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.

Interview – Building A Winning Career

Interview – Building A Winning Career

Well, Bill certainly did not disappoint in this morning's interview!

Bill shared career insights that are hugely relevant to all of us, no matter where we are in our careers.

He gave me a new idea for addressing current challenge and judging by the chat messaging others found the same.

I encourage you to take the time to watch the recording below and to consider working with him further. There are three ways to do this:

#1 – Grab a copy of his new book Building a Winning Career, which launched today. He is offering the Kindle version for about $10 for the coming two weeks to make it affordable to everyone, as well as physical copies which Australians can order directly from him, or those overseas can access via online book stores.

#2 – Learn more from him in our two coming Clarity First sessions. The first will be a book discussion and the second a working session to help those present. Clarity First registration is open until 9 December to allow you to join early for the February program.

#3 – Receive a free copy of Bill's book if you are one of the first 10 people to join Clarity First this week.

>> Register 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.

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.

A BIG week indeed …

A BIG week indeed …

You know your stuff.

You have been working on it for a long time.

You have been promoted.

But now you need to deal with more senior stakeholders and nobody seems to be able to articulate what they need from you.

And, in looking at your predecessor's communication you can tell it's not how you want to communicate.

But … how do you communicate to your new leaders?

So, what if you could go from here to:

  • Nailing two major approvals in one week (involving millions in funding)
  • Getting fast and consistent ‘yesses' from leaders
  • Being awarded for overall excellence in your role

But, enough from me. 

Cerise should tell her own story.

First, the email then the short video.

 

Learn how Cerise achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

HEAR FROM PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This post was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas since joining McKinsey as a communication specialist 20+ years ago. 

She helps experts clarify their thinking so they can prepare powerful and strategic communication in any format. It might mean preparing for a difficult meeting, getting ready for a project steering committee, putting forward a business case or writing a board paper.

She bases her approach on The Minto Pyramid PrincipleⓇ combined with other powerful techniques to help experts of all kinds globally strengthen their communication skills.

 

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

I was stunned at the shift in my perspective after filling in ‘Steve's Strategy Hack' spreadsheet for just a day and how this has continued over the past week.

Click here to read the first post in this series if you have not yet already done so.

So much so that I called him and talked about the first thing I noticed: Most of my time is spent on number ones.

In a way that is good: I am not wasting time. I am mainly working on the things that are both urgent AND important.

At least there are not many number threes or fours that according to the Eisenhower Matrix I mentioned, should be delegated or eliminated.

Interestingly, most of the number threes emerged as I realised I was doing work that others should be doing, and so should definitely be delegated. See my first few days' records here.

Now my challenge is to shift the dynamic and free up time so I can think strategically. 

My sense is that by being more focused on the number twos – important but not so urgent tasks – I will be more motivated to fit more number twos into my week. 

To achieve that, I turn to Michael Hyatt's Freedom Compass, which I have found to be golden.  

The basic premise is that we all need to balance our proficiency and our passion to find and focus on our ‘true north' if we are to add maximum value.

The idea is that we prioritise our time so we spend more time in what Michael calls our Desire Zone. Here are four steps to help achieve this:

Step 1 – Delegate, automate and eliminate anything that belongs in our Drudgery Zone. These are low level repetitive tasks that can be done by someone else or which add less value than we should be delivering in our role.​​​​
 

Since starting this exercise, I have realised these categories fit into two groups: easy things and hard things. 

Things that are easy to delegate, which are tasks that someone else in my team is equiped to do both in terms of time available and skills as well as their view of their responsibilities.

In our business, this might include technical problems which I pass to Sheena to solve. She built a lot of our systems and is perfectly positioned to find quick fixes or take the time to investigate more deeply if needed. For the repetitive tasks I ask her to address, she then automates them either with technology or by writing a procedure for our colleague Fatima to process.

Things that are harder to delegate, which are things that involve asking someone else to do something they either do not know how to do or do not want to do. 

One of these jumped out at me this week as I was filling in Steve's Strategy Hacking Spreadsheet. In reviewing a draft document a colleague had written, I came unstuck. I reworked it completely when I should not have done so. The author had ‘flicked it to me quickly' and assumed (rightly this time!) that they could effectively delegate upwards and I would fix it.

After reworking it, however, I realised that this was not a good use of my time and I should have instead identified key opportunities for improvement (which I could do within minutes of opening) and asked for them to rework it. This would have been a better learning experience for them and also given me half an hour back as well as reduced my frustration.

Step 2 – Dealing with the things that are in our Disinterest Zone​​ is harder, but just as essential. These are tasks that we may be good at but which frankly bore us. Having a large number of tasks in this zone is a red flag if they can't be automated or passed on to someone else.
 

This is one area I can get better at. It is just too easy to keep doing admin or other simple tasks which although not value adding are satisfying to the extent that they lead to ‘things being ticked off a list'. 

Step 3 – Face up to items that fall in our Distraction Zone. These are items that we like to do​​, that may be easy for us, but which are beneath us. For example, I make for a very expensive web designer, yet this is one of my hobbies. I love tinkering around and employing some of my design skills on our sites. This is the kind of thing that should not appear too often in my ‘strategy hacker' spreadsheet though, if I am to add real value. 

Going through this diagnostic audit has spurred me to action. I just posted a job ad to get someone to help me with some of my marketing activities.

Step 4 – Fire up the things that fall in our Desire Zone. This is where work becomes fun. The more we spend time here, the more value we will add. This is where our passion and proficiency intersect and we can optimise the value we add.​​  The more time we can spend in our Desire Zone the more we will thrive as individuals and as professionals.

For me, this is now about stretching two areas: leadership and marketing. I enjoy getting better at both and can deliver significantly more impact to my business if I excel in both these areas. 

Step 5 – Identify what falls into my Development Zone so I can optimise what I can deliver upon, particularly within the Desire Zone. For me this will be a mix of learning how to create more space in my schedule for things that add more value and also how to do the things that might fill that newfound space.

Given my own observations from tracking my activities over the past week, I will focus on getting better at delegating more. The challenge will be to work out what I can delegate to who as well as how to do it successfully.

This will, I hope, give me greater focus as I double down on creating the best possible online learning program and how to market it. 

Clarifying this goal is​ is already building pressure that is motivating me to not imprison myself in a frenetic day of number ones, but rather create fortresses for number twos.

It also makes me realise how essential it is to go beyond the platitudes. The idea of diagnosing, decluttering and prioritising sounds pretty easy.  

it done will require some practical tactics such as the ones shared with me by Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant recently. I will share them with you next week too.

 In next week's post I will share ideas about ‘fortresses' and ‘prisons' which were just two of the terrific concepts Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant shared with me when we spoke recently.

Keep your eyes peeled for next week's interview.
 

PS If you enjoyed reading about the Freedom Compass, you might also enjoy Michael Hyatt's excellent book on the topic, Free to Focus. He is one of the people who has inspired me to ‘close the doors on Clarity First' so they are only open three times a year. This will, I think provide both me and my program participants with greater focus as we work to strengthen their communication skills.
  

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

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.

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

I loved catching up with a Clarity First alum this week for at least two reasons:

#1 – I love hearing how a story we have worked on together lands, and 
#2 – I also love it when they can teach me something practical that they have made work for themselves which will also help someone else

Steve rang me to tell me that a major strategy I had helped him develop a couple of years ago has now come to fruition. He got pretty much everything he had aimed for at the start.

We were both delighted.

Given I know him well, I also took advantage of the conversation to ask some questions that I thought he was well placed to answer.

He is not only head of the highly successful Australian arm of a global business, he has a family, works pretty regular hours and ‘knocks off' early on a Wednesday to go sailing.

He has plenty to offer many of my clients, especially 
a project manager from a technology company, who said this week: 

I feel like I am running soooo fast just to deliver – how do I find time to be strategic as well?

So, how did he transition from being an engineer to becoming a strategic leader who takes nights and weekends off as well as going sailing most Wednesday afternoons?

Steve offered some practical hacks for those of us who want to deliver at a more strategic level while not working 24/7.

He said some of the best advice he was given as he moved into leadership was to take control of his time. 

So, I have taken his advice and plan to hack my own schedule over the coming weeks to see if I can gain the same sorts of results.

At the moment, getting to yoga on a Wednesday morning would be a sign of success. I have cancelled the last three weeks running.

Let's work out if we can ‘hack our way' to becoming more strategic and get to some fun things outside of work at the same time.


Here is the roadmap for Steve's Hacks. I'll focus one one of these each week for the coming three weeks as I also work to optimise my own schedule and corresponding impact:

  1. Diagnose and declutter: Work out what I AM spending my time now and iteratively respond to my observations by getting rid of the less value adding stuff. By lunch time on day 1 I was stunned at the impact of recording and scoring my time. 
  2. Prioritise: Work out what to do with the “number two's” … I will explain next week
  3. ​​​​​​​​​Optimise: Decide how to make the most of my time so I optimise my potential and the value I deliver while having room for things I enjoy in my life.  

Let's get started.

Step 1 – Diagnose and declutter

So, this coming week, I will focus on ​diagnosing what I am doing now and start to declutter my activities. Here is how Steve suggested I do it:

  1. Read up on the Eisenhower Matrix (see below) 
  2. Record what I am doing as if I were a consultant keeping a super simple timesheet (download my version here)
  3. Score each activity against the Eisenhower urgent / important Matrix​
  4. Tally at the end of each week to see my daily and weekly averages

When interviewing Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant about ideas to help clients become more strategic, he also offered another simple idea. He recommends using a tool called RescueTime to monitor my activity. 

​​It will check how I spend my time when at my computer, eg how much time on email, websites, Word / PowerPoint, etc. It has a 14-day free trial, so I have signed up to see if that gives me some useful information too.​​

So far as day one goes: it's cool. I am looking forward to shining some light on what tools I am using more and less of.

I'd love to hear how this helps you and will come back not only with Richard's interview but more thoughts over the coming weeks. Feel free to email me and share your experiences.
​​
Talk soon,
Davina


PS If you don't normally receive my emails and want to keep up with the series, subscribe below.

 

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.

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic

I am usually not a fan of completing audits.

Keeping records of minutiae has never been my strength.

But, wow.

Even though I have by no means kept a perfect record of what I have been up to over the past couple of weeks, the insights have been powerful.

They have certainly helped me get out of the weeds so I can become clearer about ways – to quote today's interview guest – multiply my impact.

Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant specialises in helping successful people do just that.

He offers a number of terrific ideas including how to:

  • Harness your curiosity to increase your influence
  • Lead strategically when there is already too much to do
  • Use a concept called prisons and fortresses to make sure you get to the things that really matter

We hope you enjoy this half-hour interview and the free resources he has for you at https://xquadrant.com/clarityfirst/ and check out his new podcast ‘Impact Multiplier CEO' wherever you normally listen to them.

  

To view a transcript of this discussion, please >> click 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.

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 3

I am usually not a fan of completing audits.

Keeping records of minutiae has never been my strength.

But, wow.

Even though I have by no means kept a perfect record of what I have been up to over the past couple of weeks, the insights have been powerful.

They have certainly helped me get out of the weeds so I can become clearer about ways – to quote today's interview guest – multiply my impact.

Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant specialises in helping successful people magnify their impact.

He offers a number of terrific ideas including how to:

  • Harness your curiousity to increase your influence
  • Lead strategically when there is already too much to do
  • Use a concept called prisons and fortresses to make sure you get to the things that really matter

And plenty more too.

>> Click here to access the interview as well as some other practical takeaways, including a checklist to help you lead strategically when there is already too much to do.

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.

Hacks for becoming more strategic

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 2

I was stunned at the shift in my perspective after filling in ‘Steve's Strategy Hack' spreadsheet for just a day and how this has continued over the past week.

Click here to read the first post in this series if you have not yet already done so.

So much so that I called him and talked about the first thing I noticed: Most of my time is spent on number ones.

In a way that is good: I am not wasting time. I am mainly working on the things that are both urgent AND important.

At least there are not many number threes or fours that according to the Eisenhower Matrix I mentioned, should be delegated or eliminated.

Interestingly, most of the number threes emerged as I realised I was doing work that others should be doing, and so should definitely be delegated. See my first few days' records here.

Now my challenge is to shift the dynamic and free up time so I can think strategically. 

My sense is that by being more focused on the number twos – important but not so urgent tasks – I will be more motivated to fit more number twos into my week. 

To achieve that, I turn to Michael Hyatt's Freedom Compass, which I have found to be golden.  

The basic premise is that we all need to balance our proficiency and our passion to find and focus on our ‘true north' if we are to add maximum value.

The idea is that we prioritise our time so we spend more time in what Michael calls our Desire Zone. Here are four steps to help achieve this:

Step 1 – Delegate, automate and eliminate anything that belongs in our Drudgery Zone. These are low level repetitive tasks that can be done by someone else or which add less value than we should be delivering in our role.​​​​
 

Since starting this exercise, I have realised these categories fit into two groups: easy things and hard things. 

Things that are easy to delegate, which are tasks that someone else in my team is equiped to do both in terms of time available and skills as well as their view of their responsibilities.

In our business, this might include technical problems which I pass to Sheena to solve. She built a lot of our systems and is perfectly positioned to find quick fixes or take the time to investigate more deeply if needed. For the repetitive tasks I ask her to address, she then automates them either with technology or by writing a procedure for our colleague Fatima to process.

Things that are harder to delegate, which are things that involve asking someone else to do something they either do not know how to do or do not want to do. 

One of these jumped out at me this week as I was filling in Steve's Strategy Hacking Spreadsheet. In reviewing a draft document a colleague had written, I came unstuck. I reworked it completely when I should not have done so. The author had ‘flicked it to me quickly' and assumed (rightly this time!) that they could effectively delegate upwards and I would fix it.

After reworking it, however, I realised that this was not a good use of my time and I should have instead identified key opportunities for improvement (which I could do within minutes of opening) and asked for them to rework it. This would have been a better learning experience for them and also given me half an hour back as well as reduced my frustration.

Step 2 – Dealing with the things that are in our Disinterest Zone​​ is harder, but just as essential. These are tasks that we may be good at but which frankly bore us. Having a large number of tasks in this zone is a red flag if they can't be automated or passed on to someone else.
 

This is one area I can get better at. It is just too easy to keep doing admin or other simple tasks which although not value adding are satisfying to the extent that they lead to ‘things being ticked off a list'. 

Step 3 – Face up to items that fall in our Distraction Zone. These are items that we like to do​​, that may be easy for us, but which are beneath us. For example, I make for a very expensive web designer, yet this is one of my hobbies. I love tinkering around and employing some of my design skills on our sites. This is the kind of thing that should not appear too often in my ‘strategy hacker' spreadsheet though, if I am to add real value. 

Going through this diagnostic audit has spurred me to action. I just posted a job ad to get someone to help me with some of my marketing activities.

Step 4 – Fire up the things that fall in our Desire Zone. This is where work becomes fun. The more we spend time here, the more value we will add. This is where our passion and proficiency intersect and we can optimise the value we add.​​  The more time we can spend in our Desire Zone the more we will thrive as individuals and as professionals.

For me, this is now about stretching two areas: leadership and marketing. I enjoy getting better at both and can deliver significantly more impact to my business if I excel in both these areas. 

Step 5 – Identify what falls into my Development Zone so I can optimise what I can deliver upon, particularly within the Desire Zone. For me this will be a mix of learning how to create more space in my schedule for things that add more value and also how to do the things that might fill that newfound space.

Given my own observations from tracking my activities over the past week, I will focus on getting better at delegating more. The challenge will be to work out what I can delegate to who as well as how to do it successfully.

This will, I hope, give me greater focus as I double down on creating the best possible online learning program and how to market it. 

Clarifying this goal is​ is already building pressure that is motivating me to not imprison myself in a frenetic day of number ones, but rather create fortresses for number twos.

It also makes me realise how essential it is to go beyond the platitudes. The idea of diagnosing, decluttering and prioritising sounds pretty easy.  

it done will require some practical tactics such as the ones shared with me by Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant recently. I will share them with you next week too.

 In next week's post I will share ideas about ‘fortresses' and ‘prisons' which were just two of the terrific concepts Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant shared with me when we spoke recently.

Keep your eyes peeled for next week's interview.
 

PS If you enjoyed reading about the Freedom Compass, you might also enjoy Michael Hyatt's excellent book on the topic, Free to Focus. He is one of the people who has inspired me to ‘close the doors on Clarity First' so they are only open three times a year. This will, I think provide both me and my program participants with greater focus as we work to strengthen their communication skills.
  

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

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 ideas to make structured thinking stick

4 ideas to make structured thinking stick

Structured thinking techniques are powerful for those who need clarity in their problem solving and cut through in their communication.

Getting the most from these techniques requires a bit of discipline, though, as well as a simple strategy..

Here are four elements of such a strategy that we recommend:

  1. Start small, aim big
  2. Tackle the techniques from the top down
  3. Use one-pagers early to boost productivity
  4. Avoid getting sloppy with your logic.

Read on for ways to put these ideas into practice.

Start small, aim big

It is hugely tempting when presented with a new technique to try to swallow it whole. The productivity and work quality benefits that structured thinking offer are deliciously substantial and new and beneficial ideas are exciting: their newness being in itself motivating. Once you have seen someone do something well, you want to do that yourself. However, we don't want you to fall at the first hurdle.

Some people are overwhelmed by the volume of things to know, which makes it too hard to get started, others try to implement all of the techniques at once and find that the extra time commitment is too great, while yet more hold back on trying the techniques until they have a substantial piece of work, by which time they have forgotten key concepts.

We encourage you to start with some small short-term goals and a commitment to sticking with them to reach your long-term ambitions. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  • Set aside 30 minutes each week to focus on getting better at using these techniques: Intriguingly, 4pm on Monday works for a lot of people.
  • Focus every small piece of communication you prepare on the audience's concerns, not yours.
  • Make sure every email has a CTQ followed by one single answer, or governing idea.

Tackle the techniques from the top down

Significant benefits come from seemingly simple things, in this case identifying and solving the right problem. Using the context, trigger, question approach as well as our killer alignment questions will help you nail the problem you are solving, which makes it significantly easier to solve. Consequently, we encourage you to focus on this first, and learn how to master issue trees, workplans and storylines later.

Use one-pagers early to boost productivity

Everybody hates unnecessary rework. It is demoralising, frustratingly unproductive and slows down decision making. It is not uncommon in large corporates for teams to rework large documents 10 – 12 times before a management team will sign them off. We have occasionally heard of teams reworking documents more than 50 times before a decision is made.

However, introducing some simple disciplines around one-pagers can radically reduce this frustration. We have found that teams deliver higher value insights and work more productively if they involve decision makers early in their process by

  • Asking for feedback on problems mapped as issue trees, before investing in solving it, rather than afterwards when they realise they are focusing on the wrong problem.
  • Discussing a one-page storyline rather than a fully prepared document, where they struggle to see the big picture and are distracted by style and details.

Don't get sloppy with your logic (if you want to consistently deliver high order insights)

Structured thinking helps you not just clarify your thinking, but distil higher order insights from your data. However, it will not do this if you let go of the rules that underpin smart thinking. So, we encourage you to hold yourself to account in using our checklists and other tools to ensure you do not get sloppy with your logic (and your results). I am sure you saw what I did there logically?

If you would like to learn more about our approach, you might enjoy reading our new book, The So What Strategy. You can get a preview chapter here to see if it is for you. You could also look at my free course, 4 Tips to help your complex ideas cut through.

Let us know if you would like to keep in the loop as we prepare more tools to help you make structured thinking stick by clicking the orange ‘let us know' link or emailing us at contact@clarityfirstprogram.com.

Keywords: leadership, leadership communication

 

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.

Do you scribble on books?

Do you scribble on books?

 

Do you scribble on books? 

When I went to school this was considered to be very bad form but as an adult I find it essential. 

Taking notes in the margins of books I want to learn from: underlining key phrases, turning over corners and generally making a mess of a book is a sign that I am loving it. 

I have even learned that there is a term for this kind of scribbling: ‘marginalia'

I have also learned that this kind of messy and manual note taking is essential for learning new things in all places, not just from books.

Research I read this week suggested that learning and mastering new concepts by taking long-form notes is a far superior way to learn. 

I thought you might be interested to know why.

The very fact that we cannot (usually) transcribe by hand what someone says to us in a lecture or a video means that we have to process the ideas between when they enter our ears and exit on our pen.

We have to sort, prioritise and synthesise the information while getting it down which has a statistically significant impact on our deep grasp of the concepts being introduced.

We end up writing down far fewer words than if we were typing but having far greater impact on our learning.

And if we want to absolutely master these concepts, we should convert the marginalia into a summary of notes in a journal. The act of summarising and re-recording will help us engage more deeply with the content, react and potentially create valuable new ideas for us.

Another piece of research even goes a step further to suggest that when reading books that teach us concepts (not just facts) we should read paper copies, not electronic.

So, there you have it. Going old-school matters when learning something new.

And if you come to one of my workshops, don't be surprised if I ask you to close your laptop 😉

 

 

Keywords: leadership communication, leadership skills, learning and development

 

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.

Do facts change minds?

Do facts change minds?

Changing other peoples' minds is central to having influence in business, however in his new book Atomic Habits James Clear offers some new insight into this vexing challenge.

He starts by referring to two notable minds which point in the same direction:

J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”

So true.

Leo Tolstoy who was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” I hunch women behave similarly!

So, if that is also true, how do we get any kind of progress in business?

We must frequently persuade people to change how they think about things and, even harder, get them to change their behaviour.

Here are six suggestions from James's new book to help in that regard:

Understand why we hold our tongues when we know something is not true. He claims we don't always believe things because they are correct, but rather because they make us look good to people we care about it. This speaks to the power of the reward we all get from belonging to a tribe.

Focus on friendship first, and facts second. Given this tribal nature, he suggests that people will hold onto false beliefs long and hard if that means they can sustain their membership of a group that matters to them. So, finding a way to engage people in a new idea, a new process or a new behaviour is best achieved when you have already built a relationship and when you can frame it in such a way that adds to rather than contradicts the beliefs of the community that people belong to.

Find areas of agreement and build on those. If someone you know, like and trust believes a radical idea you are more likely to give it merit. After all, if you like them already, there is a greater chance of liking their ideas. So, use this to your advantage. Find your . friends who also have strong relationships with the people who disagree with you, and engage them in your ideas first.

Where disagreement is likely, find a way to introduce the ideas without confrontation. Interestingly, James suggests providing people with something to read – he suggests a book, but in a business context a report or paper might do – rather than going first for a conversation. This provides people with an opportunity to absorb and reflect on the ideas in private so they can incorporate the information into their own view before having a potentially courageous conversation from scratch. In sum, warm them up gently.

Avoid giving people opportunities to complain about things they don't like. This gives them an opportunity to talk about – and reinforce – their dislike for an idea, giving it more airtime than it deserves. James calls this Clear's Law of Recurrence: the more often something gets mentioned (even in a negative way) the more it is embedded into the psyche of the speaker and the listener. After all, how much air time does Donald Trump get? Instead, spend your time championing good ideas so they get the airtime they deserve and the others fade away from lack of oxygen.

Be kind first and right later. Here he quotes the brilliant Japanese writer Haruki Murakami who once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” Enough said.

Click here to read the full article. And, no, I don't get anything from James Clear for blogging about his article. I just like what he says and thought you might too.

Keywords: design your strategy, leadership communication, learning and development

 

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

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

Can business communication be thought of as a science?

Can business communication be thought of as a science?

Many people think that fantastic communicators have unnatural gifts, an innate mastery of a dark art that is so hard to master that it must be with them from birth. You know who I mean, those who command a room or craft stunning prose that transports us to another place.

In contrast, those with technical backgrounds are often told from a young age that they are no good at communication: they would be better off if they stuck to the sciences.

But, what if that were not entirely true?

It may surprise you that your analytical skills can be an advantage when preparing powerful business communication. Here are three ideas to help you make the most of your analytical brain when communicating:

  1. Think long and hard about your purpose and your audience before doing anything else
  2. Use your critical thinking skills to clarify your proposition
  3. Structure your story using a pattern

Let me explain more about each of these three here.

Think long and hard about your purpose and your audience before doing anything else

Before you put pen to paper, invest more than you normally do in understanding your audience. Think about who they are – think through who will make a decision, who will influence that decision and who else you need to consider. Also think about what keeps them up at night about your topic. How much do they know already and how much do they care about it? If you don’t know, find out.

The next step is to think equally deeply about your purpose and phrase it by finishing this sentence: As a result of this specific piece of communication, I want my audience to know think or do …. What?

As a CEO of a mid-sized manufacturing company (who originally trained as an engineer) said this week: “I spent more time thinking about where my audience was at than I have ever done before to make sure my presentation started at the right place for them, rather than just for me.

“In the actual meeting itself, we then spent about one hour out of three confirming we agreed on the starting point for the discussion. This meant that the rest of the time together was hugely productive and we were able to walk everyone through our presentation really easily and got the decisions that we needed to move forward.”

Use your critical thinking skills to clarify your proposition

Working bottom up to test that your proposition is valid is critical if you want to be confident that your proposition stacks up. Here are five steps to help you do that:

  1. Brainstorm your ideas onto a whiteboard
  2. Categorise them into groups, carefully assessing whether ideas really do belong together or not
  3. Look at each group and ask yourself: What do you want to tell your audience about this set of ideas?
  4. Articulate the highest-level message that emerges from that category in a single sentence
  5. Rinse and repeat as you go up the hierarchy until you get to the one, overarching thought – the ‘so what’ – and build your communication to convey and support that one, single idea.

Structure your story using a pattern

It may shock you to learn that there are a small number of commonly used patterns for effective business communication.

In spending a combined five plus decades between us (this too is shocking, we know!) helping consultants and other professionals clarify their thinking so they can communicate clearly, we have distilled what we think are the top seven patterns for day-to-day business communication. Here they are:

  1. Action Jackson for action plans
  2. Close the Gap for improvement recommendations
  3. Houston, We Have a Problem for explaining how to solve problems
  4. The Pitch for pitches and proposals
  5. To B or Not to B for explaining which option is best
  6. Traffic Light for updates
  7. Watch Out to counter emerging risks

You may be pleased to know that although there is plenty of room for artistry in using these patterns, it is not essential. Synthesis plus logic will lead to great clarity and great impact on their own.

Click here to download a chapter of our book describing the Action Jackson storyline pattern.

Keywords: critical thinking, leadership communication, pyramid principle, the so what strategy

 

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.

Three ways to help your teams communicate better today

Three ways to help your teams communicate better today

So, we’ve all been there, you write a paper for review and it goes through numerous rounds of edits and then comes back to you two days later riddled with track changes, comments and questions, often added by those who didn’t understand the purpose of the paper in the first place.

In our business we call this ‘the chain of pain’. As communications consultants, we’re the silent advisors who are tasked to eradicate verbal diarrhoea emails, death by PowerPoint and the chain of pain.

So as HR Managers how do we save our teams wasting thousands of hours of productive time going back and forth, having to re-explain ideas and spending too long just trying to get the point across?

We believe anyone can become a more effective communicator and we’ve worked with enough professionals over the decades to see that everyone needs ‘communication’ as a core competency. In fact, legal and other technical experts can often be the worst offenders especially when needing to explain complex and technical issues and solutions.

So where to start, here are our top three ways we work with teams from the get-go to help them tune up their communications skills.

Ask the right question
Working with a group of mid-level managers recently we asked workshop participants to divide into groups and plan a piece of communication they were developing in their business. About half an hour in, we heard one group have a ‘Eureka!’ moment.

In mapping their plan on a whiteboard, they had realised they had not been able to get management to buy into a recommendation for the past three months because they had not just been answering the wrong question in their papers but they had been trying to solve the wrong problem.

Use ‘storylines’
A business storyline* is a simple map of ideas arranged into a logical order and hierarchy. It can be used to make a complex business case or structure a simple email, for a presentation or a speech, for a meeting or a workshop, and you can use different storylines to use in different circumstances.

Storyline patterns are ‘the secret’ to structuring your ideas so you can succinctly convey your key points, enabling quicker decisions and better business outcomes.

We worked with a Head of Tax at a major Australian law firm who said that he would previously prepare 50-plus pages of advice, but now he can get a much clearer message across to his clients in five or six pages. The advice is the same, it is just much easier for the client to grasp it. The challenge, of course, is that this approach does make something that is very complex look deceptively simple.

Make it simple, not simpler
Often when we want to come across like we know something, appear confident and show leadership we can waffle, over-explain or fill in silences with a muddled train of thought or lots of over complicated technical jargon to sound impressive.

Coming back to what question your audience want answered, by truly understanding your audience and by spending a short amount of time structuring your communication your leaders and teams will reap the rewards.

By showing clear, concise and well thought out solutions to problems your teams will win more customers, leverage increased senior-buy in and stop haemorrhaging their productive work hours labouring over track changes.

Keywords: leadership communication, leadership skills

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.