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