Why small steps matter

Why small steps matter

If you could do just one thing to elevate the quality of your communication, what would it be?

This is a variation of a question I was asked last Sunday.

The sentiment is helpful.

Rather than procrastinating about a big hairy audacious goal, what is one concrete step we could take toward that goal?

How to move closer rather than daunted by its very audaciousness and the associated ambiguity?

For some, the idea of being a great communicator is an audacious goal. They know they need to take big steps.

For most, the idea of becoming a better communicator is ambiguous.

Using that C word at work, do we mean …

  • Writing?
  • PowerPointing?
  • Visualising ideas in diagrams?
  • Having challenging conversations?
  • Demonstrating empathy?
  • Telling stories?
  • Getting to the point?
  • Preferencing micro communication, eg chat threads over email?
  • Pitching ideas?
  • Being strategic about messaging?
  • Managing stakeholders?
  • Running meetings?

All of these things, and more, can fall into the communication bucket.

We can all get better at all of them.

But how much better is necessary? How soon?

And, how do we know, given few of us receive genuinely helpful feedback on our communication?

So, what small step will you take this week?

Here are three ideas (two of which are free!):

  1. Complete my free 10-minute email course. It shares the same principles that underpin great papers and presentations, which you can use anywhere.
  2. Untangle a difficult stakeholder situation with this decision tree. Do you understand why your stakeholder is being difficult? Is it your message, your engagement strategy or your proposition that needs to shift for you to make progress?
  3. Sign up for Clarity Hub. Log in and pick one thing to do.
    – Read a post about stakeholder management, engaging boards, or another topic that is relevant to you right now
    – Find an exercise and do it
    – Watch a MasterClass recording. Yes, you can fast-forward through it too. There are half a dozen options in the Past Events area.
    – Try the Pattern Picker. See if it can help you think through your needs and fast-track you to the structure you need for your next communication.
    – Email me with a challenge you face so I can share my thoughts via the weekly email or perhaps a new MasterClass

So, what step will you take this week?

I hope that helps.

More next week.

Warm regards,
Davina

 

Am I crazy trying to do handstands at my age?

Am I crazy trying to do handstands at my age?

Learning to do a handstand as an adult is providing me with some interesting – and at times frustrating! – reminders about what it is like to learn something new.

I have been reminded that not all goals, and definitely not all practice is equal. Even when learning to do handstands.

Let me explain.

I recently set myself a goal which I did not achieve, which was to be able to do a 30-second handstand before a
certain big birthday.

Despite attending my gym regularly and doing exercises which appeared to be helpful, I have not yet done
a 30 second free-standing handstand.

Why not?

Firstly, you might ask: why bother at all? True.

But it seems like a fun if random party trick and lots of people at my gym can do mighty perfect handstands. So,
I’d like to do one too. (Just so you can see I am not totally crazy, click here to ‘how to’ videos … I am not alone!)

Besides: how hard can it be? I could do one as a kid and it looks easy enough for someone who is reasonably fit.

Given I am strong enough, at the beginning it didn’t seem that hard.

So, having decided that I’d like to do it, I didn’t break the task into chunks. Nor did I take it seriously enough
to set mini deadlines and measure my progress against them and trigger those dopamine hits that I mentioned in a recent post. 

I did make progress and am proud to report that I can consistently do a handstand if I take a bit of a walk up and a skip before hurling my feet skyward. I can also hold that position for a few seconds (especially if I know there is a soft mat for me to fall onto when I am ready).

This was an easy cop out, though.

After all, I could do a handstand of sorts for the first time in decades.

But … is it what I had set out to achieve?

Nope. And I knew I was kidding myself.

It wasn’t what I wanted and was becoming disillusioned. Why could ‘everyone else’ do this and not me? Am I not strong enough? Am I not flexible enough? Why can’t I do this thing that I could do as a kid?

I had persisted and practiced for a long time and not progressed as far as I would like.

It turns out that not all kinds of practice are equal. Repeating the same thing the wrong way in no way improved
my ability.

Given my gym instructor is both friendly and knowledgeable, I decided to actually ask him what to do and listen to his advice.  

The first thing, he assures me, is to stop trying to do the handstand as a whole. Focus on micro skills instead.

The next thing is to get my balance right. To balance the majority of my weight not on the heel of my hand as I was doing, but smack bang in the centre of the palm. This week I achieved this for the first time and boy, it felt good.

Not a full handstand but measurable, definite progress. And now that I know what it feels like, I will be able to do it again.

Not only that, one of my gym buddies commented on ‘the nice line’ I had created as I was upside down practicing my stance with my feet against a pole.

Thank you, dopamine.

My instructor tells that I also need to increase my shoulder, hip and hamstring flexibility so that I can elevate my legs smoothly and without curving my back. This will help me create and hold a line with much less effort. And that would probably happen faster if I spend less time at a keyboard. Of course he said that!

I have made progress here too (not with the keyboard part!) and will keep at it until he says I should try again.

My hope now is that this mix of purposeful practice based on guidance from someone who knows more than me, micro success and a tiny bit of positive feedback will keep me on track until I do succeed in getting my feet properly skyward.

So, crazy I might be, but I am now enjoying learning to do a handstand, and also learning more about learning.

What new learning challenges have you set yourself lately?

If building your professional communication skills is on the list, check out the Clarity First Program. We can help you turn your communication skills into a career-boosting asset.

Caveat – this picture is aspirational! It is not me!

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.

Root causes of poor communication have little to do with ‘communicating’

I have been coaching a Clarity First client through a particularly sensitive piece of communication this week, which has highlighted some insights that I thought might help you also.

This case highlights how delivering communication is the easy part, while the strategy and problem solving that drives the right messaging can be hugely challenging. 
​​Let me unpack the situation for you as well as our solution and story.

The situation was politically fraught

Clive is a consultant helping solve a range of productivity problems in a large organisation.  He is a gun problem solver and regularly called in to help leaders solve difficult problems.

This one was highly sensitive: he had a tough message to deliver just before performance evaluation and bonus time.

To add to that, his ‘client' was two people with conflicting agendas: a Chief of Staff who needed a team's performance to improve and the team manager who was the cause of the problem but who would need to be positively engaged in the solution.

And, of course, it all had to be sorted yesterday.

Ultimately, the message was that the team manager needed to lift his game so that the team could deliver critical work on time. 

The team needed greater clarity around resourcing, work allocation and priorities.

So, what to do? Here is how we tackled it.

The solution required a mix of skills

We used a mix of clarity, care and discipline to craft a proactive and constructive message that left nobody in doubt that improvement was needed. 

Clarity: We first got absolute clarity on the message that needed to be conveyed, even if we were not going to deliver it ‘straight up' and blunt. The ‘blunt' story was deductive and looked like this:

The team needs stronger leadership if it is to start delivering

  • The team isn't delivering because they have allowed themselves to be over run by un-prioritised and unstructured demands
  • However, the leader needs to step up so the team can take control of their priorities and their time
  • Therefore, we recommend helping the leader step up

Care: We thought carefully about the issues facing all players:

  • How to act with integrity as a consultant aiming to add real value?
  • How to respect the Chief of Staff's situation: she needed the team's performance to turn around pronto.
  • How to deliver a tough message in a way that maintains the relationship with the team lead so they are willing to step up?

Discipline: We held firm to storylining principles so we delivered a constructive recommendation that kept the team leader onside.

We:

  • Focused on what was happening rather than the person causing it (it was tempting to rant!)
  • Offered solutions rather than labouring problems
  • Made sure the story structure was tight so that our reasoning was compelling while also being kind.

The story required structure 

Here is what the story structure looked like after we finished:
Changing the operational approach will enable the team to manage conflicting demands and deliver on its priorities more easily

Three conflicting and chaotic work stream makes it very difficult for the team to deliver critical work on time

  • Open-ended demands from SMEs and the GM make both planning and execution difficult
  • Unstructured demands without upstream prioritisation makes prioritisation very challenging

However, changing the team's operational approach will give greater control

  • Clarifying upstream priorities before allocating work to the team will reduce distractions
  • Embedding a specialist in each major project will improve resourcing and focus
  • Coaching the team so they can better understand Agile ways of working will help the team plan and deliver

Therefore, we recommend changing operational approach

  • Embed a specialist in each major project
  • Segment responsibility: one deliverable, one owner
  • Rationalise governance participation
  • Coach the team on best Agile practices at key milestones of each project
  • Coordinate with Agile ways of working

 

Putting the ideas on the paper and having the conversation were the easy part.  Solving the people and business aspects of the issue was much harder!

To learn how to prepare clear and compelling communication using top-down structured thinking techniques such as these, check out our Clarity First Program.

PS In case you are not familiar with the term ‘Agile‘, it refers to a popular project management approach.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.