A learning experience for all

I have a five-year old nephew. His name is Hugo and he is a-ma-zing. The other day I picked him up from school for some special uncle-nephew time. It was a Friday and he was staying with me for the night. I told him we could do anything he wanted, and I expected him to shout “Let’s go swimming!” “Let’s have ice cream!” “Let’s go to the zoo!” I’m used to kids shouting out ideas and building on that energy. To my surprise, Hugo said “I need to think about it. Can I tell you when we get home?” I was taken aback. 

On the 10-minute walk home, while Hugo pondered the million choices ahead of him, my mind wandered back to the office. For those of you who don’t know me, I am HR Director of Globocorp, the wearable tech company. My job is to help all our employees grow and flourish making the company the best in this business. We run an internal academy of learning with lots of interesting courses to help our employees move through their own career paths. Two weeks earlier, Kendi, my head of learning, sent me a video with a note: “Watch this and we’ll talk on our weekly catch up next week when we will discuss Globocorp’s academy for next year.”

Hugo’s response and Kendi’s gentle nudge, opened my eyes. I’m a musician, an extrovert and I love thinking and working out loud. I forget not everybody around me does. Kendi’s nudge … Hugo’s pauses … The universe was teaching me something. 

Where does learning happen?

Great learning happens at the liminal zone between comfort and discomfort, so our job is to take people to the edge of their comfort zone and help them explore new territory. This the space that business simulations, like Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, occupy. 

We use simulations, play and scenarios to explore some of the key challenges faced by functional specialists working in HR, legal and communication. We make it real by getting participants to walk in my shoes for a bit. Or Carmen’s or Lloyd’s. We also develop scenarios based on real-life events that happen in companies big and small. This makes our sessions realistic, improving the learning potential.

Besides, it’s more fun this way. And, as some of you know, I earned my PhD proving the link between having fun and improving learning outcomes. (If you’re interested, this article is a good place to start).

Give them the silent treatment

Hugo reminded me that it requires more than game-playing to help people develop new skills. To help embed the learning, we must mix active play with theory and self-reflection. 

I think too much teaching caters for extroverts. Teachers and facilitators think they are doing a good thing by building in Q&As or group discussions or syndicate work. While these are often a welcome break from “talk and chalk”, we must recognise that some people prefer thinking time and a chance to reflect quietly, process what they have learned, and reflect it back later. So I’m working with Carmen  to ensure our programme design allows people to get the most from their time with us.

An excellent starting point to understand the power of introverts is Susan Cain’s work Quiet Revolution. I find her free resources very useful.

Even introverts need to play

When we got home, Hugo told me that on Saturday he wanted to go swimming and then for ice cream… and… could we set aside some time for him to finish his drawings? Of course he got what he wanted and we had a great day.

Back to work the next Monday, Kendi and I decided to roll out an “Inclusive meeting protocol” and agreed we would try to reshape my weekly standing meetings in which I ask people to shout out solutions. I realise now this accidentally gives more air time to extroverts. Now we post the questions a day before so those wanting time to reflect are comfortable too.

And when it comes to playing Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, we have introduced some quiet time so that participants who prefer to reflect are comfortable. We also have an online voting system, so extroverts aren’t over-rewarded for yelping the answer first and loudest.

We’re still learning and trying new ideas. If you work in people and organisational learning, we’d love to hear ideas on how to cater for introverts. In the meantime, be sure to check out our public events where you can have a taste of our game and maybe even meet me.

No Women’s Day Parties at Globocorp

Last year, I was in Guadalajara having a strategy session at a smart wearable plant. On International Women’s Day, I got to the office and found a bouquet of flowers on my desk. I also had an invitation to the Women’s Day Celebration’ luncheon held for the staff. The female staff. And I got mad. Our local, mostly male, staff meant well. But I felt they were missing the point.

International Women’s Day is a day to shine the light on gender inequality and the real life-threatening struggle for women around the world, for equal rights and opportunities. No more, no less. 

It’s a useful tool to focus our attention on pressing issues – from access to clean water and sanitation, maternity health, to the gender pay gap – and the gender data gap

We need more women to thrive in tech, in business, in the economy. If you still need convincing about the business case for diversity, or have been living under a rickshaw, check out Delivering growth through diversity.

However, exactly how to build the diverse workplace is not so clear cut. Too many efforts centre on changing women or giving them access to senior positions. That’s not enough. Not only do women need a seat a the table, we need to fix the table.

Here are the things Globocorp is not doing today:

  • We are not just throwing a party.
  • We are not just aiming our diversity programme at women.
  • We are not just donating to a woman’s charity.
  • We are not just running campaigns that give women a voice for a day.

We are, however, changing the business:

  • I’ve talked to Marua so she reviews the data we use to develop wearables and make sure that our default model is not a fictional average white white male with big hands. Reading “Invisible Women” was a wake up call for me, and we will address this gap in our company.
  • Flexible working policies for all – based on balancing the needs of our business with the needs of our trusted talented people need.
  • Giving line managers the tools to spot, speak about and address bias. Not just gender bias but age, race and sexual orientation. Making decisions based on our prejudices -professional or personal – is an issue in all companies.

Now that last point has me and our HR Director, Hugh Mann, deeply intrigued. We want to give our teams what they need to eliminate bias, but the evidence around the impact of unconscious bias training is mixed. So what we’ve proposed is to play more games, and simulate scenarios where we feel bias can play a role in decision making to give employees — male and female — the language to discuss it. 

Playing to know, playing to win

Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders is a very useful for tool for this. Playing and having fun opens your brain to learning, relaxes you and breaks down defense mechanisms. Working with fictional people like me allows you to have tough conversations in a safe space. At Globocorp, Corporate Snakes and Corporate Ladders for diversity is an experiment in pilot phase, and I hope to roll it out across the business soon. 

Speaking up to eradicate bias takes three things: the language to spot it, the courage to name it, and a corporate culture open to changing its ways. Since it is very complex and engrained into a person’s history and culture, it has as many shapes as there are stars under the sky. 

You can’t address it with a one day workshop, as much as my CFO would like me to. Instead, we can give people the tools to recognize when they suspect bias is at play – and practice ways to put it on the table, and deal with it. 

Today, we commemorate the progress made and the changes needed to address the fact that globally, as humankind, we’ve build a world that marginalises half the population. Half the market.  

The world of simulation might help you navigate the waters of tricky conversations. Now that’s a way to mark International Women’s Day.

“…I used to struggle to say ‘no’ to senior people.”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this instalment of our series of conversations, Stephen spoke to Ben O’Callaghan, Head of Digital Communications, UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Stephen: Hi Ben. Can you tell me a little about your work?

Ben: Hi Stephen. I head up Digital Communications for the Department which means that I manage our social media accounts, website and other related items. I joined the Ministry in 2017, after about two years working at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Stephen: Last year, you participated in our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders as part of the Early Talent Programme for Government Communication Professionals. What was the highlight for you?

Ben: I remember playing Snakes and Ladders as part of the second residential course at Roffey Park. It was the highlight for me because it didn’t feel as much like ‘work’ as the other elements of the programme. It was fun and, although grounded in theory, the scenarios and situations we played through very realistic – they are events that really do happen in Government.

Stephen: How did the lessons from the workshop help you in your day-to-day job?

Ben: I used to struggle to say ‘no’ to senior people. But the game made me think about how you can move a potentially negative conversation into a more constructive one by thinking about the pros and cons of a course of action.

Stephen: This is a very common challenge and Carmen has recently shared her suggestions on how to say no, without losing many reputational points. We have found that one of the big challenges communication professionals face is finding the best way to push back to senior leaders and to influence their decision-making.

Ben: The influencing skills we learned in the workshop are helpful to me. When faced with a situation, I use influencing and reasoning to determine the best response. I sometimes even use the concept of ‘reputation points’ that we covered in the game to help my decision-making.

Stephen: What, if anything, would you change about game?

Ben: It would be great to have a crisis simulation, or a scenario where there are no ‘good’ options. This would make it more challenging. Also: my team got bad luck. We had all the good answers but then hit a snake and fell back down. Other teams got good luck and won.

Stephen: Fair point. But you know, that’s what happens sometimes in life. It is the big secret no one tells you: luck has a big impact on your success. It is of course fun to ‘win’ the simulation but sometimes the real benefit is in the conversation and discussion. At least that is what other participants have told us. Next time you play, we’ll be sure to find you a ‘ladder’!

Ben: Great, thanks.

Stephen: Thank you!

Learn more about the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – and also the Early Talent Programme. And you can connect with Ben O’Callaghan on LinkedIn.

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumna/us and you’d like to be interviewed, let us know.

The ‘how to say no’ menu: dessert

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Yesterday, inspired by a session at #EMENAcomm, I shared my tips on how to say no.

Once the conference ended, I was invited to dinner with some of the speakers. Over drinks and lovely Indian food at the Maharaja restaurant, the subject of saying no and negotiating your time came up again.

“There isn’t a team in the world that can take on all the work, all the time” Zanya, a brilliant agency owner from Belarus confessed, “So saying no is a skill few of us master in time.”

So these two articles are an attempt to share what I’ve learned and maybe sparking so culinary adventures in my readers.

Part 1 covered the beginning of a meal:

• appetisers which are simple and easy to use approaches,

and

• main courses, or slightly more robust sophisticated ways to say no.

They all respond to two questions:

How do you say ‘no’ without annoying your customer or stakeholder (internal or external)?

How do you manage your time effectively so that you are focusing on the right things, at the right time, for the right result?

For those who want a bit extra, I’ve pulled together a couple of advanced tactics.

They come with a warning: Don’t eat too often from this part of the menu! These are more controversial and slightly riskier.

Give normal

This is a polite version of ‘computer says no’. It goes like this, “I know you have asked for X, but our system can only do it in this way. So this is the normal output. I wish I had time to produce a super customised report for you, but this standard format has all the info you need.”

Negotiate

Let them ask for the output but you define how it is to be generated. Produce the analysis in a way that is convenient for you. You can do this under the guise of ‘Normal’ above.

No

What happens if you just say ‘no”? Will we end up in court? Will our most valued employees leave? Will part of our organization fail to achieve its objectives? Will part of our strategy miss the mark? Will you get fired? Think about the consequences … you might be surprised at how small they are.

Neglect

Sometimes the problem will go away. I find this a lot with emails when I am on holiday or on a site visit. Sometimes, when I get back the issue has resolved itself, or the person managed without whatever it was that was oh-so urgent. Of course, this tactic doesn’t always work: sometimes they will come back and chase you … in which case you need to switch tactics (“so sorry I never got back to you! mea culpa”).

Like I said, these are more controversial so use them with care.

Remember to go back to your personal stakeholder map so you ensure you have enough reputation points in the bank to take a risky gamble.

And remember, practice makes perfect so try out these techniques in low-risk situations too. So you feel at ease with each course of the meal, and maybe you can even whip up a dessert of your own.

Simulations and role-playing are a perfect way to flex your negotiation muscles. When you play Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, you get to put yourself in my shoes and learn how I say no to Buck, Isobel and Marua from time to time. So consider joining us for a game.

Do you have any other strategies? Please do share!

I’m all ears at @carmenspinoza11

The menu of how to say no, first course.

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My time is precious. So is my team’s.

We work hard to focus on the right things.

This week I have invested two days spending time with fellow communication leaders at the IABC EMENAComm. It was convenient travelling back from Dubai, to stop and recharge my batteries while spending time with old and new friends.

Today at lunch, I had a long chat with Laila -a young  marketing director-who is being pulled in different directions and needs to set boundaries. Now, I am listening to the fascinating story by Hanisha Lalwani. Her courageous story has inspired me.

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I know how that feels. As the Communications Function, we are strategic advisers and get a lot of requests to help others. Marua Kobayashi, our COO, is frequently popping by wanting advice or support for her latest initiative.

It’s often a pleasure to help her but sometimes we need to keep control of our own agenda, and not be completely beholden to other people’s needs.  Which leads to the big challenge:

How do you say ‘no’ without annoying your customer or stakeholder (internal or external)? How do you manage your time effectively so that you are focusing on the right things, at the right time, for the right result?

Here is my menu of tips for saying no to people so that you can keep control of your agenda. These tactics sometimes work for me. I don’t use all of them in all situations. You will like some better than others, so feel free to pick and choose.

I leave you with the appetisers and the main course, and will go back to my session. The desserts will come tomorrow.

Appetizers

They are little things which are easy to do and generally won’t get you into trouble.

  • Disappear. People can’t interrupt you if they can’t find you. Find a quiet room somewhere. Lock yourself away. Turn off email. Do what you need to do and then re-engage.
  • Delay. Say “yes, but not now”. You are the middle of something. You are about to have meeting. You have a phone call you need to make in five minutes. You are travelling. “Of course I will do it for you, but it will have to be later / tomorrow / next week, etc.” Remember the old maxim: “a lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part”.
  • Direct. Point them in the direction of the intranet or wherever so they can self-serve the information they need. Send them a link. Or send them to a colleague who is better placed than you to deal with the issue. (This works especially well for me when I am travelling.)
  • Deal. They want something from you. Ask for something in return or give them a little obstacle to overcome. “Absolutely, I would love to help you. Have a look in my diary and find a free space so we can give proper attention to this. Send me an invite and arrange a time to come to my office.”

Main courses

These are slightly more complex items which move slightly beyond the immediate tactical request and your instant response.

  • Stakeholder analysis. How important is this request or this person to you? Do you have lots of reputation points in the bank with them already, or do you need to strengthen the relationship?
  • Say yes, but with conditions or discussion. Can you get more resources? Can you delay another request from them? “I’d love to help, but I’m just doing something for X. Can you negotiate with her on which of your two requests is more critical and I’ll prioritise accordingly? Can you do the task in a simpler, quicker way?”
  • Strategy connection. Ask questions about the business need, which elements of our strategy this supports, what is the wider context. Why is this request important?
  • SPIN. This stands for “Situation, Problem, Implication, Need.” What is the situation or context? What’s the problem they are trying to solve? What’s the implication of the problem and what is the need? This is a sales technique which enables you to open up the conversation and explore the underlying need… and maybe, find a simpler solution that saves you time, energy and resources.
  • Simplify. “Yes, of course, I can give you a quick short reply now or a more detailed thought through analysis later. Which would you prefer?”

Desserts are more controversial so I will share them with you as part 2 of this menu (you can follow me here if you wan to be sure not to miss it).

Those are my tips, my menu, but what are your tips for saying no and managing your time? Are they appetizers, main courses, or desserts?

As Hanisha invites us to do: ‘says yes to talk about saying no’.