Optimising your ‘end of year review’ for maximum impact

Optimising your ‘end of year review’ for maximum impact

Late November is the time when many of us are reflecting on our progress for the year and updating our stakeholders.

This can be fraught, particularly in an increasingly cost-constrained environment. Many recent working session stories have had a cost theme, as have many of the stories I have been working on with my corporate clients.

In that light I wanted to share one critical idea to focus on when preparing your next progress report.

Prioritising impact over activity is ever more important in these increasingly cost-constrained times. Let me explain what I mean.

Saying ‘we have been busy' is rarely enough. Providing a list of things you and your team have completed over the past period is the easy way out and only marginally useful. Even when the list is well-grouped, it is rarely insightful. It can also be overwhelming and just says ‘we have been busy'.

I once worked with the head of projects at a global car company and she asked me why her CFO never responded to the weekly update email he requested.

When I reviewed it I could see why.

She had listed literally 100 project tasks that had been worked on, categorised by area, without offering any insight as to how these linked to the overall objectives.

Saying ‘we are on track' is better. This at least offers stakeholders comfort to know that they have nothing to worry about. This can be sufficient, but is not always so, especially in times of heightened attention to costs.

Saying ‘we have delivered X impact' is better still. You might describe each activity you have completed alongside the impact it has delivered. It doesn't require a major shift in substance, still enables you to describe the work accomplished but is clear about the impact delivered.

Explaining how your team could deliver more impact is best. This requires you to take a step back and look for opportunities to optimise your ways of working within your area as well stepping outside that area to focus on your purpose.

If you reflect on the reason why your program of work exists and ask whether your priorities and activities are still the best way to achieve that goal, you may find some gems.

Even though this can be difficult and perhaps feel risky, it demonstrates that your commitment is in line with delivering maximum returns rather than just ‘doing work'.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

December 15th

Learn how to connect the dots between complex ideas so you can prepare insightful and engaging communication.

In this 2-hour workshop I introduce the core thinking skills that underpin our ability to deliver insight rather than just ‘information'. During this interactive workshop you will

  • Learn the basis for structuring a compelling business story
  • Practice three core thinking skills that will set your communication apart from others
  • Leverage our seven most-commonly used story structuring patterns
  • Work in a small group to rework a short prose communication

Only 20 places are offered to allow me to answer everyone's questions.

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

When to not focus on the data

When to not focus on the data

I was sharing war stories with one of my collaborators this week. An interesting story emerged where ‘poor communication' cost a chief financial officer (CFO) his job.

Why?

Because he focused on the data.

Let me explain.

The CFO assumed his role was to provide regular and accurate numbers that the CEO and Board would not just read, but also interpret.

However, the CEO and the Board wanted insights about the company's performance.

This material disconnect cost him his job as the leadership did not see that the company was in major difficulty until late in the piece.

So, what went wrong here?

While I agree that a CFO has a responsibility to explain what the performance data means, I also see a systemic issue that goes beyond the CFO himself. This could have been avoided if

  •  The CEO and Board asked better questions inside and outside formal Board meetings
  • The company secretary clarified expectations that insights were central to the financial reports when the CFO took the role on years previously
  • The CEO and the Chair called out the lack of insight in the papers as a general expectation
  • The Board did not accept that poor quality papers are commonplace and too hard to fix

I offer this as a cautionary tale.

Quality governance and decision making requires insightful communication both inside and around key papers.

Assuming that the data is enough, or that poor quality papers is ‘par for the course' is not just a risk for you but also for the organisation.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

Cutting Through Podcast Now Live

Last week I launched my new podcast, Cutting Through.

My first two posts, a short intro and an interview discussing how to get around one of the biggest challenges when communicating about risk management.

My guest, Anthony Wilson from ABM Risk Management shares deep wisdom stemming from decades in risk and assurance.

He also offers his comprehensive risk management framework.

Listen on your favourite podcasting app or here on my website.

PS – Apologies to those of you who may tried to find it on Spotify, Apple and Google Play last weekend. The episode took longer to publish than we expected.

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

I was reminded this week of why thinking and writing don't mix if you want to deliver impact at work.

It's great if you want to keep a journal, write a novel or perhaps some poetry.

But, bear with me.

I do believe writing helps us clarify our thinking.

But I also think writing to think inside a doc or a deck makes for poor business communication.

Communication quality is further reduced by socializing your document with others.


Let me offer three reasons why I believe ‘thinking' into a document leads to cluttered communication that takes far too long to deliver value.

Clarity of messaging is compromised as we seek useful input from others. In today's busy world, messaging must jump off the page the minute someone opens an email, paper or PowerPoint.

Asking stakeholders to review lengthy docs or decks leads to a mess of track changes that focus on the minutiae rather than the substance.

Quality of insight is hard to coalesce into a cohesive argument. If you draft your ideas inside an email, a doc or a deck you will naturally wander all over the place. Your thinking will evolve some here, some there as ideas form. The structure of your story and the quality of your messaging will wander likewise.

Velocity is nearly impossible. By velocity I mean the speed with which you can create your communication, with which your audience can digest it and then make a decision. When my clients skip using a one-page storyline they frequently see at least three problems. They see extensive rework, delayed decisions and lots of last minute scrambling to ‘fix' their docs and decks.

As one CEO said to me recently:

“We chose to introduce your storylining method as it offered a system we could replicate across the business.”
“Iterating 16 times around a Board paper just doesn't make business sense.”
Now I receive a stack of one-pagers and spend 15 minutes reviewing each one before offering substantive feedback to the team.”
“The team then uses this to finesse their messaging before they quickly prepare their documents.”
“Our Board and SLT papers have improved out of sight”.



I hope that helps.

Warmly,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

We talk a lot about the clarity of communication. To me that means how easy it is for a person in our audience to grasp what we are saying.

This is, I suggest, only ground level for powerful business communication.​

The next level is to deliver a high-quality message. By my way of thinking this is a message that is not just clear, but which delivers significant value.

In most situations this requires a good degree of synthesis, and I thought sharing four key questions we ask might help you assess the quality of your own communication.

To test the quality of our messaging, we ask ourselves what level of message we have used.

  1. Level 1 – Is this a piece of data? A piece of data is a fact. For example, '10 widgets'. This is not a message, but rather a stand alone piece of information.
  2. Level 2 – Is this a topic? A topic is a category, eg ‘Options'. This explains what you are discussing, but not what you are saying. On its own, it is not a quality message.
  3. Level 3 – Is this a summary? A summary is useful when explaining what you found in some analysis. For example: “We sold 10 widgets more last week than we have sold over the past year”. It is an observation and tells you what your data set ‘says'.
  4. Level 4 – Is this a powerful message? A powerful message delivers the most value of any. It synthesises, which means it draws an inference from the information and says what it means. It involves taking a risk and is where the value lies.

I encourage you to review the three most recent pieces of communication you have prepared and assess what level your communication was at.

If you find very few level 4 messages ask yourself why and see if you can level them up in your next piece.

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

Davina

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

This week I received two requests to help with presentation skills, one for a finance professional and one for a group of about 80 analysts.

In both cases presentation skills were not the main issue.

In my opinion, they were just ‘tip of the iceberg'.

The real problem lies in synthesising findings into a clear, insightful, outcome-oriented message.

Let me explain with a diagram and then the back story.

 

 

From what I could see, the issue that I was being asked to solve: ‘standing with confidence' and ‘projecting their voice', were the least of their problems.

In both cases, presenters lost confidence when they received the wrong kinds of questions that led to the wrong kinds of discussions … and slow or no decisions.

When messages are not well synthesised decision makers ask questions that help them understand the message. This often involves diving into minute detail as decision makers attempt to do the thinking work themselves.

I see this most when recommendations are buried among a long series of facts. It forces decision makers to connect the dots between the facts, which leads them to lose the thread. This in turn leads them to ask questions to clarify the message rather than discussing the issue.

Conversations become convoluted, at times feeling more like an interrogation than a discussion. They also rarely lead to a high-quality or fast decision.

This is frustrating for all concerned and why I prioritise thinking skills.

I teach you to connect the dots into a well-synthesised message, so your audience doesn't have to.

Later this month I will hold a Thinking Skills MasterClass to uncover the skills essential to synthesising powerful messages.

This will then help you receive the right kinds of questions … and enjoy greater confidence when presenting your ideas in any forum.

>> Learn more here

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

How to avoid delivering highly detailed but meaningless communication

How to avoid delivering highly detailed but meaningless communication

In a one-on-one with one of my Foundation Members this week she highlighted the difference between using a topic-driven structure and a message-driven structure when preparing her program briefing.

I share this because I hear leaders setting their teams up to prepare communication this way only to complain that the resulting communication didn't hit the mark.

Let me demonstrate by using the topic-driven strategy here for this email so you can see why it doesn’t deliver a high quality communication.

Here is her original structural outline for her program briefing (which she gave permission for me to share … and which she quickly decided not to proceed with).

  • What it is and what it will achieve
  • Why we are doing it
  • How we are doing it
    • Past
    • Present
    • Future

Here is what is wrong with this approach. It

  • Buries the meaning underneath a lot of detail
  • Assumes you will read it all (which my experience and research suggests is unlikely)
  • Leads to repetition which risks you switching off, being confused and missing important information (and possibly the main point)

See what I mean?

  • You can’t skim it to work out what I’m saying
  • There isn’t one cohesive story, even though the points are related to each other
  • You are left to tie it together for yourself … assuming you are interested enough to do so
  • It's hard to repeat to someone else later, which means the author is making themselves work harder than they need to … they aren't turning their audience into their mouthpieces


Here's a challenge for you: the next time you go to sketch an outline for a substantial piece of communication try focusing it around messages rather than topics.

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

Kind regards,
Davina

Course: Clarity in Problem Solving

Do you ever realise part way through a project that you are not sure you are solving the right problem … or even that you are solving the wrong problem?

This then leads to a bigger problem because you realise – too late – that you don't have the data you need to communicate with your stakeholders.

In my Clarity in Problem Solving course I use my own experience using these techniques in my business as a case study, combined with a simple, high-level structure for you to follow in your own work.

The 7 module course includes detailed notes and exercises with solutions.

Learn more here.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

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'


In this situation Adrian was concerned that he didn’t have a ‘so what’ (which is a tale for another day … what really IS a so what after all?).

Rather, he 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?

In this case Adrian decided to ask the Board to endorse his plan to prepare a business case to address the problem he was facing.

This strategy alerted the Board to the existence of the problem, demonstrated early that the team was taking action and provided clarity around the near-term steps the team would take to address it.

I hope that’s useful and look forward to sending more ideas through next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Learn how to communicate complex ideas that cut through using our practical book. We share our seven favourite storyline patterns while also discussing two practical scenarios for each: one operational, one strategic.

Never be asked “So, what does that mean?” again.
Click here to learn more.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

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 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. I hope you find it useful.

Cheers, Davina

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

How to use structured communication techniques to develop a strategy (not just describe it)

How to use structured communication techniques to develop a strategy (not just describe it)

Two of this week's coaching sessions shone a very bright light on how storylining is about much more than ‘putting words on a page'. It's about surfacing the ideas that we want to convey.

So, this week I will focus on how you can use a storyline rather than how you build one.

Let me give you the high level story first and then explain by way of example.

  • As you may know, a storyline is a tool for mapping ideas, which can also be described as a ‘thinking machine'.
  • The thinking rules that make the ‘machine' work provide an opportunity to use storylines to develop our strategies not just describe them.

As you may know, a storyline is a tool for mapping your ideas, which can also be described as a thinking machine.

​​One of my old colleagues went so far as to call it an ‘insight engine'.

This is true if we understand the rules that hold our ideas together and use them to test whether the ideas on a page ‘fit'. If they don't, we can use the rules to work out what is wrong and to strengthen or replace the ‘misfit' ideas.

This both pushes and guides us so we think harder and communicate more impactfully because our ideas are more impactful.

In the classic sense, we can use storylines to prepare our communication so we engage our audiences better.

The thinking rules that make the ‘machine' work provide an opportunity to use storylines to develop our strategies, not just describe them. This can be particularly effective when we collaborate with our colleagues.

This is where this week's coaching comes in.

In both sessions we needed to prepare a story that the participants would deliver to their senior leadership in our final workshop together.

The stories needed to be practical and focus on live problems that were substantive enough to engage their leaders.

The challenge for these two groups was that they were not in the midst of a natural paper cycle, and so didn't have anything big enough to share.

Our solution was to use our storylining session to address a problem that they had not yet thought through fully and come up with a solution.

In one case the team developed a strategy for fine tuning their recent organisational transformation to agile ways of working. In the other, they did two things. They

  1. developed a new business case template that enabled them to use a storyline to convey their case in two pages rather than the eight that the previous template had required.
  2. pitched and gained approval for the new template from their Tribe lead and CEO in the final Wrap workshop

It worked a treat, so I wanted to explain how we used the storyline as a tool to help them work out what their strategy was, not just describe it.

It has a deeper purpose which you can take advantage of once you really lean into the storylining rules.

I hope that helps and look forward to sharing one more insight with you before I head away for our summer break closer to Christmas.

Kind regards,
Davina


PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

How to be ‘compelling’ rather than just ‘clear’ when communicating

How to be ‘compelling’ rather than just ‘clear’ when communicating

Have your senior leaders ever told you they have been ‘swept away' by your recent paper?

It was a first for my client, a Chief of Staff at a national brand too. She was thrilled when her Chief Legal Officer said he was ‘swept away' by her recent SLT paper.

Nobody had ever said something like that about her communication before.

This drew out a fabulous discussion about the difference between being ‘clear' and being ‘compelling' in our communication.

If we communicate clearly, our audience understands us with relative ease.

If we communicate in a way that is compelling, our audience is engrossed in our material. Swept away, even.

But, how to make the shift from being understood, to sweeping our audience away?

It helps to understand what I call the value ladder, which describes the difference between the value individual statements within our communication offer.

 

It sounds like my client was operating at the ‘artistry' level.

Here's a challenge for you: take a look at the last few papers you have delivered.

  • How would you rate them?
  • What could you do to lift them up a level so they deliver more value?

I hope that helps. Have a great week.

Warm regards,
Davina

 

Podcast Series: From Idea to Impact

Episode 1 – Avoiding common communication traps
Episode 2 – Communicating insight vs information
Episode 3 – Delivering communication is the easy part
Episode 4 – The value of thinking top down
Episode 5 – How to get the information you need to deliver powerful communication
Episode 6 – How to collaborate for greater clarity and productivity

Please do tell your friends and colleagues about them too.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

How to discuss risks with decision makers?

How to discuss risks with decision makers?

When talking about the risks in a recent Board paper with two SLT members, one of them said something very interesting.

The risks section SHOULD make us feel uncomfortable.

The CTO's view was that if we highlight the things that are keeping us up at night and can demonstrate how well we have thought them through they will trust us more.

I found this interesting as I at times see risks being discussed in a ‘tick a box' fashion or alternatively being played down to reduce political rather than practical risk.

Given his view was so clear and strong vs what I so often see, I wanted to unpack his reasoning to help you too …

If we do share what keeps us up at night three things will happen. We

  • can be confident that the leadership will trust us
  • will enjoy a much more robust discussion that leads to a better outcome for the business
  • might just sleep better

If, alternatively, we are ‘gilding the lily' by only discussing the positives, leaders won’t trust us – and neither they should.

In his words: if we play it safe we would let both them and ourselves down as it demonstrates that we

  • haven't thought our proposition through deeply enough to be taken seriously
  • aren't ready to handle the inevitable risks we will face in delivering on our commitments
  • lack the courage to lead

This was food for thought to me and will push me to focus more intently on how risks are articulated in communication I help my clients prepare.

What about you?

How openly do you discuss the risks as you see them when lying awake at night?

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Transitioning Board Papers onto tablets is trickier than it seems

Transitioning Board Papers onto tablets is trickier than it seems

Many companies are moving away from physical paper for board papers in favour of tablets.

Directors seem generally grateful not to take phone-book sized packs away for their weekend reading and all would agree that less paper is usually better. However, transitioning to tablets is more complex than it seems.

Today's ‘Tips & techniques for board writing on iPads & tablets' session presented by Mary Morel of Write to Govern and hosted by the Governance Institute of Australia highlighted that point.

In coming away from that session, I realised that coming to grips with the technology is not as easy as it seems, macro structure matters most of all, visual presentation matters more than in the past and micro issues matter more than you might think. Here is some more on each of these points:

Coming to grips with the technology is not as easy as it seems

  • Directors often use different devices for different boards to accommodate each company's policy and platform, which adds unexpected complexity as they come to terms with each different technology as well as the content of the papers.
  • Page flipping is harder on a tablet than with actual paper. Consider inserting your charts and graphs within the body of your text rather than asking Directors to scroll to the back of the document to find the chart and scroll back to the place where they were mentioned in the text.

Macro structure matters most of all

  • Conveying the essence of your message crisply and near the front of the paper is the most critical ingredient of a good paper, otherwise Directors may misconstrue your purpose and meaning from the outset
  • Adopt a consistent structure across all of your board papers, and avoid having different templates for recommendations, noting papers, etc. This makes it easier for Directors to work their way through all of the papers for your organisation and easier for the writers also.

Visual presentation of information matters even more than in the past

  • Using photocopiers to scan the papers into PDF form can lead to ugly documents that are difficult to read. Instead, use a PDF writer to create your papers and then open your papers on the right sort of tablet to check their readability.
  • Many Directors find that rotating tablets mid-way to read diagrams is disruptive, and ask for a consistent orientation (either portrait or landscape) throughout the paper and appendices.

Micro matters more than you might think

  • Small things like grammatical correctness can be distracting for those reading the papers and present a poor image of the writer. Mary has written some excellent material on this point .
  • Active language (‘She wrote the letter' versus ‘the letter was written by her') is generally better to read. However some companies still require people to write in the third person, e.g., Management wrote the letter, which makes active voice harder to use.

Keywords – #board papers #deliver your communication #board communication

 

Board Directors want thinking skills first, coding skills second (or third)

I came across a terrific article in the Australian Financial Review today that quotes two of Australia's most prominent board directors, Catherine Livingstone and David Gonski.

They had a thing or two to say at a recent education conference, which I thought might interest you too.

They suggested that rather than teaching our young people to code, we first need to teach them to think.

I drew three core ideas from the article:

  1. Both have been heavily influenced by school teachers who encouraged them to never accept mediocrity, and to keep trying, even when their results were very good.
  2. Both also advocate ‘less as more' in education. Less filling students' heads with as much knowledge as possible, and more focus on leaving space to open minds such that students are taught to think logically and analytically.
  3. Both had something useful for those of us who communicate to senior business audiences, such as boards.

Livingstone said: “I get quite taken aback sometimes when I see something written or proposed, on the lack of logic in developing an argument.”

Gonski added: “We have to have a broadness and openness … knowledge is important but the analysis of knowledge has to be taught.”

So, while a lot of attention is paid to polishing the delivery of our communication, it seems to me Australia's top decision makers are crying out for a clear and logical argument.

To learn to learn how to communicate complex ideas in a way that resonates with senior leaders, check out the Clarity First Program. It's our speciality.

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Boards at risk of missing material issues thanks to poorly written papers

Boards at risk of missing material issues thanks to poorly written papers

I went to a terrific lunch today hosted by Let's Connect Women, where two senior directors shared valuable insights about life as a Board Director.

Toward the end of the conversation someone asked how executives can help Board Members and the conversation rapidly turned toward board papers.

It was fabulous to hear what they do and don't like, but particularly how they see poorly crafted board papers potentially putting them at risk.

Here is a snapshot of their comments organised according to what they do – and don't like – about board papers.

They DO like:

Encouragingly, Ann Sherry (Boards include Carnival Australia, ING, NAB, Palladium, Sydney Airport, Australian Rugby Union), commented that it is possible to summarise the key points from a 1,000 page report on a single page.

Both she and Patrick Allaway (Boards include David Jones, Fairfax Domain, Woolworths South Africa, Metcash), agreed that this was not only possible but also desirable and that they would like the purpose and key message up front in their papers rather than having to dig for it.

However, there was much more discussion about what they don't like.

They DON'T like:

  1. Being exposed to the risk of missing material issues because they can't untangle the papers to find them. This was a real concern and one we can relate to in many of the papers we see.
  2. Getting a brain dump of the month's activities. This suggests that not much thought has gone into the papers and raises the question about management's decision making processes, not just their writing abilities.
  3. Having to spend all weekend sifting through the papers to identify the core message buried ‘somewhere on page 25'. They would much prefer it to be spelt out up front and supported by the rest of the paper or pack.
  4. Listening to business leaders read through page after page of 40-page PowerPoint decks. They would much prefer the highlights only, given they have read the details before the meeting, and spend the time in a detailed discussion about the issues the paper raises
  5. Forcing themselves to stay awake as someone provides them with every detail they know about an issue. The word coma was used …

I thought you might like to hear it from the horse's mouth.

Keywords: board papers, leadership communication, design your strategy, understand your audience