern for the supporting points and in illustrating the following two points.

Point 3 – We can deliver. This point offers an opportunity to explain your plan while also justifying why it is right.

If we ‘borrow' Mary and Bill for two weeks we will be able to get back on track within two weeks.

  • The team is now back at full health and we are unlikely to see them take more time off. They have no annual leave planned, they and all their family members have had covid, and they are all motivated to get the program back on track
  • Borrowing Mary and Bill for two weeks will be sufficient to reset our schedule (explain how each of the major the tasks Mary and Bill will undertake will fix the problem)


Point 4 – We can manage the risks. Again here, we need to offer reasons not just tasks.

We can manage the risks to our project and also other Team Z work. To achieve this we will

  • Keep in close contact with Zahir who runs Team Z to minimise the likelihood that his work is not materially impacted by borrowing Mary and Bill
  • Stick to our proposed work schedule and ensure no variations are indulged, which would put our schedule at risk


Note that I did not just list the risks, which is something I see being done a lot at this stage. Think hard about what worries you about this proposal and explain how you will counter each of these worries.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

Pimples: clarity of communication = clarity of skin

Pimples: clarity of communication = clarity of skin

This is an unusual post but one I hope will help.

I just responded to a post by an old friend, Dr James Muecke who happened to be Australian of the year in 2020 for his work fighting sugar.

Look at how well he simplified and shared the message, even though he put the ‘so what' in the middle.

Let me annotate to explain myself before reordering to achieve what I think would be greater impact and of course offering the original.

Annotation to explain my thoughts on each point

Great (cheeky?) use of humour – Zits away …?

Demonstrates credibility – This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Simple and visual summary – In other words, sugar => pimples

Clear takeaway that had me thinking about the young people in my own family – This might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

Suggested revision

Zits away …?

A recent study might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

In short, sugar => pimples

This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Original version (see below)

I kept this to the end of the post so it didn't distract the flow of the points. Putting visuals in the middle of relatively small amounts of text means that even though the reader needs to ‘bounce around' to read, they don't lose the text.

I hope that helps.

Cheers,
Dav

PS – this might be a good time to revisit your negotiation skills given we are heading into Easter, which some might also name a ‘sugar fest'!

I do kid in that regard, but also encourage you to catch the myth busting negotiation skills interview I conducted last week, which you can find in the library.

I encourage you to take advantage of the free diagnostic too. I did it for myself and it was eye opening.

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

I came to Friday's interview with Matt Lohmeyer a bit selfishly. Negotiating has often made me nervous and yet he seems to thrive while discussing and doing it.

So, I wanted to learn how he gets great outcomes while actually enjoying the process.

If I am to interpret Matt correctly, the ‘insight' is to explore ‘possibility’ and seek out ‘opportunity’ rather than be driven by the fear of being cornered by a win/lose proposition.

Here are three fear busters that I took away that I hope help you also.

  1. Deal with the hairy beasts first
  2. See popular techniques as tools rather than the main strategy
  3. Avoid saying no

Let me now give you some more detail about these before offering the interview and two powerful free tools from Matt.

1 – Deal with the hairy beasts first. By that, Matt suggests dealing with the most difficult issues of a negotiation first. He recommends agreeing the negotiation strategy at the beginning as a way to build rapport, rather than dealing with small items. An example might help.

At the beginning you might ask the other person (note, I am deliberate in not saying ‘the other side') to identify their biggest concern. You might even suggest that you think item X is going to be the most difficult thing to resolve.

This gives them an opportunity to agree or to indicate that item Y or Z is a bigger deal for them. Taking this approach offers many advantages. You

  1. Enter into a collegiate discussion about the way forward that builds rapport
  2. Gain insight into their situation
  3. Work out quickly whether this negotiation will go far or not, so that you can avoid wasting time and resources if it is unresolvable
  4. Hold onto valuable bargaining chips that could help you address the hairy beast rather than trading them away to solve lower level issues

2 – See popular techniques as tools rather than the primary strategy. Matt suggests that emphasising win-win solutions or splitting the difference results in mediocre outcomes. Why?

Because they leave you thinking small. They lead you to

  1. Being adversarial which can put you back in the fear corner'
  2. Trading items tit for tat around micro elements of the deal
  3. Taking energy away from finding a really great outcome that neither party may have considered at the start of the discussion.

3 – Avoid saying no, and frame your response as a possible alternative. This doesn't mean NEVER saying no as Matt was quick to point out, but rather avoid saying it.

To give an example. Instead of saying ‘No, I can't have coffee with you tomorrow afternoon', say ‘I could have coffee with you at 9am tomorrow at a location near me'.

This then puts the onus back on the other person to decide whether they will make the extra effort to make that time and location work.

This is a simple example, but a powerful principle that empowers me by offering a constructive way out.

These are just some of the gems that Matt shared. You can visit the recording below, as well as download two powerful resources he has for us all.

 

DOWNLOADS:

1. A diagnostic to help you calibrate your personal blend of preferred negotiation strategies with the norm group of over 2,500 other executives. How do you actually negotiate? To unlock this tool, you will need to use the password Mythbusters.

>> Click here to access

2. A generously detailed PDF full of negotiation strategies for you to employ.

>> Download here 

 

Kind Regards,

Davina

How do we storyline when not making a recommendation?

How do we storyline when not making a recommendation?

Have you ever wondered whether a storyline is the right tool to use when you are not providing a recommendation?

Perhaps you have been asked to undertake some analysis or are concerned that your audience may not want you to be too assertive or direct?

If so, you may enjoy some insights from this week's coaching discussions which conveniently follow on from last week's focus on communicating details.

When delivering analytical findings, particularly to a sensitive audience, summarise your findings rather than synthesising or recounting your analytical process.

Provide a summary answer rather than a true synthesis. The examples below illustrate how to offer a summary rather than a synthesis:

  • Level 1 focuses on ‘what' you found or what needs to be done by illustrating ‘what we found', or ‘what we need you to do'.
  • Level 2 offers the implication of those things by placing them in a context. In these examples we are either offering a comparison to other options or explaining how these actions will help.

Avoid describing what you did to deliver your findings, but rather focus on what you found.

This played out perfectly this week when a data analyst in a pricing team for an energy company needed to backtest the pricing model. His goal was to assess whether the model was accurately reflecting the market by checking actual versus predicted market pricing over the past quarter.

The temptation was to explain the steps he took to confirm that the model was accurate rather than explaining that it has proven to be accurate this past quarter because it ‘ticked all the boxes'.

Listing all the steps he took required the audience to work through his analytical process rather than focus on the outcome.

This is a common challenge I see at play among analysts, which could also play out if you were trying to navigate cultural sensitivities about being too forward.

Allow your audience to make the decision if you are concerned about cultural sensitivities around assertiveness.

When I was based in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong helping consultants communicate with mainland Chinese clients, we had to be very careful about how we couched our messaging.

Our advice was not going to be welcome if we were too assertive, and we needed to respect a specific cultural need for leaders to be seen to make their own decisions.

The role of consultants in these contexts is different than in more direct, Western environments so we tailored our approach accordingly.

The example on the left of our value ladder is more useful in this context, with level one being pretty clear that ‘Black' is the way to go without going as far as saying that. Some interpretation is still required by the decision maker, which allows them room to ‘make the decision'.

This approach can be used more broadly when making a recommendation without being seen to recommend.

I hope that helps. More next week!

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – please note that in the example to the right you will see we jump from ‘four things to do' to ‘two ways to help'. This is because in the actual example we grouped the four into two parts as we elevated up the storyline hierarchy.

Why ‘updates’ are hardly ever JUST an update

Why ‘updates’ are hardly ever JUST an update

This week's working session drew out one of my pet peeves: Updates.

Leaders, of course, want you to update them on your progress whether your work is ‘business as usual' or project based. They want to know enough to trust that all is on track or to offer guidance where needed.

However, thinking of these communication opportunities as just an update is such a waste!

This week we helped Belinda convert her 10-minute MS Teams update into a powerful story that would engage future supporters. Here are the three biggest takeaways, which I hope help you also.

  1. Having 10 minutes to showcase her project to 450 colleagues was an opportunity to engage potential supporters in her program who would help her deliver on it over coming months. It was so much more than just an update.
  2. The context was an opportunity to not just remind everyone that she was working on two important data collection projects, but rather to remind them of the value those projects will bring.
  3. The trigger was an opportunity to explain to them not just why she was telling them about the project, but why they needed to hear about the project

Here were the highlights.

 

Watch the recording below and download the session notes for more details.

 

Is your paper really for ‘noting’?

Is your paper really for ‘noting’?

I had a terrific question from a client today that highlighted a common strategic challenge.

How do we use a storyline to create a ‘paper for noting’?

These are papers that aren't asking for a decision but truly updating our audience on a topic. For example, they might do one of these things:

  • confirm that something has been done
  • explain that something is ‘on track'


Adrian was concerned that he didn’t have a ‘so what’, but rather wanted his Board to be aware of a problem so they were ready to hear about his business case in a couple of months’ time.

So, what to do?

I suggested that very rarely are papers truly for noting, but rather for endorsement.

We talked through three different options and landed on asking the Board to endorse the plan to prepare a business case.

Here’s why we made that choice:

Asking them to ‘note’ that we have a problem without any indication of what the team was preparing to do about it seemed lacking.

The team wasn’t ready to deliver a solution, but this option would leave the Board empty handed.

Asking permission to prioritise preparing the business case to find a solution to the problem was unnecessary.

Adrian had full authority, particularly when supported by the Senior Leadership Team, to prepare the business case without asking for permission.

So, we landed on a third path: asking the Board to endorse their plan to prepare a business case.

This strategy prepared the Board about the existence of the problem that required a solution, demonstrated early that the team was taking action and provided clarity around the next steps.

I hope that’s useful and look forward to sending more ideas through next week.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – If this topic interests you you may also enjoy the Board Papers MasterClass facilitated by my colleague and expert board advisor, Jane Stutchberry. 

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.

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

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 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.