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.



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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.

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

Twice monthly at Clarity First hold live working sessions.

Participants join these to collaborate on real, live communication challenges.

This week's session was a ‘monster' which required advanced structuring and synthesis techniques to solve.

The challenges we faced reminded me why a ‘tip or a trick' won't help when faced with complex communication challenges. ‘Cracking' this one required at least five key ingredients:

  1. Familiarity with the business context and the project in question. We clarified this by brainstorming and asking questions
  2. A solid understanding of the stakeholder environment. We unpacked this using our 5 key ‘understand your audience' questions
  3. An agreed way to capture and structure our ideas in the shortest possible time, which focused around our storyline structures
  4. A powerful ability to synthesise a message out of complexity, which relied on our top down and bottom up thinking strategies
  5. Advanced understanding of how to ‘flip' storyline patterns and test them against first principles. We used these to draft an accurate and persuasive change request.


Do you also find it challenging to ‘wrestle' complex ideas into clear, high-quality communication?

If so, it's time to join Clarity First.

Doors open on 11 September and will close at 9pm AEST on 21 September.

Learn more about the program here or go straight here to register for your desired pathway.

  • Intensive – limited to 20 extra places (10 already taken)
  • Classic – learn at your own pace, unlimited places  
  • Foundation – get extra 1-1 help from me, 2 places only 


I hope to see you in the program.

Davina

Clarity First Registrations Now Open!


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

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.

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

It’s tempting to think that preparing papers and PowerPoints is a low-level skill mastered early in your career.

And in part that is true.

If you are a mid-level executive, you most likely have had some success in explaining how your project is progressing and seeking approval for more resources.

You will likely have improved on the examples your predecessor used to get there. You will also have added a few tips and tricks from the business writing and presentation skills training programs you have completed.

You may have engaged Board members in big decisions too.

But perhaps something is still niggling you?

You can see that you haven’t quite nailed ‘the magic’. Perhaps you are

  • spending too much time out of hours preparing your communication
  • gaining approvals only after answering endless (obvious?) questions from stakeholders
  • being promoted more slowly than you would like?

At Clarity First we are confident that the missing ingredient is the ability to synthesise complex ideas into a single high-quality message.

Here's what that means:

  1. Knowing your audience intimately so you can deliver a message that doesn't just explain what your data says, but what it means to that specific audience
  2. Having a structured and repeatable process to work out what that message is (ie synthesise it)
  3. Crafting a well-structured and engaging narrative that will get you the results you need as quickly as possible

Here's what this does not mean: Learning how to …

  1. Write better prose
  2. Create more beautiful PowerPoints
  3. Feel more confident when you stand in front of a room

These things are a consequence of ‘nailing' your material and your message.

They are not the main game.

I invite you to join my August Thinking Skills Workshop to learn more.

>> Learn more here.

Warm regards,
Davina

PS – While away on sabbatical I caught up with two long-term clients in person. One of them thanked me. He said :

Lots of people say they do what you do. But in my experience, none of them actually deliver on that.

Your process works. I can do it every time and I get the results I need.

I wish I knew about it earlier in my career.
It would have made such a difference.

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.

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

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.

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Are you so close to your work that you lose sight of what it's all really for?

It's interesting to me how I for one forget the obvious.

I move forward forgetting that what is obvious to me is often not obvious to others.

I was again reminded of this today in an advanced workshop with one of my government clients.

We were using a ‘pattern flipping' technique, which involves some fairly sophisticated mental gymnastics.

We play with storyline patterns to create new ones that better frame the story we need to tell.

This is more helpful to this client than most because their stories are huge and incredibly complex.

So, here's the thing.

To make ‘flipping work', I have to see storylines as a thinking machine that helps me work out what my message is. They are not a template to fill in.

To me this is pretty ‘ho hum'.

Of course they are! I use them all day every day.

But to see the light turn on in my clients' eyes around this was magic.

Here's what happened. They did five things …

Stopped being so literal and started to think. They began focusing on how to tweak a pattern so it suited their purpose, rather than taking a quick look at the favourite seven and saying ‘that'll do'.

Began to lean into how a storyline structure can highlight thinking problems. They could find and fix thinking problems by testing the ‘rules' that hold the ideas together.

Went beyond ‘clarity' to deliver ‘insight'. They started drawing out powerful and insightful messages rather than delivering something accurate and on topic but not impactful.

Saw how much faster they went if they started slow. Although storylining can be time consuming and mentally taxing, they saw how much time they saved by slowing down enough to think at the start.

Realised how much more value they could deliver. Less time reworking papers, speaking to people who don't respond to emails or don't ‘get' the message they are conveying. Better clarity of message. Greater quality of insight. Greater velocity of business.

I hope that helps.

Warmly,
Davina

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.

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

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.