What if stakeholders are wedded to out of date views?

What if stakeholders are wedded to out of date views?

I had a fabulous conversation this week with a client who is head of technology strategy for an insurance company.

He has come to a roadblock in his efforts to shepherd a major technology decision through the ExCo that I thought might interest you.

A dominant decision maker is wedded to an out-of-date view, which he has formed through discussions with friends rather than experts. This not-uncommon challenge is compromising my client's ability to get the best decision on a major technology investment.

The solution is of course challenging, but tweaking a Watch Out pattern before working out how to navigate it through the hierarchy was key. Here are the three steps we took:

Firstly, remember that a deductive Watch Out pattern starts with a positive statement to build rapport and then alerts to negative events on the horizon. Here is what that looks like:

Statement – We have been going well with project alpha

Comment – However, there are risks ahead that will affect project alpha

Recommendation – Therefore, address risks

Please note that I have revised the language being used here to describe Watch Out to improve on the language from the book. We too learn and grow!

Secondly, tweak the pattern to begin by validating the ExCo member's point of view before ‘adding to it' with new information in the comment and recommendation. Here is how that worked:

Statement – Previously XYZ solution was the best available solution even though it required a number of workarounds to meet our needs. He then explained why this was so in fleshing out this part of his paper.

Comment – However, now that ABC new technologies have evolved, DEF is a superior solution that requires fewer workarounds. He then put his case as to why DEF is now the best solution.

Recommendation – Therefore, we recommend investing in DEF solution.

This is the skeleton of the story that he felt would work.

Thirdly, think deeply about how to shepherd the story through the hierarchy to influence the key decision makers.

This involved working out who would be best to deliver this message to whom and in what format.

My client thought deeply about the relationships he has built across the leadership over the past year to work out who was best placed to influence the particular ExCo member and his peers.

He has intentionally nurtured these relationships for a time such as this, which is now paying dividends.

Without having these relationships to leverage, he would not have the influence needed to see his technology investment through.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am starting a podcast called Cutting Through in the coming weeks. As Clarity First members, you have early access. Watch out (!) for an email bringing you the first episode.

 

Patterns vs Structures

Patterns vs Structures

Do you wonder if every story you need to convey ‘fits' within one of our seven patterns?

It may shock you that I don't think they will!

I do think the patterns are a fabulous guide, but encourage you to use them as a starting point that enables you to finesse them using the core storylining principles.

But … how to do that?

I suggest you ‘hack' your structure first using our storyline planner as a guide and then tweak using first principles. Here are some thoughts on how to make that work for you:

Step 1 – Use the planner for all major communication! Work through this process from start to finish so you land your messaging before you waste time editing and potentially rewriting a lengthy document.

I was reminded of the importance of this when – not joking – I was packing my bags to return from the US last week. It was so much easier to pack for the return trip than it was on the way out. The bag was also much more neatly packed. Why?

On the way over I was packing quickly for an uncertain environment. I didn't know what the weather would be like and wasn't sure whether I needed only casual gear or more formal also.

As a result, things went in and out as I worked it through.

The process was I think a bit like working out what ideas fitted into a storyline.

So … I can't emphasise enough the importance of landing those messages first.

Step 2 – ‘Hack' at least two high-level structures for your story. Be guided by the So What Strategy book (pages 50 and 51) or your desk reference. Pick one and ‘fill it in' inside the planner using your own material but copying the structure.

Step 3 – Tweak these high-level, skeletal structures as needed making sure you stick to the overall storylining principles. This means that whether the story veers away from the chosen pattern, it still includes

  1. a short introduction that explains what you are discussing and why. Reference the 10 Point Test for definitions of the context and trigger etc.
  2. one single overarching thought that is powerful and articulated in 25 words or less
  3. one of two top-line supporting structures. Use a grouping or deductive structure where the relationships between the ideas are locked tight. This, of course, is where the challenge lies.

Step 4 – Prepare your communication, following the storyline structure to ensure your document conveys your thinking as clearly and concisely as possible.

I thought a schematic of the different generic structures might help so have included it below.

>> Download the reference here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina



PS – We will be opening the doors for new participants soon. Here is the latest brochure
 (refreshed today!) in case you would like to tell your friends and colleagues about the program.
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 so your weekly emails over the next few weeks will focus on our learnings from this session but of course you are welcome to devour them all right now as well!

Here are the three lessons I want to share with you. 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

We firstly explored the Action Jackson pattern

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

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

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

So, what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, we propose to use existing systems for these queries

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

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

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

Therefore, we propose to use existing systems for these queries

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

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

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

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

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

Talk soon,

Davina

 

How to 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 differentiate between the CTQ and a deductive flow

How to differentiate between the CTQ and a deductive flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The situation …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The epiphany that led to the change in structuring …

After drafting this, two epiphanies occurred:

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

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

The revised storyline to support a discussion with two leaders …

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

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

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

Audience question – What's your suggestion?

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

Supporting points –

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,
Davina

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

Need help getting started with the Program?

 

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

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

 

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