When to avoid reviewing other people’s papers and presentations

When to avoid reviewing other people’s papers and presentations

Most of us review communication for colleagues.

When doing this, the temptation is to dive in and edit the words on the page.

This involves going straight into the detail, fixing typos, changing words and potentially tightening or removing sentences or whole sections.

In other words, it requires you to work bottom-up to iterate in the weeds to hope you find the message.

This is time-consuming and messy, and inevitably leads to more rework and less clarity. It means you contribute to what I call the Chain of Pain. See below.

 

It is also unlikely to drive a fast and effective business outcome.

Here is what I suggest instead.

If you don't know what specific outcome your colleague is shooting for and can't find the main message at a glance …. ‘make like Kissinger'.

He is famous for asking his subordinates the following question before reviewing their work.

“Is this your best work?”.

If yes, great. He'd review it.

If not … he'd ask them to keep working on it before using his time to review.

I hope that helps. More soon.

Kind regards,
Davina

WANT MORE?

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How to be human when communicating with senior leaders

How to be human when communicating with senior leaders

A couple of situations this week reminded me of the importance of differentiating between ‘content’ and ‘context’.

On the one hand I was listening to a fascinating podcast where Lex Fridman interviewed Yann Lecun, Chief AI Scientist at Meta about the abilities and limitations of AI.

On the other, I was reviewing communication to provide suggestions to participants from one of my corporate board paper writing programs.

What fascinated me here was that much of the communication I was reviewing was ‘content' that lacked ‘context'.

This bothered me because placing content in the right context is not only central to our uniqueness as humans, but essential if we want to engage senior decision makers.

And yet, I see teams frequently skipping this foundational step in the rush to finish their paper.

I get that thinking feels slow and that ‘writing' feels like ‘doing', but it reminds me of a comment made by an old boss of mine. “activity does not guarantee impact”.

With the right inputs, AI can deliver lots of content.

So far (!) we humans are the only ones that can take ‘content' and add ‘context' to have impact.

Let’s be human.

I hope that helps.

More soon.
Dav

WANT MORE?

Monthly MasterClass  – New topics every month, as well as access to an extensive library of recordings, case studies, tools and templates to lift the quality of your communication.

One month free. Ongoing access is USD25 per month or USD250 per year. Learn more here.

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How to deliver better board and SLT papers more quickly

How to deliver better board and SLT papers more quickly

TLDR …..

1. Thank you for the LinkedIn follows. I very much appreciate your support as I build my profile on that platform.
2. The March BoardPaper Bootcamp is open. Learn more here.
3. Today's topic: Better papers more quickly.

_______________________________

How often do papers come together in a scramble just before they must be submitted for review? Perhaps you …

… left it to the last because you assumed you only needed to tweak a few details in last month's paper, only to realise that this particular board presentation required more?

… received an ambiguous briefing and delayed your preparation because you frankly didn't know where to begin?

… waited for quite some time to receive stakeholder feedback, which turned out to be substantive and required you to burn the midnight oil to finish?

These are just three collaborative challenges that limit not only the speed of preparation, but also the quality of insights they contain.

Why?

Delivering papers that are both insightful and useful leans more heavily on collaboration than many realise.

In my experience, teams that prepare their papers with minimal midnight oil result from leaders driving the process that:

  • Readies their teams early so they appreciate why the paper is needed and what it needs to achieve.
  • Iterates the messaging around a highly-structured one-pager to ensure everyone can contribute quickly and substantively to what really needs to be said.
  • Settles the document to check that it reflects the agreed messaging before it is delivered.
  • Embeds the learnings from preparing and delivering the communication to ensure the team can grow together.

Here is how I visualise a process that consistently elevates the quality of thinking in my client's papers while slashing the time they take to prepare them.

I hope that helps, more next week.

Davina.

PS – This is the framework that underpins both of my new books, Elevate and Engage. I'll be sharing more from the book in the coming months as we finalise each one

 

WANT MORE?

Free MasterClass  – New topics every month, as well as access to an extensive library of recordings, case studies, tools and templates to lift the quality of your communication.

One month free. Ongoing access is USD25 per month or USD250 per year. Learn more here.

March BoardPaper Bootcamp now open – Work with me in a small group and in 1-1 coaching to prepare papers and presentations that engage senior leaders and boards. Maximum cohort of 15. Learn more here.

 

Is your paper really for noting?

Is your paper really for noting?

Hello Davina,

TLDR …..
1. Thank you for the LinkedIn follows. I very much appreciate your support as I build my profile on that platform.
2. The March BoardPaper Bootcamp is open. Learn more here.
3. Today's topic: Papers for noting …. really?

_______________________________

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

How do we structure our messaging for a ‘paper for noting’?

Adrian's was concerned he didn’t have a ‘big insight’, but that ‘noting' felt wrong.

He wanted to prepare his board to hear a business case in a couple of months’ time.

So, what to do?

We landed seeking endorsement for his plan to prepare a business case as the best way to give the paper purpose while raising visibility of the problem. 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 gave the paper purpose and raised visibility of the problem. This strategy let the Board know that a problem existed, demonstrated early that the team was taking action and provided clarity around the next steps.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Davina

 

 

WANT MORE?

Free report-writing MasterClass tomorrow on Feb 26 – Part of Clarity Hub along with an extensive library of tips, tools, exercises and case studies. Includes weekly email with in-depth advice, including the takeaways from the case study I mentioned here and the full case study itself.

One month free. Ongoing access is USD25 per month or USD250 per year. Learn more here.

March BoardPaper Bootcamp now half full – Work with me in a small group and in 1-1 coaching to prepare papers and presentations that engage senior leaders and boards. Maximum cohort of 15. Learn more here.

PowerPoint image library – Want to save time preparing complex but attractive PowerPoint concepts? My image library offers 300 cut and paste images. Grab your free sample of 25 or the full 300 images here.

 

How to keep your board on topic

How to keep your board on topic

Has this happened to you?

You have an important presentation to make to a senior leadership group and a big chunk of the time is spent talking about ‘background’.

The leaders ask every question under the sun about the history of the program, what you have done in the past and you find yourself repeating your last five presentations.

You use precious face time with them looking backwards rather than looking forwards.

This has been a hot topic with my clients lately so I thought I'd share my number one strategy for avoiding this conundrum.

Here it is: Get straight to the point to make your audience curious about what you want to discuss.

There is a tendency to assume that leaders need all of the detail so they can understand your main point.

In my experience this has the opposite effect. Leaders don't know how these ideas are relevant and so interrupt with questions that seek clarification.

Instead, I encourage my clients to introduce their main message very early in the communication.

This then makes your audience curious about the things you want to discuss, rather than setting them up to take you on a guided rabbit hole tour.

When done well, this sets your audience up to ask questions that invite you to provide the necessary background information.

It puts it in the right context, lifts the quality of the discussion and reduces the risk that you will be sent back with more questions rather than the decision you need.

I hope that helps. More next soon.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – Can I ask a favour? If you like my emails and would like to learn more from me, follow me on LinkedIn.

I am setting myself up to become a LinkedIn course creator and need more followers to meet their criteria.

Thank you!

WANT MORE?

Free report-writing MasterClass tomorrow on Feb 26 – Part of Clarity Hub along with an extensive library of tips, tools, exercises and case studies. Includes weekly email with in-depth advice, including the takeaways from the case study I mentioned here and the full case study itself. 

One month free. Ongoing access is USD25 per month or USD250 per year. Learn more here.

March BoardPaper Bootcamp now half full – Work with me in a small group and in 1-1 coaching to prepare papers and presentations that engage senior leaders and boards. Maximum cohort of 15. Learn more here.

PowerPoint image library – Want to save time preparing complex but attractive PowerPoint concepts? My image library offers 300 cut and paste images. Grab your free sample of 25 or the full 300 images here.

How to build trust with your senior leaders

How to build trust with your senior leaders

TLDR: The answer is to provide less information and more insight around a specific point of view.

Do you ever worry about a lack of trust between you and your senior folk? Perhaps these are the sorts of things that happen when you present?

  • You receive more questions than answers, with the worst of these meetings feeling more like an inquisition than a conversation.
  • The discussion gets lost in rabbit holes than focusing on the main game.
  • You leave meetings without the clarity and decisions you need to get on with delivering value.

It is easy to feel that these behaviours point to a lack of trust.

While that may be true, the real question is what to do about it.

In my experience, the best solution is to avoid requests for more information by providing greater insight in the first place. Here’s how.

  • Take the time to understand what you really need to provide to the leaders in that specific interaction to drive progress. This requires deep thought about your commercial reality as well as about your stakeholders.
  • Focus every communication around one single powerful point of view, no matter how complex the material. If you can't say it in a sentence, you aren't ready to convey it.
  • Declutter your communication by only including items that support that point of view. This will be a forcing device to confirm your point of view is the right one and that you are focusing on what together you must deliver for the organisation.

This requires not only courage, but extreme clarity about what is really needed to get the outcome you need to drive progress.

Learn more about how to go about this by:

 I hope that helps, more soon.

Davina

PS – Can I ask a favour?

I need to lift my profile on LinkedIn so I can become a LinkedIn course creator. I need to triple my followers to reach their benchmark.

Here’s my link.

As part of this campaign, I’ll be posting more ideas on this platform too, so there will be something in it for you also.

Thanks so much!

 

When NOT to seek strategy approval

When NOT to seek strategy approval

How often do you outline your desired outcome as follows:

I want the Board to approve my ABC strategy?


While this is a good place to start and most likely true in the general sense, it’s not sufficient.

A general statement like this does not set you up to truly understand your audience’s issues and concerns.

This in turn does not set you up to tell a story that resonates.

Instead, I encourage you to be more specific so you flush out the issues that you must address to get your strategy across the line. Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Strategy: What is distinctive about this strategy and its implementation?
  2. Situation around the strategy: Where does this strategy ‘sit’ within the broader organisation and industry ecosystem?
  3. Stakeholder attitudes: How will stakeholder histories and hot buttons impact your ability to ‘sell’ the strategy?


Answering these questions will help you define a much more nuanced ‘purpose’ that will in turn set you up to prepare a communication that gets you the outcome you need.

I hope that helps and look forward to having more ideas for you after the Christmas break.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – For deeper insight into what sits inside each of these questions as well as how and when to use them, register for the Clarity Hub.

 

A trap to avoid when engaging senior leaders

A trap to avoid when engaging senior leaders

When we talk about deeply understanding our audience, what do we really mean?

Is defining our audience as ‘the board’ or ‘the senior leadership team’ sufficient?

If your issue is uncontentious, then likely yes.

However, more often than not, leadership groups not only bring different experiences but different perspectives that we must understand if we are to engage them.

This week I helped a senior group untangle their own engagement strategy for a board paper and an issue emerged that will help you too.

The team had missed an important nuance when thinking about their individual board member's attitudes toward their paper.

They had not thought deeply enough about each person as an individual rather than part of the group.

To learn more specific ideas about how to avoid this problem, register for the Clarity Hub  and visit the Stakeholder Management area.

I hope that helps.

Dav

PS – Here are some recent podcast episodes you can find either using the links below or by visiting your favourite podcasting player.

Recent episodes of Cutting Through

  1. Anthony Wilson – Risk Management = Change Management
  2. Richard Medcalf – Making Time for Strategy
  3. Damien Woods – Baking Learning & Growth into BAU
  4. Kerry Bulter – Helping Leaders ‘shift testing left' to derisk projects
  5. Daniel Musson – A Case Study in Digitial Transformation
  6. Carolyn Noumertzis – How to help a senior leader come back from a misstep
  7. Cerise Uden – How to hit the ground running in a big new role
  8. Adam Bennett – Communicating Great Change
  9. Lisa Carlin – TurboCharge your Transformation


Please do tell your friends and colleagues about them too.

What to recommend to senior leaders and Boards?

What to recommend to senior leaders and Boards?

Do you wonder what to write those boxes in the admin section of your senior paper or presentation?

There will be the basics like date, author, paper type, attachments etc.

Buried in the middle of this list will be one that says ‘Recommendation'.

I'd like to help you deliver valuable insight right from the get go rather than following administrative protocol for its own sake. 
Here is what not to do and a better alternative.

Don't say nothing …

Don't repeat what's in the ‘paper type' box that asks whether it is a paper to offer a recommendation, stimulate a discussion or for noting.

An example would be to say:

That the Committee NOTE this report

This only leaves them asking … but what is in the report? What does it say?

Offer insight right from the get go …

Your audience is hungry to know what you think. They want to know your insights.

Here is an example:

That the Committee NOTE that the risks for ABC issue remain within risk appetite across all dimensions, except Area 1 and Area 2 which have been affected by DEF issue.

This approach addresses the formality by explaining that the paper be noted – and adds value by explaining what in particular they are noting.

To get more ideas on how to better engage senior leaders and Boards, join the Clarity Hub. It's low on cost but big on resources, all designed to help you lift the quality of your communication and board papers. Learn more here >>

I hope that helps. More soon.
Davina


PS – You might also like to check out my  Board Paper Bootcamp. I will be offering one cohorts several times a year, suitable for a range of timezones.

Do you really need to INFORM your audience?

Do you really need to INFORM your audience?

I write this to you having just wrapped up a coaching session where a perennial question arose.

My client suggested that the paper we were discussing needed to inform her peers.

But, did it really?

Why did she need to inform her peers about this particular set of facts?

It turned out the real objective was to build trust that the current efforts to increase the time employees spend in the office were working.

Once it was clear that trust rather than knowledge was the goal, we could make the messaging much more focused and engaging.

So, when you next think that you need your audience to know something, ask why they need to know it. Here are two steps to take

First, check why you need to inform your audience. Could it be to gain the following from your audience?

  1. Action: Undertake a specific task or set of tasks where your audience understands why they need to be undertaken.
  2. Implement: Put something into effect where you explain what to do but the audience decides how to do it.
  3. Support: Help to someone, potentially you, in undertaking an activity without undertaking the activity themselves.
  4. Trust: To have confidence in a situation.

If none of those fit, consider whether one of these ‘knowing' definitions fits.

  1. Know: Be aware of something so your stakeholder can factor this knowledge into their thinking and action.
  2. Understand: Fully appreciate something so you can then use that understanding to decide or act.

Sometimes it is true that your audience does ‘just' need to know something. I find however that nine times out of ten, there is another real reason. When we clarify that reason, the communication becomes more useful and the audience more engaged.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – In my upcoming Board Paper Bootcamp we will cover strategies for discerning your real outcome so you can then be more effective at engaging senior leaders and Boards. Learn more here.

How to know if your communication is quality

How to know if your communication is quality

Do you ever wonder if your papers and presentations hit the mark, or if your stakeholders are just being nice?

Today one of my clients laughed and said that at the end of our program, he now has a very different view of what good looks like.

After learning new strategies for clarifying the desired outcome for his communication and then how to structure a message that achieves that outcome, he sees the world differently.

So, I thought I'd share with you the top five questions that he and his colleagues now ask when reviewing their papers and presentations. Does the communication ….

S – Set the scene quickly by drawing the audience toward one insightful message?
C – Convey the right balance of strategic and operational detail?
O – Organise the ideas in a well-structured hierarchy?
R – Ready the audience for a productive discussion?
E – Engage the audience using a medium, style and tone that suits them?

This is one of the frameworks we'll focus on in my upcoming Board Paper Bootcamp programs.

I will host one for the European and American time zones during October and another for Australian and American time zones in March.

>> Learn more here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – You can learn more about this framework inside the Clarity Hub too.

Who to collaborate with on important paper?

Who to collaborate with on important paper?

When people learn to prepare papers and presentations for senior audiences they often focus on improving ‘writing' and ‘slide making' skills.

These are useful and often taught as though the paper or presentation is prepared by one individual.

However, in my experience this is often not the case.

Engaging senior audiences to make a recommendation or to update is a collaborative effort.

So, how to collaborate?

The first step is to decide who you should involve in the process, particularly at the initial scoping session.

I recommend inviting everyone who will have a role in preparing the paper, including more junior team members who may only focus on discrete sections.

You may also think a bit expansively to include people with these three Es:

  • Expertise: Are they familiar with the problem or have a usefully different perspective? Most likely they will have been involved in working on the issue, but it may be useful to think more broadly for higher stakes communication.
  • Evaluative ability: Do they think deeply about things, and are they a smart thinker? Sometimes it helps to have people outside of the context who bring raw intelligence to the effort. Involving them may be a useful way to help them learn more about the issue while also contributing to the communication.
  • Elevation: Do they have sufficient visibility of the strategic environment to help link your narrative to the broader business objectives? You may bring sufficient visibility on your own, or equally, you may bring someone senior into the session to share their perspective. It could be the person who commissioned the paper, someone who owns the relevant strategy or someone who knows the stakeholder group well.

In briefing the whole team, you will increase the chances of clarifying a message that hits the right notes with less effort from you all.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – We will go into this and much more in my upcoming Board Paper Bootcamp. Learn more here.

 

How to cut the number of updates you deliver

How to cut the number of updates you deliver

In last week’s MasterClass I shared ideas to help you make your updates more interesting.

One idea I shared is the possibility of having greater influence by NOT updating at all.

It shocked some participant to silence!

We are so accustomed to updating our leaders and Steering Committees that we often don’t think WHY we are updating them.

If, in some situations, you sent an email update rather than taking up everyone’s time in a meeting?

I share this and more ideas about how to get the most out of your routine updates in the recording.

Access inside the Past Events area within my Clarity Hub – Register here >> 

Members can attend these sessions live, or access the recordings, as well as make use of the growing library of case studies, tools and templates and the ever-useful Pattern Picker. Learn more here >>

I hope that helps.

Davina

 

Can AI write your papers?

Can AI write your papers?

There is much talk about how artificial intelligence (AI) can write for us.

Nikki Gemmell wrote in The Australian newspaper that ‘We scribblers and hacks are staring at the abyss in terms of the chatbot future roaring at us’.

Professional copywriter Leanne Shelton lamented its impact on her business. She expects her copywriting business to take a 35 percent hit this year thanks to OpenAI releasing ChatGPT last November.

I am seeing clients experiment with a range of AI tools to help with their work too.

Yet, like Nikki Gemmel, I am not concerned about AI taking my job.

AI can help the writing process and will stretch us to think harder and better but is not (yet, at least) a match for human insight.

Let me explain why.

  1. AI can’t make a judgement call
  2. AI relies on humans asking really good questions
  3. AI can’t explain how it arrived at its answer
  4. AI’s writing ability is surprisingly poor
  5. AI is inherently biased

Let me unpack each of these further.

 

AI can’t make a judgement call

Even when organisations (eventually) set up their private AI instance AI can only offer limited help. This is so even after proprietary data is fed into it and appropriate access permissions are set up. 

Let’s imagine that we feed the past decade’s board and senior leadership team papers into a proprietary database. We then add an AI engine on top. Leaders and board members could enter queries such as: ‘What is our company’s data security strategy’. The AI engine would then ‘read’ all of its material and summarise it to explain what the papers say about our company’s data security strategy. That is useful as far as it goes.

But what if we asked it: ‘How could we improve our data security strategy?’. Again it would summarise what the papers in its database say about the potential risks inherent in our current strategies. Again, useful as far as it goes.

Assuming the information in the papers is both accurate and complete, the summary may be helpful. I also assume, but don’t know, if it would place the strategy at a point in time or give all the information equal weighting. For example, a five year old data security strategy would be out of date. Would it qualify the information from that strategy as being from five years ago, or merge it with all the other data security items? Would it give these equal weighting? I am not sure, but for this kind of information to be useful we would need to know.

The limitations become even more obvious when we ask the question that we really need an answer to. What would it say if we asked it: ‘What is the right data security strategy for our company in today’s context?’

This is where the human comes in. Opining on what the ‘right strategy’ for a specific company is relies on judgement. So far at least, AI doesn’t have the ability to make a judgement call.

 

AI relies on humans asking really good questions

AI can only answer the questions we ask using the data it has access to. If we ask the wrong question, we will get the wrong answer.

In my experience, asking the right question is a major part of the challenge. 

So even accounting for all of our limitations, humans are at an advantage here. We can interpret the questions we are asked, which can be very useful.

If I ask my team to answer a specific question, and they realise I am off base, they can answer the question I asked but also provide me with what I really need.

They can do this because they understand the context in which I operate, which an AI tool does not.

 

AI can’t explain how it arrived at it answer

While it is fun to ask these bots all sorts of questions to see how they answer, they can’t explain their reasoning. This matters if, for example, we need to audit something.

Imagine if you reported to a regulator that customer complaints for a product like a credit card fell by 20 percent during 2023. The regulator will ask you to provide your evidence to have confidence that this is true.

In the current world you can unpack the data feed. You can explain where the data was collected and when, how it fed into a dashboard that generated the result.   

AI doesn’t allow you to do this, it just asserts what it found using its own hidden processes.

 

AI’s writing ability is surprisingly poor

I put this to the test recently in a conversation with a client. Brooke had been playing with ChatGPT to see if it could help her write a risk memo on non-lending risk acceptance in digital processes.

The result was both unhelpful and hard to read. It identified that operational, cyber and compliance risk needed to be considered. While the information was true, Brooke already knew this and the output lacked context.

As a test, we put the response through my favourite writing tool, the Hemingway Editor. This involved copy-pasting the text from ChatGPT into Hemingway, which then evaluated the writing quality.

It assessed the quality was poor and gave a reading age of Grade 14.  That means it was written at university level. It classified 13 out of the 20 sentences as very hard to read.

You might not think is a problem given many people reading risk reports are university graduates.  It is, however, well above the grade 8 that I recommend for my clients to ensure fast and easy reading for busy executives. In contrast, this article scores at Grade 7.

We then asked it to improve the language of its original draft and re-tested with Hemingway. The new draft came in with a reading age of Grade 9, which was a significant improvement if we can ignore that the content was unhelpful.

I have repeated the test and had similar results.

 

AI is inherently biased

This is where the discussion gets really interesting. I have asked Chat GPT and Google’s equivalent, Bard, to provide me with information about topics that interest me.

I find it is useful when asking for facts. For example, which podcasts discuss board paper writing, or perhaps what art schools offer weekend life drawing classes in my city. The tool provides a tidy summary that is easier than hunting through links provided by Google or Bing.

I worry about its responses that include opinion, however. I had some fun and asked some personal questions to see what it would do.

For example: ‘How does the moon affect women’s health?’. Chat GPT claims the moon doesn’t affect women’s health. In contrast Bard described this as a contested area and offered a list of areas that are currently being researched. In this instance, the Bard answer was more accurate and more helpful.

In contrast, when asking about sensitive topics the answers were both contradictory and troubling. Both Bard and ChatGPT have strong views about topics such climate change and the move to electric vehicles among other things.

Both began by explaining that they were AI tools that could not offer opinion before doing just that.

Given AI is a tool coded by humans, those humans influence how it works and the results it gives. We need to be very aware of this and evaluate any results we receive accordingly.

My conclusion is that although AI is a fun tool to play with and can be useful for finding information, it needs to be used with care. It won’t replace human judgement any time soon. It will, however, push us to get better. We need to critically evaluate anything it ‘spits out’ and lift our own game so we are adding real value not just regurgitating facts.

 I hope that helps.

Cheers, 

Davina

How to hit the ground running in a big new role

How to hit the ground running in a big new role

Have you ever wondered how senior people hit the ground running in a new role?

I recently spoke with Cerise Uden about her strategies for doing that on the Friday before she started a new senior program manager role.

At the simplest level, we talked about preparation.

It got really interesting when we got into the detail, though.

Cerise shared her simple yet specific approach for quickly engaging and delivering for senior decison makers. We discussed how to

  1. Work out who to really get in front of early on (and when to do it)
  2. Fill any knowledge gaps you might have, particularly if the role covers new areas such as AI
  3. Nail down precisely what you need to deliver and to whom

You’ll find the episode on your favourite player and on our website here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.

How to reduce rework for high-stakes communication

How to reduce rework for high-stakes communication

Over the past two weeks I have shared two ideas to help you lift the quality of your own papers and presentations.

Today I share the third. It might seem like an odd one, but bear with me. It’s about velocity.

How quickly can you develop and deliver powerful insights that lead to fast, high-quality decisions?

In reading Colin Bryar and Bill Carr’s excellent book, Working Backwards, which describes Amazon’s secret to success many insights stood out.

The principle of velocity was one of them.

Amazon has gone to great lengths to maintain velocity in all areas of its operations so it can maintain its ability to execute quickly on innovative business lines.

Great effort is taken to remove bottlenecks and keep the teams on their ‘front foot’.

Communication is one of those areas. I see an opportunity to insert structure and discipline into the communication process just as you might any other business process.

Imagine this: Could board papers receive ‘minimal adjustments’ at each layer of your organization’s approval chain? Even better when the Board approves the idea the first time it is presented.

My client from the supply chain team at a large retailer, coined a term that I’ve borrowed: they call it the Gold Standard. Here’s how it works:

Someone prepares their highly structured one-pager either alone or with colleagues, before socialising that page with stakeholders. This triggers constructive debate around the big picture ideas and how they connect with the data. By socialising a one-page ‘message map map’ rather than a polished document at least four important things happen.

  1. Everyone in the process can review the message map and respond quickly with constructive suggestions to refine the thinking. One CEO client tells me he block-reviews papers and spends an average of 15 minutes on each paper. This is a marked reduction in the time he previously spent reviewing papers for the Senior Leadership Team and the Board.
  2. Everyone feels as though they have permission to debate the ideas. When someone receives a document that someone has obviously ‘sweated over’ they feel less comfortable about having the debate. It feels like a ‘correction’ rather than a ‘conversation’.
  3. The team isn’t wedded to unhelpful concepts and charts that ‘must’ remain in the document. As soon as we create a chart or write a section, we become wedded to it rather than the ideas it represents. We spend time trying to ‘fit it in’ rather than stepping back and looking at the overall message we need to convey.
  4. Less time is spent preparing prose and charts that turn out to be off point. Rather than focusing our energies on preparing polished drafts, we can focus on the messaging.

Once the ideas are locked in, the paper is prepared and sent up the chain for, hopefully, only minor adjustment.

In this model, teams focus on finessing ideas rather than tweaking words, fiddling with PowerPoint connectors or following a format.

This liberates you and your team from the awful game of ‘red pen ping pong’ so you can focus on higher order activities.

Our clients frequently see a 30 percent lift in velocity when drafting papers and presentations. This impacts both team members and leaders. Some teams, such as those outlined in the next section, achieve materially more than that.

Before establishing some concrete goals for you and your team let’s be inspired by what is possible.

Ask yourself: What do you need to change to get to the Gold Standard for you and your team?

I hope that helps.
Davina

PS. You can find the first two parts of this series on Communication Quality here:

  1. The most important measure of communication quality
  2. Is your communication insightful?

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.

Is your communication insightful?

Is your communication insightful?

Last week I introduced the most important metric for evaluating whether communication is of a high standard or not.  It’s not what you think.

If you haven’t read it yet, go here.

Today I move onto sharing my second ingredient for quality communication: quality of insight.

Let me ask: Do your papers deliver significant value to your project, team or organisation? Do they connect some dots to offer a new idea that adds value to the strategy, returns, processes or perhaps by reducing risk?

This relates to synthesis, which is where both the challenge and opportunity lie when improving high-stakes communication.

In his 2005 book A Whole New Mind best-selling author Daniel Pink commented synthesis as the ‘killer app’ in business in what he calls the new Conceptual Age.

 

“What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis – seeing the big picture and crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole”.

 

Or more simply, the formula we used at McKinsey is that synthesis is summary + insight.

SYNTHESIS = SUMMARY + INSIGHT

Without wanting to be too pointy about it, Daniel Pink was right. Most people can summarise. So can natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT, if given the right data set.

The real value we humans bring is to connect that factual summary with our own insights stemming from our understanding of the context.

So, to offer high-quality, valuable insights, you need to be technically strong and in touch with commercial and stakeholder imperatives.

This means that you and your leaders need to work together. You need a common strategy for tying together complex ideas to make them seem simple.

You need a structured way to collaborate when synthesising your message.

So, ask yourself about the consequences of delivering poor-quality insights. How well thought through are the ideas your team shares with you?

When it works, individuals and teams get the balance right between the import of the message, the value it delivers and the time they invest to prepare it.

And, as I mentioned last week, they do it with minimal rework.

This brings me to my third ingredient, velocity, which I’ll talk about next week.

Cheers,

Davina

 

 

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.

The most important measure of communication quality

The most important measure of communication quality

 

When trying to work out if your communication is any good or not, do you wonder what is the most important measure of success?

I have an unusual take on it.

When it comes to important papers, my hunch is that the single most important needle to move is the amount of time you and your colleagues spend reworking them.

If there is little rework, then they are fit for purpose. If there is much, it’s not a good sign for anyone.

That single measure may be enough. You may, however, like to dig a little deeper.

This week I’d like to offer the first of three measures you can use. Let me give you a preview and then dive into today’s topic: Clarity.

  1. Clarity – Can you glean the core messages within 30 seconds of opening a paper or presentation?
  2. Quality – How valuable are the insights?
  3. Velocity – How quickly can your team develop and deliver powerful insights that lead to better decisions?

Let me now dig into the first of these. Can you glean the core messages within 30 seconds of opening a paper or presentation?

This is where we ask whether the communication misses the mark. Are you  

  • Writing Agatha Christie reports that leave the big idea until the end
  • Asking your decision makers to conduct Easter Egg Hunts to find the insights or
  • Delivering papers that are either wafer thin or worse. They miss the point altogether.

We ask how well the messages jump off the page (or out of the mouth) so that your audience can grasp them quickly. How easy are they to find in the paper, presentation, discussion, email or other communication form?

Clarity helps us quickly see what the message is and check whether it does what is needed.

As one board director suggested recently, she would rather read papers that did not require him to conduct an Easter egg hunt. She does not enjoy hunting around ‘the garden’ of the paper to find where the insights are hidden.

She wants them to pop off the page so she can quickly skim the paper to decide how to read it.

Try asking how often a reader can glean the message within 30 seconds of opening the paper. You can also apply this to emails and other communication too.

While clarity is critical, though, it’s not enough. To quote one of my ‘crustier’ clients, the head of credit risk at a large bank:

“The team can now craft much clearer messages, which is very useful. But how do we stop them putting ‘rubbish’ in the boxes?”.

This leads me to my next dimension: quality of insight, which I’ll dive into next week.

Cheers, 

Davina

 

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.

Going from good to great

Going from good to great

Jim Collins coined the term ‘from good to great’ with his seminal book of the same title, which I am sure you are familiar with.

This is a challenge many of my mid to senior leaders wrestle with as we lift the quality of thinking in their major communication.

Here are some thoughts that emerged from this morning’s coaching session that might help you too.

Focusing on the gaps in the story particularly where the value is not well-synthesised is a quick way to shift from good to great. Here are three gaps we identified in our example:

Good is readable, but typically summarises more than synthesises. Synthesis is where the gold lies. This is where we go from saying ‘this is what the data says’ to saying ‘this is what the data means’ in this context to this audience.

This is good news, as the AI tools can (so far at least) only summarise. They can’t put the data into context. More on that another time.

Good has a small number of top-line points. This means the story isn’t an Agatha Christie hunt for the information. It’s laid out so you can find it fairly easily.

Good leaves value on the table. The story we reworked today missed several key ingredients, but most importantly it didn’t surface the reasoning. It didn’t explain why the recommendation was the right one to implement.

Keep your eyes peeled for the ‘why’ in your communication. It is often lacking in examples that cross my desk.

I hope that helps. More soon.

Davina

PS – Do you write papers for senior leaders and Boards? If so, I’d love to hear about your key challenges. Click here to share them.



RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.

Want a 25+% cut in the time it takes to prepare major papers?

Want a 25+% cut in the time it takes to prepare major papers?

Want to cut the number of times your manager reviews your papers by 25+ percent?  

Even better, cut the amount of time it takes you to draft and then edit your papers by a similar amount? 

I hear both executives and their managers complain that they spend too much time on papers. 

Here is an image demonstrating how this works.

xecutives complain they don’t get great briefings, and so struggle to know what they need to communicate about. 

They then throw everything at the paper so nothing is left out before sending to their manager for review. 

Their manager takes one look and parks it for later. The paper looks heavy and they need to block some proper thinking time to review it. 

I think you know what happens then? 

The clock ticks and the paper sits in their inbox until really close to the due date. 

And then, late at night or on the weekend, your manager opens it and starts work. 

The only way they can get a handle on the material is to start with the things they can see: the minutiae. They fix typos, details and grammaticals as a way to work into the substance. 

By the time they have done this, the whole thing has been reworked. 

However, there is a way out of this. 

My clients regularly cut the amount of time they spend preparing and reviewing papers by 25 percent or more. 

Explore the Board Paper Bootcamp to learn with me as part of a live cohort, or explore my online courses via the main menu on this site.

Warm regards, 

Davina 

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.