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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Bonus Hacks …

Bonus Hacks …

I am loving this journey of becoming more intentional about how I spend my time so I can multiply my impact.

The conversations of the past weeks with my client Steve and newfound collaborator Richard Medcalf have been enlightening.

So much so that I wanted to share just a few more practical tips with you that have emerged this week in the hope that they may help you also.

#1 – Auditing my time was far more useful AND fun than just filling in a spreadsheet (thank goodness). Each time I made an entry I became much more conscious of my priorities and ways to spend less time doing what I was doing. Download here if you haven't tried it yet. I can thoroughly recommend the exercise (instructions inside).

#2 – Richard's idea of using prisons and fortresses in freeing up time is golden. I am experimenting with some ways to do this that I thought might help you also, as well as some organisation-wide tactics being employed by some of my clients.

First, my own two experiments:

My prison – Locking away 90 minutes late in the day each Friday to do the admin stuff. No more checking who has paid us first thing every day, working out which invoices to chase or edit, or tidying up loose ends as they decide to loosen themselves. I am finding the reduction in context shifting useful but finding it hard to be disciplined!

My fortress – Saving Thursdays for my ‘flow day'. This means no meetings, coaching sessions or any other interruptions if I can possibly help it. I'll move the day when needed (especially for the rest of this half year as I have existing client bookings I can't move). Next year, however, I'll lock it away universally. So far, the very idea of having a whole day with no meetings feels luxurious, making Thursdays (ie today, when I am writing this post!) feel a bit like a sanctuary.

If you want more information on how these work, listen to my interview with Richard in our free Clarity First Base Program. Register here and you will be taken to the library. Search the word ‘hack' and you'll find the interview in the third post in the series.

He has some really great ideas: it's worth listening.

And to three other interesting ones I have heard of recently:

  • Facebook holds ‘Meeting Free Wednesdays' to enable their people to dive deeply into their work. In working with them over the past couple of years I can confirm they stick to it and find it productive.
  • Endeavour Drinks does this differently. They block out between 1-2 hours early in each day where meetings are banned. Given the fast-paced nature of retail businesses, I can see these smaller chunks which taken together equal about a day of time, working well. Their need to be responsive to customers means locking away a whole day would not work for them.
  • Steve, the client who gave me the ‘strategy hacker' idea, locks away two, two-hour blocks each week to solve problems and work at his whiteboard. He has found that between 10am and mid day on Tuesdays and Thursdays work best for him. This enables him to clear his desk and mind of urgent things first and then ‘grab a cup of tea and a biscuit' before heading to his office to hunker down for a couple of hours.

#3 – Using an electronic time tracking tool is also becoming surprisingly useful. I had not realised how much time I spend emailing for one thing. I am still getting the hang of it, but am finding RescueTime offers me a low-effort yet insightful view on both how I spend my time. It also allows me to tell it how productive I am using each tool I use which gives me a crude measure of productivity too.

#4 – For this to work, I need to get better at delegating. I don't just mean willing to do it, either. I mean knowing how to do it. Some of my efforts here have borne fruit, others need me to be more specific, particularly when working with new team members.

Again Michael Hyatt has come to the rescue with his tips on the subject. He offers four levels of delegation, which you can learn more about here

I hope you have found this useful – do let me know how your own experiments have gone.

Please note, this post contains affiliate links, and as RescueTime 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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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 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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Is Andy Groves right? Is writing more important than reading?

Is Andy Groves right? Is writing more important than reading?

Like many, I have been impressed by the discipline that Jeff Bezos has instilled at Amazon, where important decisions are made after thorough discussion of tightly crafted six-page narratives. Bezos has been quoted as saying that

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.

He rightly points out that PowerPoint leaves room for gaps in our thinking. I would add that prose templates that ask executives to ‘colour in’ the sections rather than constructing a cohesive story are equally problematic.

I was, however, even more intrigued when I read how Andy Grove of Intel considers the exercise of writing ‘more of a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information.’

He went as far as saying that ‘writing the report is important; reading it often is not’.

That is a big statement, but he might be right. The clarity of thought – epiphanies, even – that come from crafting clear and concise communication can be golden.

The challenge, however, is to discern when to write to clarify our own thinking and when to communicate that thinking with others.

Here are three things to consider before you foist your next paper or pack on someone else:

  1. Does this piece of communication put forward a proposition that you can state in one clear sentence? As one company secretary from a large Australian energy retailer said to me this week, there is too much dissemination and not enough communication. The last thing that audiences need is more facts being disseminated without their relevance being articulated.
  2. Does this piece of communication lead toward a specific action or decision? If you are not clear about how your communication will lead you or your team closer to a specific business objective, hold off sharing it. Sharing at this stage will not only clog up other people’s inboxes, it will damage your brand.
  3. Is your communication crafted so clearly that your audience can get to the heart of your proposition within the first 1 minute? It doesn’t matter who you are communicating with, whether you are working in business, government, consulting, education or the not for profit sector. Every person in your audience is in a hurry. If they don’t ‘get’ what you are looking for quickly, they will at best ‘flag it for later’. Later can be a very long time away.

Keywords: critical thinking, 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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Getting to the So What just got easier

Getting to the So What just got easier

This new book introduces seven most commonly used storyline patterns for business communication

How often have you invested significant energy to prepare a piece of communication only to be confronted with this most uncomfortable question from your audience: “So what?”

It’s one of the most uncomfortable questions in business.

Your audience asks because they want to know why the ideas in your presentation should matter to them and to the business, and they want to know in one simple statement. You might have spent hours, days or even weeks preparing, but they want a succinct answer that summarises everything for them in an instant. And you want the earth to open up and swallow you because you don’t know how to answer this question succinctly.

If you don’t answer this question well, all of your work can be for nothing. Early in our careers, we were both on the receiving end of this question and not ready to answer it. Those memories are some of our most crushing, yet also our most instructive.

What’s the solution? To avoid the embarrassment and frustration of not being able to answer that one simple question, you must state the ‘So what’ clearly and unambiguously at the beginning of your communication and then make the case to support it.

But, how do you do that?

Our new book, The So What Strategy, outlines a three-step process to do just that while also offering our favourite seven storylining patterns so you don’t need to start from scratch.

  1. Start thinking before you prepare your communication: During this phase, we encourage you to dig deep so you can articulate your purpose clearly and also be confident that you understand your audience well.
    1. Your purpose should state: As a result of this communication, I want my audience to …. know, think or do something specific …
    2. Your audience should be broken down so that you are clear who the decision-makers, influencers and others are and what specifically interests them about your topic.
  2. Structure your thinking: Here is when we recommend mapping your ideas into a logically organised hierarchy – what we call a storyline – so that you can articulate your main point in just one sentence and back it up logically. There are three things you should know about storylines:
    1. Storylines require you to map out your higher-level ideas so they synthesise or summarise the ideas within each section of your story. Doing this forces you to clarify your own thinking so you can articulate a more powerful case. It also helps you ‘throw out’ ideas that are interesting but not directly relevant to your main point.
    2. Storylines enable your audience to scan your documents quickly to identify key themes. This enables your audience should ‘get the gist’ within 30 seconds of engaging with your communication. It also enables them to find your key points quickly, rather than hunting for them, or assuming they can be found buried somewhere near the end of your communication.
      If you scan this article, for example, you can see that I have organised it around one idea (introducing our three-step process that enables you to answer the ‘So what?’ question) that is supported by a grouping structure, consisting of three actions: start thinking, structure your storyline and share your communication. This is a relatively simple example of what we are talking about.
    3. Storylines don’t need to be built from the ground up every time. Having worked with storylines for more than 20 years each, we have identified the most commonly used patterns. Click here to download a preview chapter.
  3. Share your communication: Once the structure of your thinking is clear, this can be translated directly into any form of communication: phone conversation, email, paper or PowerPoint pack. The key is to make sure that the structure of the thinking drives the communication, not the problem-solving journey you went on or the medium itself.

Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles are founders of Clarity College and Clarity Thought Partners. They are also joint authors of The So What Strategy, released this week. Both trained at McKinsey & Company and serve some of Australia’s most respected organisations.

Keywords: books, leadership communication, online business writing training, the so what

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Getting email feedback ‘just right’ is essential (and easier than you think)

Getting email feedback ‘just right’ is essential (and easier than you think)

It is easy to go to extremes when giving email feedback: either so harsh that your recipient is upset and is either so offended or angry they ignore your suggestions or so soft that they miss the point altogether.

This can be because we are either too cautious about upsetting someone and too aware of the limitations of the medium or because we are in a rush and don't realise the impact we are having.

A short article from Fast Company by Sara Marco of The Muse provides a simple formula for getting the balance right: not too hard but not too soft either: just right.

When providing feedback to your team members as they start to use storylines, Sara Marco's approach will work brilliantly.

It provides an opportunity to highlight what your team member has gotten right, and also what they can improve.

Without this level of consistent feedback, your teams are unlikely to stick with the approach and give you the results you need: less rework for you, more great ideas being approved by those higher up.

And, what I love even more about this article, it is written using a pretty solid grouping structure.

Click here to have a read and see what you think.

 Keywords: emails, 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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Winston Churchill nails it again

Winston Churchill nails it again

A client recently passed through a gem which is just too good not to share. Yet again, Winston Churchill ‘nails it'. Written sixty plus years ago, it's fabulous.

I also love his closing remark: Reports drawn up along the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.

Well said Winston!

Keywords: leadership communication, Winston Churchill

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Why do most training programs fail?

Why do most training programs fail?

Learning new skills is an often pleasurable part of working.

Attending training courses is interesting, low in pressure, often fun and also quite social. Courses provide opportunities to network with others within our own companies or potentially others with similar interests outside our own company.

Unfortunately, precious little usually changes when we return to our desks after a day, or even a week away at a training program.

In fact, research conducted by training guru Robert Brinkerhoff demonstrates that if 90% of your company's efforts are in the delivery of training, 70% of the people will try new skills and fail.

However, if 50% of the effort is in the delivery, and 50% in the follow-up activities, then 85% will sustain the new behaviours.

This is why we developed the Clarity First Program as a month-by-month experience for experienced professionals wanting to turn their communication into a real asset.

We offer instruction and support over a time frame that niches with the participants availability and needs.

Here are a few things that we have seen work lately:

Help us understand the real problem that you need to solve

When working with a professional services firm recently, I was asked to help a small group improve the quality of the thinking in their client reports.

It quickly became apparent that the team was struggling with applying our clarity principles because they were using precedent documents rather than working from scratch.

Unless we either revamped the precedents or found an economic way for the team to work from scratch each time, the quality of their reports was not going to improve.

During Clarity First we make a point of using our live sessions to build relevant stories together, so participants can see our structured approach in action while also solving real, tangible issues.

Surprisingly often too, these cross discipline groups come up with breakthrough ideas for each other both in terms of the content of their messaging and the working approaches they can use in their own work.

Check in regularly to make sure the program delivers real impact  

This might include an email series offering participants regular challenges that can be discussed in working sessions, sharing success stories from other similar clients, or incorporating mini online learning modules to remind participants of core skills and concepts.

This feeds into the way we have designed Clarity First for individuals and also for corporate groups.

Rather than designing and delivering a ‘training event' we work with participants along their learning journey, for as long as that is helpful for them.

Change the way you think about your skill-building

Focus on regular, small opportunities to learn rather than participating in a ‘once and done' experience.

This way you can learn some ideas, put them into practice and benefit step by step along the way. 

The alternative that I have seen far too often is watching people have a great day at a workshop only to return to their desks to a tsunami of emails and other demands which quickly wipe the learning from their minds.

 

 

Keywords: leadership, leadership communication, 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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Are you too busy to deliver real client impact?

It is always incredibly busy at the end of a client engagement as no matter how well you plan, how strictly hypothesis driven you are, there will always be time pressure at the end if you are aiming to deliver real client impact.

And teams frequently use this as the ‘reason' why the report that the client receives is lacklustre. After all, it is just a PowerPoint deck and that isn't what makes a difference for the client: “It's the ideas in that deck that really matter” they say.

While I can hardly disagree that it is the ideas that matter (Read my 13 January blog ), I would challenge teams that analyse to the last minute to think again if they want to deliver real impact.

Teams that do not distil your ideas into a compelling message will not actually be clear about them themselves, which gives the client precious little chance of identifying, understanding and implementing those “ideas that really matter” either.

However, there are some things that teams can do to increase your chances of delivering real impact, even if you don't have time to make every chart perfect or phrase every sentence with the elegance of a novelist.

Prepare a straw-man very early in your client engagement: Even though you are unlikely to be certain of what every detail of your client answer will involve, you will most likely have a strong hunch about your high level argument very early on. Map this high level argument out on a page, test that it is logically robust, and use it as a guide for the direction that your analysis will take and for the charts you develop along the way.

Take an hour at the end of every week to revisit the straw-man: At your weekly team meetings, allow time to revisit this straw-man to provide your team with an opportunity to revise their current thinking, and a continued sense of perspective for their work. Be rigorous with your use of logic in these sessions and you will push your team's thinking while also helping to keep your ongoing client communication on track.

Build your PowerPoint at the end of the study based on your final high-level argument. Once you can articulate your final argument the pack will come together quickly. By focusing on the argument first, you will deliver a smooth and uncluttered presentation that really does deliver the client a compelling message with the ideas that matter not only present, but in an order that your client can grasp easily.

And then, if there is time tidy up the charts and perfect the prose.

Click here if you would like to watch a video and receive a cheat sheet that gives you some ideas to help you and your team deliver more impact.

Keywords: 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. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.