From swerve of shore to bend of bay

By Charlie Mounter and Stephen Welch

Picture credit: Richard Nonas, swerve (of shore) to bend (of bay)*.

Stephen:

No profession has a monopoly on what it takes to be a strategic adviser. We’ve produced versions of our simulations for professionals in various fields: communication, marketing, HR and others. And we like to cast the net farther afield sometimes: we’ve had guest posts from government, from other countries, and from professional services consultants who all approach the ‘how-do-I-act-as-a-strategic-adviser?’ challenge in different ways.

Today we are pleased to publish another blog from our popular guest blogger, Charlie Mounter. Charlie is a professional editor and makes her living giving her clients advice on how to improve. And although her perspective is through the lens of writing, there are lots of tips on how to deal with tricky authors and help them recognise when they need to change their views: similar to the challenges other advisers face. In fact, she is inspired by perhaps one of the most tempestuous authors of all: James Joyce. With that as a starting point, she outlines what it takes to be a strategic adviser in the literary world.

(Disclaimer: James Joyce inspires her theme. And while I am no Stephen Daedalus myself, my first name and birthday — Bloomsday — give me a connection. So, without further ado, I pass you to Charlie.)

Charlie:

What would you do if James Joyce submitted you Finnegan’s Wake?

As an editor, I need to be alive to that thrilling (terrifying) possibility. A genius might break the mould; but in most cases, if a text is that difficult and confusing, I need to be able to improve upon it without aggravation. Nobody teaches you how to give constructive criticism; you have to work it out for yourself. Except maybe you won’t, whatever line of work you are in, because I am going to share with you in this blog post what I’ve learned so far. Read on!

Everything becomes easier if you have established a relationship from the outset: gain some trust, use a few personal hooks to get some conversation going – it doesn’t take much. Talking about the work’s objectives and anything they feel strongly or have wondered about keeps communication open and gives you clues about how to phrase criticism for them if and when the time comes. Some people can handle bluntness, while others need coaxing very gently and leading positively into solutions.

I always try to encourage the view that an author’s submission is a draft – a work in progress that we will polish together – and preface my responses with ‘if you disagree with any of the changes I propose, let me know and we can discuss.’ If you are new to the field, it is a good idea to consult a mentor or senior colleague before you deliver your critique, to check you’re on the right track.

It takes quite a lot of preparation to critique without blistering. You need to really engage with the work. Focus on that; acknowledge but steer away from feelings; be warm and present and listen, but do not patronise your subject by sugar-coating your messages. Identifying strengths to deliver a compliment sandwich only works if you are being genuine. If there’s nothing much to praise, focus on the outcome you are aiming for and the benefits of achieving it.

You can always be wrong, so you need to be open to negotiation, but only in a calm and considered way, going through possibilities. Provide examples of what you are looking for and share your way of looking at things. If everything needs completely working over, you might team up to handle changes, possibly recouping and reallocating costs. Some people might find you or your criticism untenable, in which case you might need to liaise with a separate authority, but I find these tips work in most cases.

The trick is to navigate between the author’s original style and clarity of purpose. And of course don’t forget that your ultimate goal is to get your client (boss, colleague) to agree with you: ‘yes I said yes I will Yes’.

Stephen:

Of course, stately, plump writing has its place. But it becomes much easier to give your client (boss, colleague, or James Joyce) advice if you follow Charlie’s tips: build a relationship, create trust, be collaborative, engage with the work, discuss, appeal to authority when required. These apply in many situations and it is surprising how much investment in nemawashi pays off in the long run.

That is how to avoid a “vicus of recirculation”.

* The title of this exhibition swerve (of shore) to bend (of bay)—taken from James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’—prefigures a mapping of Nonas’ sculptural place. Galerie Winter, Vienna

Lockdown Power-up

By Casilda Malagon and Stephen Welch

At Archetypical, we thrive at finding new ways to help our clients and friends. Coronatimes gave us a special corona-challenge: how do you marry the experience of face-to-face events with the safety of virtual ones? How do you design a happy wedding between the two?

Something old

Sometimes, innovation lies in refreshing the old ways. In the past few months, many joined us in the #testingtimes postcard game. Every couple of weeks, a challenge landed in your home; a postcard with an riddle, an idea, or a link to an on-line tool. Turns out, you really liked the unexpected challenges and the chance to participate in an activity … and get some feedback about yourselves. Thank you for joining us in that adventure!

It turned out to be a good way to stay connected and can be adapted for remote teams who want to have a shared experience.

Something new

Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders™ is going online! With a twist. Our workshops are known for being fun, interactive and thought-provoking, moving online had to keep that part of the experience. Around the world, our players tell us they enjoyed the experience and it made them think differently and power-up their career.

We wanted go online; we wanted to keep the human element, the thrill of moving your peg up a board, the competition of not knowing what choice the other teams will made. How do you meet all that? We’re using a visual collaboration tool, and have adapted it to build a series of ‘rooms’ where teams can play. With a few other tricks up our sleeve, we can create an event that gets your team solving problems, working collaboratively, fueled by a sense of friendly competition.

Finding the right approach took a few tries. Our first attempts didn’t work all that well – but thanks to the collaborative approach of our Archetypical network and our clients, we have something new and different which can help teams grow.  

Something borrowed

Does it count if you borrow from yourself? To find a happy marriage, we combined DNA from our face-to-face workshops with on-line systems and created two ‘children’ in the shape of self-assessment tools. So far the marriage has born the RECIPE for influence and Types of Adviser assessments. More on that via the links.

We’ve got a couple of other tools in the pipeline so watch this space so keep an eye out for how we grow our self-diagnostics offering.

Something blue

In our case, blue like the oceans. We’ve invested in the last few months to grow our international team – across the oceans – and now have colleagues around the world who can deliver in various countries, virtually, and in different languages. It’s a blue planet and we can support teams wherever they might be.

…. and a sixpence in her shoe

OK, inflation has made this almost worthless but the tradition was the sixpence symbolized wealth and prosperity. We can’t promise that working with us will make you wealthy, but we can help you, your career, and your organization prosper.

A little gamification can take you far

Peter Sandbach
Peter Sandbach

This week, Peter Sandbach, Managing Director of Free Range Communications, shares his experience of using Corporate Snakes and Ladders in a large Swiss multinational. He thinks gamification adds so much value, even in the most conservative corporate settings.

Stephen:      Hi Peter. Thanks for chatting. It’s been a while since we worked together. What are you up to these days?

Peter:          I’m Managing Director of Free Range Communications. We focus on communications training and working with big corporates to help leaders with presentation training, storytelling, message development, and how to get their message across effectively. Before that, I was Head of Communication training for a large Swiss multinational, which is how we got to know each other.

Stephen:      Yes, we developed a tailored version of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders to help you and your colleagues think about their roles as strategic advisers to senior leaders.

Peter:          Indeed. We wanted our communication professionals to be able to get close to the business. How to become a real business partner? We had training for advanced professionals and Heads of Communications, and we had a series of courses for more junior people. But we needed something in between – to help people make the leap from technical expert to strategic adviser. This is where Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders came in.

Stephen:      Yes, we were pleased to help. How come you decided to work with us?

Peter:          Well, we saw your proposal and then had a meeting. Your approach was engaging and different. You worked out how to bring a different approach to our unique circumstances. The two-day programme we developed together was received very well. We got some great feedback from senior people who were really impressed with the facilitation – not just running the game, but also giving expert insight.

Stephen:      Thank you, that’s nice to hear. How did the gamification aspect work?

Peter:          We had a very conservative culture.  But even in such a situation, having fun works. The scenarios were well thought out so people could relate to them. The gaming aspect helped the learning and people took away some good tips.

Stephen:      And what about you? What tips did you take from the session?

Peter:          To be honest, I was looking at it more from a trainer’s perspective. It was a really nice structured way of learning. You mentioned the ‘play-learn-do’ methodology which helped the team think differently.

Stephen:      Yes, we developed the ‘play-learn-do’ approach to help people access learning in different ways and appeal to different learning styles. We’ve then adapted the methodology to different functions and different levels in business, including super challenging for senior people, and entry-level dilemmas for recent graduates. Before we close … tell me more about when you are not helping clients become better communicators. What do you do outside of work?

Peter:          As it happens, I’m the Founding Squire of Ferrette Morris, one of the few Morris Dancing sides in France. You can follow us on facebook, here: https://www.facebook.com/FerretteMorris/ . Next time you are in the Basel or Mulhouse area, come and join us.

Stephen:      I will. Thanks again! Bye.

#Testingtimes: A reflection

This week, we welcome guest blogger, Sheena Thomson MCIPR FRSA, Founder and Director of Conduit Associates, a boutique global crisis and issues communications consultancy that helps identifies, plans & manages disruptive events. Sheena was a participant in our #testingtimes game and shares her reflections here.

In those early weeks of lockdown, I received an email inviting me to take part in a series of
challenges over a number of weeks called #testingtimes. It involved receiving a number of
postcards through the old-fashioned postal mail. Each card had a #testingtimes challenge
ranging from looking and photographing yourself with one of the postcards, or an object
from a different angle, to completing a series of online tests. All tests were designed to
examine how you see things, your approach to issues and individual influencing style when conducting advisory work.

One of my mantras in life is to always keep learning, and although I was pretty confident in my advisory style, I thought I will most certainly learn something about myself taking part. Additionally, when you work for yourself, it is always great to get an independent external perspective. As I earn a living as an advisor, I enthusiastically signed up to this fun #testingtimes challenge during those testing times in lockdown.

As well as seeing images of other participants when we posted various pictures on social
media, the online tests really made me think about how I react and respond in certain
hypothetical situations. There was plenty time to think during lockdown, so I gave each test the time it deserved. I was intrigued to receive my self-assessment feedback and see what I could learn from myself. Despite my self-confidence and self-belief gained over the years, I knew there would be room for improvement.

The first self-assessment report reviewed the type of adviser I was, using a restaurant
metaphor. My style of adviser is similar to that of a sommelier – where I shine as an expert, but very much involve and engage with clients or colleagues and take a lot of pride in my work. Although I had never really thought about my advisory style before, I was stunned at the accuracy of my assessment. Even when I read through the other advisory styles, just out of curiosity, I realised my assessment was spot-on. On reflection, I think this comes from my time in the Royal Navy. I took a lot of pride in everything I did. When you wear the uniform, you have a lot to live up to, but to do so, I was both trained with the expert skills as well as being trusted to engage with everyone to reach successful outcomes. This has clearly left an indelible impression on my advisory style.

The final assessment was more interesting and revealing. It examined my personal
influencing style and is what has provided me with the all-important learning outcomes.
The assessment looks at six personal influencing styles, using a “RECIPE” approach, as most styles require a blend of influencing styles. In this assessment, the “style ingredients” are reward, exchange, connect, inform, picture, exit. Once again, my assessment was pretty accurate, but it went a step further by providing tips on how to improve my three main identified strengths, as well as highlighting a fourth area where there is potential to improve my style. This for me is what I will take forward – to use the “picture” style of advisory by imagining how the future may look. In my particular area of expertise of crisis and issues management, all too often we live in the moment and the immediate aftermath, but imagining the future is of course a significant part of the recovery.

I really enjoyed the testing times challenge. It was a fun and engaging exercise that was
clearly well designed. It also provided me with something innovative and different to do
during that odd and unchartered period of lockdown enabling me to use all that thinking
time in a positive way. Moreover, it was good to have my influencing style and strengths
identified and areas that I have learned about myself and can take forward.

If you would like to know more about our #testingtimes game, or even participate, get in
touch with us at info@archetypical.org

“… I got some great insights into how to have conversations with other leaders…”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Recently, Stephen Welch talked to Alison Brooks, Assistant Head of Professional Development at the UK Ministry of Defence.

Stephen:       Hi Alison. Thanks for chatting. First, please tell me about your job and what you do?

Alison:            I work with communication professionals across the Ministry of Defence to help them develop their skills. In our team we support their growth and development across the full communications landscape from digital skills to becoming strategic advisers to leaders across the Ministry. Previously, I worked for five years at the Cabinet Office as Talent and Professional Standards Manager for the Government Communication Service (GCS).

Stephen:       When did you attend a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event?

Alison:            In 2019, I was leading professional development for the GCS, running the “Impact” programme which was aimed at emerging talent professionals across government. The purpose of the year-long programme was to help them develop the skills and behaviours to advance their career. The highlight was our two-day event at Roffey Park conference centre in Sussex where we took over the majority of the venue and played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders.

Stephen:       I remember, yes.  We developed a tailored version of the simulation based around a virtual government department: the ‘Department of Public Administration’. How was the experience for you?

Alison:            It was really interesting and created a really good opportunity for everyone to see through the eyes of others. A chance to take a different perspective on the challenges we face as strategic advisers. I got some great insights into how to have conversations with HR Directors, Finance Directors, and other leaders.

Stephen:       How did the workshop help you and the other participants?

Alison:            It provided a really good way to open up and discuss how to deal with business problems. The event helped me change the way I work. I’ve always tried to consider other people’s views … but in the simulation we really got to think about how to take those different perspectives to the next level.

Stephen:       We are in ‘permanent beta’ mode. What ideas do you have to improve the programme?

Alison:            It could be a really great thing for apprentices. You could create scenarios for different levels or tweak things to help people in different functions. When I participated in 2019, it  was really nice that scenarios were relevant and timely so you should make some new scenarios around Covid-19 or working at home.

Stephen:       Good idea. Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll do that. Meanwhile, tell us about yourself. What do you do outside of work?

Alison:            Well, we used to have horses but we sold our last one recently, so now we are experiencing life after horses. We just got a puppy (see photo above) so that is keeping us busy. My husband just built a summer house in the garden so we are enjoying that – making the most of the weather!

Stephen:       Sounds like fun. Enjoy the dog (or puppy?) days of summer!

Alison:            You too. Bye!

Through the Corporate Looking Glass

A guest post by Charlie Mounter, who is taking part in the #testingtimes campaign.

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the Dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head

‘White Rabbit’, Jefferson Airplane

Especially in times of transition and uncertainty, it’s important to experiment and learn from others. But this can be full of hazards and distortions. With or without the help of C20H25N3O.

In taking the Through the Corporate Looking Glass test, I learned that I could often empathise with CEOs but lacked some of their knowledge and approaches. This isn’t a big surprise. I don’t always find global business news very easy to dip into, and much of it lacks meaning without a context in which I can apply it. 

I need a stake, a way to relate to the information others consume in order to see things from their perspective. To understand someone, I have to stop relying on my own models of understanding the world and learn strange new interpretations. This takes deliberate effort. We see things as we are.

How can we see through another’s eyes? It’s easy to assume we know what someone means, but we overestimate how much we understand from facial expressions, tone or body language (it’s called the illusion of transparency). On top of that, most people speak – at least in the UK — indirectly, and it can be hard to gather others’ meanings, especially on email, audio or video calls.

We all apply heuristics when processing information. Cognitive shortcuts with potentially alarming consequences include: 

1) complexity bias, or preferring difficult solutions to simple ones, which can lead us to concoct conspiracy theories to cover our fears and explain gaps in our knowledge; 

2) self-serving bias, which has us own our successes but disown our failures; and 

3) fundamental attribution error, when we give too much weight to personality or disposition and not enough to situation or context in judging a person’s behaviour. 

Perhaps the worst is the Abilene paradox, when a group makes a collective decision that none of its individual members believe in! But there are some ways we can try to overcome such automatic inclinations.

In a nutshell, we have to step back and be rigorous. Our ability to understand others will always be partial, but we can try to be explicit, pay attention and ask for clarification. In the process, we must resist pasting over strangeness and unfamiliarity with our own beliefs or stories, because those carry cognitive biases. Knowledge builds slowly – it’s a long game. The point of collecting different perspectives is to identify common interests we can meet and build upon. Successful CEOs and senior leaders triage where to focus their energy, just as medics do.

Taking part in this, the fifth challenge of the #testingtimes campaign – alongside a bit of introspection and lots of walking – reminded me:

1) that irrational thoughts will surface to fill what lies beyond our knowledge;

2) to focus on improving what matters most rather than dwelling on what doesn’t; 

3) and to thank our contingency plans (you had some, right?). 

It’s an adventure to learn from those who see life differently from you, but when we ‘Go ask Alice’ we need to keep our wits about us. On the other hand, there are those who ask this question…. Who is Alice?

If you’re interested in learning more about cognitive biases, here’s a primer in the form of a spectacular chart which aggregates many of them into types.

“Keep the gameboard. This recalls childhood games, and is fun!”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Recently, Alberto San Pedro, from Archetypical’s Barcelona office, spoke with Debra Capua of Davis & Company in New York to get her perspective.

Alberto:         Hi Debra. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. To start off, please can you tell me where you work? What is your job?

Debra:            I’m a project consultant at Davis & Co, a 35 years old Communication Consulting firm (internal mainly) with a strong reputation.  We have about 30 people and a strong client portfolio (pharmaceutical mainly), with clients all over the world (particularly Germany, Switzerland, etc.) .

Alberto:         What is your day-to-day life these days?

Debra:            I’ve been isolated at home, since 25 February. No client calls these days. I’m concerned but have hope for the future. Due to the absence of requests from clients, our main contribution is creating content and translate into marketing flow, in order to get prospect clients.

Alberto:         When did you attend a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event?

Debra:            It was in June 2019, hosted by IABC with a mixed audience of students and professionals. Stephen Welch was the facilitator. We had about 15 people, with lots of great feedback. I loved it!

Alberto:         What do you most remember? Your main learning points? What did you find most useful?

Debra:            Where to start? The discussion in the team. The competition. The conversations happening during the game: everyone had a take on it; a different angle. The facilitation was good: Stephen was particularly good at keeping the conversation up.  Mainly I learned that, to become a strategic advisor, to take a seat at the table, is definitely worth it and there are different routes to consider.

Alberto:         What 3 words would you use to describe the workshop?

Debra:            Fun, interesting, valuable.

Alberto:         As we are developing an on-line version, which should be 2-3 things to focus on, to ensure a great experience to participants?

Debra:            Keep the gameboard. This recalls childhood games, and is fun! Be sure to give an opportunity for people to introduce themselves- find out who the other people are. Have breakout rooms discussions and then everybody shares. Oh, and keep the character personalities.

Alberto:         Great, thanks for that. How, if at all, has your attendance at the Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event helped you in your job?

Debra:            Due to the fact there were several people from Davis, that has helped to have challenging conversations internally, keeping the conversation up and exploring other ways to being more strategic in our different roles.

Alberto:         If you could travel in time, what advice would you give to your junior self?

Debra:            Having a better understanding of how other people think, and make decisions, maybe I did not consider this while interacting with others before. There are linear thinkers (such as financial, operational people), and that gives them a perspective on how they see the world that has nothing to do with mine (more circular and transversal). This reminds me of the need of behaving in a more flexible and adaptable manner.

Alberto:         Great, thanks again for your views. Bye.

Debra:            Bye.

If you want to get to know Debra (we recommend it!) connect with her on LinkedIn

Through the Corporate Looking Glass

Welcome to this week’s blog … a quiz!

If you are playing our #testingtimes game, you will soon receive (or perhaps you have already) the latest postcard with your latest challenge: a quiz. This challenge will encourage you to think about things from a different perspective — through the looking glass if you will.

If you’re not playing the #testingtimes game, you can still try the quiz.

We’ve set up a special page to tell you all about it. Click here to go through the looking glass.

Good luck!

“The gaming element lifted it to another level.”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Recently, Stephen spoke by video with Paul Stamper, Senior Client Officer at Ipsos-MORI. Paul was a participant in a new version of our workshop — one designed specifically for agencies or consulting firms who want to improve their client partnership skills.

Stephen:       Hi Paul. Thanks for agreeing to chat. It is hard to believe it was six months ago we ran a customized Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop for you and your team. So much has happened since then!

Paul:               Yes indeed. We’re all getting used to working in a different way.

Stephen:       As you’ll recall we built a special version of our workshop to help you and your colleagues think differently about how you advise and support clients. What was the highlight for you?

Paul:               The thing I particularly liked was the gamification and the interactions with imaginary clients. This triggered a lot of conversations and was an excellent and engaging way of getting a discussion going. The competitive element added a frisson to the room.

Stephen:       Tell me more?

Paul:               Good content and clear learning objectives always help create a great session. But the gaming element lifted it to another level. It made the session memorable as a training experience and helped cement the learning. Individuals, including me, found themselves being challenged in their own thinking and not always reverting to default behaviour, which might not always be the best approach.  The concept caught my imagination and was a real eye-opener. It has made me rethink how I deliver training.

Stephen:       Thanks, that’s nice to hear. As you know we are working on developing an on-line version of the simulation. What are the key elements you think we should focus on to ensure a similar experience?

Paul:               The small group working was a key part for me, and very powerful discussions. There may be things you can simplify to make it easier for people. And I know it sounds strange, but maybe you don’t need the actual Snakes and Ladders board, just keep track of points in a different way.

Stephen:       Interesting ideas. Casilda and I will consider them. We’re still in the qual research phase for finding out what works well so watch this space! Meanwhile, can you tell me what is the one tool or approach that stands out for you so far?

Paul:               The Trust Equation. It has helped me think about my relationships with clients, and how I develop them to go beyond being a great researcher, to become a great strategic adviser.

Stephen:       Glad it was useful. Thank you. In the meantime, tell us a bit about Paul. What do you do outside work? What do you do when you are not working?

Paul:               I live in West London and – as you can see behind me via my webcam – I’m a big player of Board games. My current favorite is Terraforming Mars, where you have to develop the Red Planet, while balancing different resources. I guess there’s a parallel with Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders where you have to balance your position on the Board and your reputation with different stakeholders!

Stephen:       I’ll have to check it out. Meanwhile thanks again for your time and hope to meet in person sometime soon.

Paul:               That would be good. Bye.

Your RECIPE for Influence

Making an impact requires the right approach at the right time. Some leaders are naturals, but that’s not the only path. At Archetypical we are convinced that this is a skill you can learn and develop, so we have created a fun approach: RECIPE.

Each letter represents one of the six influencing styles you can use to build successful relationships with your boss, your colleagues, your clients.

Those of you who are playing our #testingtimes postcard game will have received your challenge with the link to on-line self-assessment tool to help you explore your own influencing style. Because we live by the idea of “first know thyself”… and then add spice to make your style dazzle.

To find out more and to complete the self-assessment survey follow this link:

A RECIPE FOR INFLUENCE

Meanwhile, stay tuned to our blog because next week we will be posting an interview with one of our favourite clients in the market research field.