Political Trade-offs

Political Trade-offs

 

Have you been in a position where you must implement a solution that you disagree with?

This is the situation Anya found herself in recently, which set up a great discussion around trade-offs, politics and what to do when your CEO is one of your objectors.

In tonight’s working session we helped Anya craft a story that has some useful lessons.

In sum, respectfully documenting disagreement can place responsibility where it belongs while also providing one last chance to reverse the decision.

  1. Disagreement can be respectful
  2. Feeling pushed into a taking a poor decision may signal that you are taking on someone else’s responsibility
  3. Communicating your disagreement can put that responsibility back on the decision makers

Disagreement can be respectful

We played around for quite a while to work out how to present this story so that it both gave the leaders what they were insisting upon while explaining the costs of this approach.

We decided to

  • Avoid going in ‘all guns blazing’ and recommending the Clarity solution given it would get the general manager, executive director and CEO offside.
  • Stick with the leaders’ preferred recommendation but help educate them about some areas where they were ill informed. For example, they were conflating ‘on prem Clarity’ and ‘Cloud Clarity’. Their high-cost experiences were based on the on prem version of Clarity being used for project payslips, not the Cloud version Anya preferred to use for project management.

Feeling pushed into a taking a poor decision may signal that you are taking on someone else’s responsibility

Part of the difficulty in crafting a story like this is the emotional frustration that can get in the way. As Anya said, she had expected to sit down over the weekend with a couple of gins and tonic to work out what to say to her leaders.

The reason it felt difficult is that she was feeling the heat of a poor decision that would be costly and time consuming to implement in comparison with her preferred solution.

Laying out the trade-offs for the leaders gave her an opportunity to pass the responsibility for those trade-offs back up the chain to those who were making the decision.

If the reports were costly or late, it would no longer be her problem.

Communicating your disagreement can put that responsibility back on the decision makers (and protect you too)

Leaders are charged with making decisions with the whole organisation in mind, which can lead to unpopular decisions. Sometimes, however, these decisions can also be ill informed simply because they are not close enough to the trade-offs incurred.

This is where a delicate effort to convey those trade-offs while respecting someone’s position is essential to return the responsibility for the costs of a decision to the decision makers.

 

Tonight we took two steps to achieve that. We

  • Balanced curtesy with a directness that meant they could not avoid seeing the cost to the business they were recommending. For example, we edited the so what …
    • From this … Given our existing relationship, I recommend proceeding with Service Now for the 5 PMOs, despite delayed reporting and greater cost when compared against Clarity.
    • To this … I recommend proceeding with Service Now for the 5 PMOs, prioritizing our existing relationships over delayed reporting and greater cost compared against Clarity.
  • Structured the story to compare the two options by factually comparing them to draw out the trade-offs they were making.

I have laid out the storyline below for your use, but do encourage you to check out the recording further down. It was a great conversation.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Davina

A ‘hack’ for helping you synthesise your so what

A ‘hack’ for helping you synthesise your so what

It’s not often in a working session that we are reflecting on hospital entrances! This morning we were helping one of our new members craft her manifesto as an architect.
 
It was fascinating on two fronts. We learned more about the nexus between architecture and people and were again reminded of the value of inviting people from vastly different disciplines to help each other think through a proposition.
 
Being an ‘objective outsider’ who knows and understands the process but isn’t too close to the detail is hugely helpful.
 
From a more technical standpoint, however, there was another takeaway that related to techniques for synthesising the so what message.
 
My suggestion is to focus on the recommended action and the reason for undertaking rather than stepping through the steps to get there.
 
Let me use today’s example to illustrate what I mean.
 
Here is where we landed after reviewing the process steps in the original (below) with the sections annotated separately.
 
The whole ‘so what' …
 

Architecture should be seen as an interdisciplinary approach for designing and delivering restorative experiences that enhance health and wellbeing.

 
The ‘so what' broken into two sections for your reference …
 

Part 1 – recommended action – Architecture should be seen as an interdisciplinary approach for designing and delivering restorative experiences
 
Part 2 – reason for taking that action – that enhance health and wellbeing. It might also help to think of this reason as a benefit rather than a feature. The list of ideas in the original version could also be described as a feature of this approach.
 


Here is the original version with the highlighted process steps that we tied together by asking ‘why are we taking these steps?’
 

Architecture should be an interdisciplinary practice [that draws on humanistic and scientific disciplines to build with an intimate knowledge of human nature and the natural environment to improve health outcomes in healthcare facilities]


 
Focusing on ‘what is to be done’ and ‘why that is a good idea’ is a simple hack for lifting the quality of the synthesis in the so what.
 
I thought this was a perfect example to illustrate that point. You can watch the full recording below.
 
I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

EXERCISE: Strengthen your ‘synthesis muscles’

EXERCISE: Strengthen your ‘synthesis muscles’

 

Synthesis is at the core of everything we do at Clarity First, and so when I saw an example come across my desk this week I couldn't resist turning it into an exercise.

This email is laid out nicely and yet there are a couple of areas where synthesis can be improved.

When reviewing this one, remember our ‘value ladder' that lays out the different kinds of messages and ask yourself some questions:

  1. What level are these messages at?
  2. How can I synthesise to make it easier for the reader to glean the messages by skimming?

I have included the latest version of the Value Ladder here as reference as well as download links for the before and after versions.

I hope you find it useful.

Dav

 

PS – Those of you who have been following our ‘synthesis project' will note two things with this version of the ladder.

  1. ‘information' includes data that may be catalogued and categorised.
  2. ‘synthesis' can be both informative and insightful. I have labelled that extra level of insight as ‘flair'. We can no doubt debate this more in our next Momentum session!

 

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 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

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.

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.

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 ‘amp up’ your message

How to ‘amp up’ your message

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

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

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

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

My hope is that you went with #2!

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

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

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

  • Product name
  • Problem
  • Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps.

Have a great week.
Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

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

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

 

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