What if stakeholders are wedded to out of date views?

What if stakeholders are wedded to out of date views?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A dominant decision maker is wedded to an out-of-date view, which he has formed through discussions with friends rather than experts.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 ‘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 >>

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

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

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.

 

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.

Deciding how far to go when helping your colleagues improve their communication

 

We recently had a fantastic session with some of our seasoned Clarity First members about how to help your colleagues with their communication.

The session raised some really interesting questions:

From your perspective – How expedient should we be to protect our own workloads when helping others vs ‘going the extra mile’ to demonstrate to them the value they COULD add as well as the traps you see them falling into because they have some gaps or other inadequacies in their communication.

From the audience's perspective – What would you value from a colleague? A few quick tips or some strategically game changing advice?

From the business’s perspective – what is the greatest value you can add … by investing more in your own priorities or helping your colleague with theirs?

 Listen in to the great conversation for some practical tips and download the session notes below.

 

Keywords: Design your strategy, Develop your storyline, Patterns, Stakeholder management, Leadership

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.