“I wanted to move from more of a tactical, transactional approach.” – A Q&A

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 Fayrouz Essack, Strategic Communications Manager at the UK Department for Transport.

Stephen: Hi Fayrouz, please tell me a little about your work.

Fayrouz: I’m part of the strategic communications team at the Department for Transport (DfT). My work includes overseeing management of the ‘grid’ – the tool we use to coordinate departmental communication and working on our external campaigns.

Stephen: But you’ve not been at DfT for long?

Fayrouz: No, I re-joined in June 2018, after a stint working in the Prime Minister’s Office as a Senior Campaigns Manager. That was exciting because working at the centre of government gives you a new perspective. I worked with lots of different people in different departments and was able to build my network and work in some challenging situations.

Stephen: You mentioned building your network. How did you do that?

Fayrouz: I wanted to move from more of a tactical, transactional approach. So I did two things. First, where possible, I arranged to meet people face-to-face and used the opportunity to find out a bit more their professional priorities and preoccupations. Second, I tried to find things we have in common: can I ‘click’ with them? What values do we both share? What do they do outside of work? This provides a common ground for working with them.

Stephen: Very good. In my research about how to build trusted adviser relationships, I identified four elements. You are already using two: building the relationship and identifying the common ground. (The other two are defining the business outcome and reducing risk.)

Fayrouz: Indeed. I learned about the importance of networking as part of the Early Talent Programme.

Stephen: Yes, I know. We met when we ran a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop as part of the 2-day residential element of the programme. As you will recall, we built a special, tailored version for use for government communicators. What can you tell me about the wider context of the whole programme?

Fayrouz: The Early Talent Programme is a two-year programme run by the UK Government Communication Service (GCS) to help professionals build and develop their career. I started in April 2017 and it has really helped me build my career. For example, I was a given a coach who I see every month. My coach really helps me think through challenges and encourages me to think about the next step in my career. I’d encourage anyone in the GCS to see if they’re eligible to apply.

Stephen: You said earlier that you like to find out more about people do outside of work. What about you? What do you do outside of work?

Fayrouz: I go to boxing class. My coach actually suggested I go weekly, ensuring I balance my career and development with self care. I liked it so much I now go twice a week. Last weekend I was in Kiev where my partner works. It was so cold!

Stephen: Yes I can imagine. Thanks again for your time.

Learn more about the work of the UK Department for Transport and also the Early Talent Programme. And you can connect with Fayrouz 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.

Top 11 articles of the year – vote to win

As we wrap up 2018 it is time to take a look back – via a countdown of the 11 most read articles in 2018. Which was your favourite? RT to be entered into a draw for a free ticket to our next public workshop.

Number 11 – Push back?

Number 10 – Advice?

Number 9 – Never before?

Number 8 – Fun?

Number 7 – Are you?

Number 6 – Shared?

Number 5 – Vexing?

Number 4 – Indispensable?

Number 3 – Trade-offs?

Number 2 – Can we?

Number 1 – Swim?

Shaking the tree: your unexpected end-of-year bonus

A guest post from Buck Greenback, CFO

Materialesweb-10

Carmen:

How time flies. The year is almost up. Last time we met you asked me to share some ideas about how to think more commercially.

So, you know me: I like numbers. Here’s a practical idea that can help you secure an unexpected end-of-year bonus. More bang for the buck so to speak.

Now there’s a caveat: it might not immediately make a difference to your own pocketbook, but doing this could very well position you to ask for a pay rise in next year’s budget – and that does put more change into the jukebox doesn’t it?

Shake the tree

So what’s the idea? Well, it is a simple one: shake the proverbial money tree. Earlier in the year you and I agreed a budget – you made the case for a set of investments that’ll make a real tangible return to Globocorp. So now’s the last chance to check if you’re on track – coming in on budget, and with the results promised. Doing what you said you would. “That’s not much of a bonus”, I can hear you mutter. Indeed. But it is the precursor for the real kicker:

  • Knowing where you’re at with your spend (and the results) positions you early to make the case for next year’s budget.
  • It also means you can speak confidently to your suppliers – they’re doing their final sprint, trying to close their books for the year. If their CFO is anything like me, then they’d like to get as much money through the door as possible. And that often makes them more willing to negotiate discounts, extras, extensions, and whatnot.
  • And those partners you have joint projects with – have they spent all their budget? If they haven’t, now’s the time to shake it loose. Meet your stretch objectives.

The bottom line

You got a budget at the beginning of the year based on a projected return on investment. As your CFO I’m now looking for that return. Now’s the time to use the last bit of it to get as much value as you can through the door before the year is out. And then we can talk to Isobel, our CEO, about a well-deserved pay rise.

Normally we CFOs like to say “show me the money!”. In this case, though, I’m asking you to “show me the results”.

Good luck – and keep me posted.

Best, Buck

P.S. Don’t forget your team’s professional development budget – you made a particularly strong case there. Having spoken to my team, they’d love it to see more business partnering behaviour from your colleagues.  Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshops, perhaps?

Picture credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AlmondShakerbeforeafter.jpg. Father of Nehrams2020 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

“Sometimes decision-making is not so cut and dried” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this installment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Rita Zonius who runs the communications, change and social media agency called the Enterprise Social Engineer.

Carmen: It has been a while – what’s new with you?

Rita: Hey Carmen! I took the leap to start my own business 18 months ago after working in various corporate communications roles for a very long time in one of Australia’s largest banks.

Carmen: Cool. Congrats. That’s incredibly exciting. Now, you played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders… Tell me more about that.

Rita: Oh, I liked it so much.

I actually ended up co-hosting it with Stephen Welch in London once. So I’ve been very lucky.

Thinking back to the first time I experienced it … I was in Singapore at a conference – and the thing I liked about it was how it reminds you that, as a communications practitioner, there are often no black or white answers. There are there are shades of grey and sometimes you have to make the best decision with the information that you have available to you. I think that is the great thing about playing the game. Sometimes decision-making is not so cut and dried.

Carmen: You say cut and dried?

Rita: I think sometimes it might be an absence of information. As a leader you’re not always going to be exposed to every single piece of information that you need to help you make a perfect decision. So the scenarios in the game really force you to think carefully about the course of action you should take. How different stakeholders might react and what the outcomes of that could be.

Carmen: And your own venture … what are you doing at the moment and does any of it link back to the things you might have learnt playing this game? Or things that you might help others learn – using this game…?

A lot of what I’m doing is coaching executives around the appropriate use of social media to build their impact and influence. With that comes thinking about questions such as: ‘How should I conduct myself?’. And ‘I’m sharing what I know – and is it coming from a place of generosity and with a good intention in mind or am I simply just trying to sell?’.

So I’m really mindful of all of that dynamic when I’m talking to executive teams about how they personally conduct themselves on social media. We don’t want to involve smoke and mirrors. We want to be authentic. Find a way to use social media that really speaks to who you are what you stand for and what your personal brand is because if you try to be someone else (not your authentic self) it will come through anyway. So I think that’s also some lessons that playing this game can teach: to make the best decisions you can from a place of authenticity. Don’t try and game the system. People will see through it.

The other thing I would say about the game is the interaction. What’s great about it is that once people get over their shyness for the first two minutes, they really get into it. The conversations around the tables are very rich. Particularly when you have diverse viewpoints being put on the table and being discussed. Somebody will inevitably illustrate that things are not black and white. The right answer for ‘you’ may not be the right answer for ‘me’. And listening to the sort of vigorous conversation is great. It gives you a fresh perspective.

You can find Rita on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter @RitaZonius

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

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.

An open letter to Carmen Spinoza

Dear Carmen,

Being the director of communications, you’re undoubtedly interested in language, and I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that that might extend to semantics too.

That’s handy, because there are some practical insights to be had through looking at what lies underneath some of the terms used to define your job. Let’s start with what’s on your business card:

Director

The root of the word is ‘to guide’ – and that’s a key to how the world’s top directors operate.

Etymology of Director

Etymology of director

It might be tempting to think that it is all about calling the shots (or shouting ‘cut’ as the cliché goes for movie directors). In truth, directors are part of a team – and the best results come when you work with your colleagues to find a shared way forward.

How might you do that in practice? Well, as the origins of guide imply: a little bit of wit might not go amiss.

Etymology of Guide

Etymology of guide

In practice this doesn’t mean cracking jokes all the time. One definition of wit is: ‘the capacity for inventive thought and quick understanding; keen intelligence.’

So it is about staying level headed when the going gets tough – and recognising that there is strength in numbers. And with the strength, there should also be room to allow for a little humour along the way. It can help you and your colleagues break a deadlock – and look at a challenge in a new way.

Now I mentioned numbers. That’s because you’ll now be part of the senior management team / senior leadership team / the executive management team. There are lots of terms and these are often shortened down to SMT, SLT and EMT but that just makes it even more vague. What is it all about when it comes to purpose and behaviours in a group like this?

Is there perhaps a single short term that can help us inform some of the what, how and why of a group like this?

I propose we take a closer look at the word…

Board

When you look at the root it becomes obvious why so many people talk about getting ‘a seat at the table’. The good people over at Fidelio even have a programme you might want to look at – called exactly this.

Etymology of Board

Etymology of board

What else might we learn from the root? Well, that when a board operates in unison, it really can be like facing a broadside. And boards operate at the sharp edge: they’re there to resolve issues that can’t be solved at lower levels of the organisation.

Now Globocorp operates all over the world, so there are management boards, supervisory boards and subsidiary boards (and a few more in-between). We’ll look closer at these another time.

You might end up serving on more than one – directly, or perhaps as part of a committee – and while the legal framework and statutory requirements will vary, there are some shared principles. The Financial Reporting Council’s updated guidance on board effectiveness is not a bad place to start as you start thinking beyond the function you came up through (so to speak).

Here I’ve pulled a few quick principles to whet your appetite:

FRC Guidance on Board Effectiveness - cover
FRC Guidance on Board Effectiveness

“Effective directors will understand their duties both collectively and individually.”

“A sound understanding at board level of how value is created over time is key in steering strategies and business models towards a sustainable future.”

“The boardroom should be a place for robust debate where challenge, support, diversity of thought and teamwork are essential features.”

“Openness and accountability matter at every level.”

As you can see immediately, this calls for working well beyond the comms department. It requires for you to be a true guide when walking into the boardroom.

Now how might you practice some of these skills in a safe environment, exploring scenarios and testing out approaches?

Get a seat at the table. Help guide.

Play Snakes & Ladders…

Good luck!

Michael

Michael Ambjorn has led people for over 20 years. He has run organisations, chaired boards and developed changemakers. You can find him on LinkedIn or follow him @michaelambjorn