A New Influence Framework

A New Influence Framework

One of my colleagues, Louise, has a treasure trove of practical human relations models.

I have her to thank for introducing me to the Bolton and Bolton Work Styles framework we use in the Core Curriculum, for example.

Over coffee last week she shared another one that I think will help you too.

David Rock's SCARF model identifies the key drivers that trigger reward and threat responses, so shaping our ability to influence others. Let me first introduce the model and then offer an example to illustrate how it can be used.

Model – SCARF offers five psychological triggers that can trigger reward and threat responses. Here they are:

S: Status. Withdrawing status can cause stress circuits to light up more than physical pain. Equally, if status is nurtured it can light up reward circuits more than if someone is given a financial prize.

This is why receiving negative feedback can create significant stress. It affects how we perceive others perceive us.

C: Certainty. David suggests that the brain is a certainty creating machine always trying to predict what is going to happen. Great leaders create certainty with clear expectations providing great certainty. This also lights up those reward circuits in the brain.

A: Autonomy. Most of us value having a certain degree of autonomy, control and choice in what we do and how we work. This is why being micromanaged is rarely enjoyable. It may also say a fair bit about why so many employees are reluctant to return to the office full time.

R: Relatedness. Our brains interpret new people as an automatic threat. This reduces once we have a small interaction that moves people into the category of ‘like us' rather than ‘not us' and therefore fearful. He suggests that even small personal interactions can build significant relationship capital.

F: Fairness. He says that a fair exchange activates the reward circuitry, and an unfair exchange triggers the danger response. Being more transparent than you think is ‘really needed' about the reasons behind decisions and how they are fair is key. This triggers the reward circuitry and avoids creating threats.

Example – understanding which two or three drivers most affect us and our stakeholders helps us have greater influence.

David says that all five SCARF ‘drivers' influence us to some degree. The trick is to know which are the dominant drivers for us and our stakeholders.

These dominant drivers help consciously nurture positive relationships and avoid pushing people's buttons.

For example, it is easy to create conflict with someone who has ‘status' and ‘autonomy' as their two primary drivers. All you need to do is say that their work is substandard and to micromanage them toward improvement.

This will ‘trigger' those who prioritise status and autonomy more than those who don't.

It will deliver a primal response that moves them toward a stress state rather than a reward state. This heightens the risk of conflict and reduces our ability to influence that person.

In contrast, inviting someone with status as a dominant driver to improve their work in a way that lifts their status may trigger a reward state. You might, for example, invite them to improve their work before sharing with others.

He suggests that being aware of our own drivers and that of others enables us to build better relationships and so have greater influence.

You can learn more about David and his work at the Neuroleadership Institute here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – My first podcast episode is now out. Learn more from risk expert Anthony Wilson about how he has successfully engaged decision makers on risk management. His top tip: risk management = change management.

Access the Cutting Through podcast inside the portal in the new podcast tab.

Thinking harder about the context

Thinking harder about the context

You will I hope be familiar with the Ten Point Test by now, and may have even used it to check whether your storyline is robust.

As much as I think this is a robust tool, the question for testing the context has been niggling me as incomplete.

Having ‘noodled on it', I now have some thoughts on how to improve that question.

Here's the new question: Is the context timely, topical and tight? Let me break that down for you.

Timely: Make sure the material is recent for the audience.

Try to avoid, for example, starting every project update with a description of the project which has been in play for some time.

Rather, use the context to remind your audience what you covered in your last interaction with them about that topic. For example:

In our last SteerCo we explained that Project X was on track across all metrics except budget, which we planned to correct this coming month.

Topical: Introduce aspects about the key topic that should be known to the audience.

This anchors your story around the right issue and sets you up to use the trigger to explain why you are discussing that topic with this audience right now.

It also doesn't surprise them with potentially controversial ideas that are unfamiliar to them and which may stop them reading further.

Tight: Keep it short, ideally less than 15% of the whole story.

If you find yourself going beyond that, you are most likely adding too much detail which flags two potential problems. You are

  1. explaining something, which means your audience doesn't know it and raises questions about whether it is appropriately ‘topical'
  2. about to bore your audience by ‘drowning them in data'


I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Another idea for engaging tricky stakeholders

Another idea for engaging tricky stakeholders

It always amazes me how these emails naturally follow a theme. The last two weeks I have written about techniques for influencing difficult stakeholders.

Today I had a coaching session with a consultant from a management consulting firm and he shared a terrific technique that fits this theme.

‘Fred' often uses questions to thaw difficult stakeholders before moving the conversation onto his recommendations. Let me unpack his strategy here for you.

Fred took four steps to engage a particularly prickly mine maintenance manager. He

  1. Understand their concerns fully
  2. Meet one-on-one when stakeholders are hostile to your or your recommendation
  3. Start with questions to demonstrate you are focused on their needs
  4. Use neutral language to segue to your own agenda


Understand their concerns fully. Fred understood well that the maintenance manager at the mine was ‘not a fan' of him or his colleagues.The project had begun too aggressively before Fred joined, and he now has to repair the relationships.

The maintenance manager had felt as though he had been accused of running a sloppy shop. He felt this was harsh given he had made important improvements in his first 3 months at the site.

Fred used our storyline planner to flesh these issues out. 
Download the latest version here.


Meet one-on-one when stakeholders are hostile to you or your recommendation. This reduces the risk that either one of you might be ambushed. It also allows for easier course correction if the conversation does go off track.

Start with questions to demonstrate that you are focused on their needs. Fred's gem of an opening question won the maintenance manager over and also unearthed extra ways Fred and his team could help.

He asked: What is keeping you up at night? and then gently probed to get the mine manager talking.

He deliberately did not offer solutions but held back, making sure he allowed the mine manager to unload fully.

Use neutral to segue to your own agenda. He then suggested that perhaps ‘looking at' maintenance processes might help address the issues that the mine manager had raised. Fred deliberately avoided using value-laden terms like ‘addressing', ‘fixing' or ‘improving' and remained very factual in his recommendations.

The mine manager was then ready to hear what Fred had to say, and allowed Fred to work through the introduction and lead to the ‘so what' for his story.

I will hear how it all went when I work with Fred again in a couple of weeks.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

More on nudging indecisive stakeholders

More on nudging indecisive stakeholders

Last week I shared some ideas for engaging indecisive stakeholders by redefining your proposal. I suggested three steps: make it matter, make it easy and make it a win for them.

Given the often great difficulty of nudging stakeholders over the line, I wanted to share some more ideas for ‘making it matter'.

I find I can sometimes tip the balance toward a decision by putting more responsibility on stakeholders and less on myself. Here are four tactics that I have used recently:

First: ask your stakeholders to prioritise for you. You might explain that your team will need clarity around their work to continue to add maximum value over the coming period. If we don't proceed with this, what would you prefer us to work on?

Second: create competition. Explain your own decision frame so they have visibility around your own constraints. For example, I explained to a potential client this week that I can only hold dates in my diary when I have formal confirmation of a project. I explained that there are currently two clients wanting me to help their teams, both of which are working through their procurement processes. The one that comes back first will get their preferred schedule.

Third: ask them what is holding them back. You can decide whether you do this privately or together. In understanding their barriers around time, money or competing priorities, you can get a better sense of the problem. You can then tailor your proposal accordingly. This is the strategy we used for Ravi's issue last week

Fourth: decide that it is better to get a firm no than no answer at all. Indecision requires work. It means that you and potentially your team are distracted by repeatedly trying to get something over the line that may or may not proceed.

I refer back to Kenny Rogers here: Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em and know when to walk away.

Being open to receiving a ‘no' can be liberating. It opens you up to new ways of thinking about the existing problem or creates room for new opportunities.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina
How to handle indecisive stakeholders

How to handle indecisive stakeholders

Has this happened to you?

You put your case multiple times to the decision-making team. They like your proposal but aren't ready to commit.

Yet, they all know your proposal is important. Nobody disagrees with that but even after multiple presentations to answer their questions they still won't sign.

What is going on here? How do you handle that?

While there are many strategies you could employ, I offer one today that I have used successfully and which was the focus of discussion in one of this week's calls.

I encourage you to dig deeply so you can get develop a small proposal that will intrigue your stakeholders enough to make them want more.

My three thoughts are to make it matter, make easy and make it a win for them. Let me unpack this using Ravi’s example from today’s working session.

First: Make it matter. Identify a current pain point that your recommendation will solve for your stakeholders. We discussed this during today’s working session. Ravi brought a challenge that was more complex than it appeared on the surface.

He has an idea for improving math education in his school district and is beginning to engage with the superintendents in it.

The initial challenge here was not just what to say in the email, but what to propose.

What was the best way to hook the school superintendents in the conversation, not just jump to his desired outcome. We needed to understand the barriers he would face in engaging the superintendents. We did this in four steps. We

  1. Thought about what else the stakeholders might be balancing. We got quite specific about this. What would a typical teacher’s day look like at the moment? How full is it? What is it full of? What unusual stresses might there be at this time?
  2. Brainstormed the sorts of concerns the stakeholders might have about his recommendation. What tradeoffs would stakeholders need to make to say yes? Does your recommendation require
    1. Too much time?
    2. Too much money?
    3. Other projects to be sacrificed?
  3. Used those as a stimulus to draw out the key concerns your stakeholders have
  4. Honed in on how he might overcome those concerns by throwing more ideas around


We realised there was a big opportunity here. Students in his school district were already behind the average before covid appeared. Despite this, teachers were continuing with pre-covid teaching strategies.

We thought Ravi’s approach might help change their strategies so students leapfrog ahead, rather than continuing the previous slow trajectory.

Second: Make it easy. As you can imagine, wherever students have been in covid lockdowns they are behind in their learning. Teachers are struggling to catch them up and looking for ways to do that. They are also overburdened and reluctant to take on anything extra.

We discussed strategies to reduce the initial burden on teachers while still finding a way to pilot the approach in schools.

For example, Ravi might help teachers’ aides learn the www.ProblemSolvingMaps.com methodology. This would reduce the burden on teachers preparing for maths classes.

BTW – if you have school children, you might enjoy looking this up. It looks like a terrific technique for teaching children to build general problem-solving skills.

Third: Make it a win for them. While you will no doubt have a longer-term vision for your recommendation, it may be too big a ‘sell’. Start with something small that will solve a problem for them while also creating an opportunity for you.

Our suggestion here was for Ravi to connect with some local teachers. He could ask them to identify the biggest inflection point in a student’s math journey and to offer to pilot a solution focused on that point.

He could then work with a small group of teachers’ aides who might appreciate their own opportunity to learn and to help their students at the same time.

So, although we only drafted the start of the email, we made substantial progress for Ravi in helping him think through his challenge.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
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

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

Can you tell bad news by email?

Can you tell bad news by email?

Emailing bad news has traditionally been considered risky, and often down right poor form.

But is that always the case?

This week I worked with a manager in a data analytics team who thanked me because I had given him the strategy and the confidence to do just that.

When unpacking that situation, it turns out there were some useful lessons for us all.

  1. Establish whether your particular ‘bad news' really can be shared by email
  2. Build trust first before going to the bad news
  3. Don't hide the bad news

Let's unpack each of these a bit further.

Establishing whether your particular ‘bad news' really can be shared by email

I still hold to the idea that we need to be careful about what kind of bad news we share and when we share it. But following this discussion it seemed to me that it is possible when the right ingredients are in play.

In this case it wasn't personal, political, ambiguous or earth shattering.

The manager (let's call him Fred) had shared a report and the audience (Bill) didn't like the numbers or the approach taken to get them.

This was quite a cut and dried story, not something at all ambiguous which gave Fred extra comfort.

It was also about a topic that was important but not of enormous significance which led Fred to decide he needed to avoid investing too much time in it.

Build trust before getting to the bad news

In deciding how to respond, Fred started with empathy, which helped build a bridge before he got to the bad news.

He could see where Bill was coming from and so started with ‘I hear you and can see where you are coming from'.

He then responded to the two key points as follows:

Point 1 – Thank you for this suggestion. We'll incorporate it in the way we handle this report next time.

Point 2 – We also had this concern. However, when we looked at our options for handling this analysis we realised all other options were significantly more time intensive and not achievable within our current priorities.

So, even though Fred was sharing bad news and Bill did back check with other colleagues to see if Fred's reasoning was sound, Bill accepted the outcome.

Interestingly, Fred said it took him about half an hour to write the email which amounted to quite a time saving. Before our program he would have called Bill, set up a meeting and planned for it which would have taken one to two hours at least.

Don't hide the bad news

Fred made a point in our debrief of saying he kept to the idea of structure and even called out the second point in bold!

He felt that his initial empathetic framing gave him the authority to say it like it was and that hiding it was only going to cause more problems.

So, if you are careful about which bad news to share you can do so effectively if you frame it to build trust at the start.

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

Watch out for a couple of ‘myth busting' interviews in the coming months

April 8 – Negotiation Skills Workshop

Program members have commented to me that what we do is more than communication: it is loaded with negotiation. This is relevant in both the content we include inside our communication and how we shepherd our communication through the hierarchy.

Matt Lohmeyer of Negotiation Partners will bust 3 myths about negotiating effectively at work.

>> Register here

Mid May – Communication Skills Podcast

Dr Sharon Grossman and I had a terrific conversation about executive burnout and how communication problems can feed into this. She will release it as a podcast early in May. I'll let you know when that's ready too.

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. 

What to do when stakeholders disagree with you?

What to do when stakeholders disagree with you?

I was recently asked a wonderful question:
 

How do we communicate with a large group that includes stakeholders who disagree with us?

 

The client and I had a terrific discussion and I mapped the outcome as a decision tree to share with you all.

The tree offers a series of decision points that we must navigate if we are to deliver a story that gets the result we need.

In this particular case, the issue centred around a common problem, which was how to handle ‘the story' when key stakeholders don't agree with it. Do we ….

  • Tell the same story regardless?
  • Edit the story to accommodate that person (or those people) only?
  • Ask someone else to present on our behalf?
  • Create a separate story that deals with the ‘objector's specific concerns?
  • Scrap the story and start again?

There are lots of alternatives, each of which might suit a different situation but none of which suit all.

Hence, the decision tree.

You can also download the decision tree here >> 

I hope you find it useful.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – For those of you who have not yet joined one of our working sessions, please go to the session registrations tab on the main menu to do so. We'd love to do your work for with you!

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.

The importance of asking ‘Why?’

In this session, we worked on Brooke's email which highlighted the importance of asking ‘why'.

  • Why might audiences be objecting (are they unwilling or unable?)
  • Why do you need to communicate? What is it you need them to know?

Once you have nailed down the ‘why', the storyline becomes so much clearer.

As always, we've included the notes below so you can see how we work through the storyline planner from the initial brainstorming through to the first draft of the email.