Strategic advisers: five perspectives.

In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders events, one of our goals is to combine fun with practical tools to help participants reflect on their personal advisory style and think what it means for their own behaviour, and how they work with others.

One of the most popular tools we have helps people think about what type of adviser they are. In fact, being a ‘strategic adviser’ comes in five different flavours.

So what are the five? And which one are you?

Imagine you are walking into an expensive restaurant for a date with the one you love. You will encounter several different people — all experts in their own field, and all ready to give you advice on how to have the best possible experience. But they will all do it in different ways.

Nvospersfnls_Cards1 copyIn fact, maybe your first adviser is one you encounter before you get to the restaurant. You meet a previous customer (or read an internet review): “Aah, you’re going to ‘Augustus’ for dinner! Wow! You must totally have the ‘Barcelona Chop’. It’s their speciality. Divine. And for dessert? There is only one choice. Of course you need to order the ‘Caramel Salée With Meringue’. It’s to die for.” This adviser’s heart is in the right place, and they generally believe that those choices are the best for you. But they have jumped to solution and ‘yelped’ it out before even having a detailed discussion. This is a great approach in a crisis: ‘just tell me what to do’. Yelping out the solution immediately they can save time and make your life easier. But the challenge for this type of adviser — the yelper — is that jumping straight to solution or action sometimes works but is not always the best approach.

Nvospersfnls-02As you enter the restaurant, you will meet your next adviser: the maître d’. Let’s call her Martha. Her main job is to ensure you have a good experience, and to marshal a team of specialists to meet your specific needs. Martha is supportive, helpful and attentive. She knows her stuff but doesn’t parade her knowledge. At times, she will bring in experts to enhance your experience; at other times she will develop a relationship with you to understand your needs in more detail. If you are a looking for a quick transaction, go to a different restaurant. Martha will ensure you feel better after leaving; and will place your needs above her own. As you share a taxi home with your loved one, you probably won’t even remember her name: but she’s the one who made it all happen.

Nvospersfnls-05After Martha shows you to your table, you’ll meet your waiter, William. This is the third adviser archetype. His job is transactional. His job is to give you a menu of options and then write down what you say. He’ll deliver whatever you ask. Maybe there will be a little conversation about options, but essentially the waiter’s job is to deliver. Sometimes as an adviser, that is what you need to do. A senior leader needs something and you need to deliver. There is a time and a place for this approach. But doing it too often is career-limiting.

Nvospersfnls-08As you choose your meal, you’ll maybe want some wine. Enter Salma, your sommelier. As your adviser, her job is to have a conversation to understand your needs, the context (the meal you have already chosen; your budget; your tastes) and then make a recommendation. At the beginning of your conversation, she doesn’t know your needs, your context, and there is no clear solution from her list of hundreds of options. If it was a crisis and you needed immediate wine, then the yelper is the adviser for you. But the sommelier will explore the issues, make recommendations and guide you towards a good outcome.

Nvospersfnls-07Your final archetype is Christiane, the chef. She’s the super expert — and has the Michelin stars, certificates and qualifications to prove it. In her hands, the mundane becomes dynamic. Her technical expertise is second to none and if you need an expert to solve your problems she’s the one for you. Like some chefs, she can be hard to handle. Unlike the maître d’, she doesn’t need interpersonal skills. In fact, you probably won’t even meet her. But her solution will be the thing that you rave about later. As an adviser, she’s the expert and the one that will go away and build a solution to meet your needs.

This typology may be a bit of fun, but it comes in useful when diagnosing business partnering relationships. One of the big challenges in consulting or business partner relationships is that the ‘buyer’ and the ‘seller’ can sometimes have different ideas of why the partnership exists.

Successful business partners will make sure there is an alignment between three components of the relationship:

  1. What does the buyer want? Sometimes, actually, it is a waiter problem, pure and simple. Just do it. Going in with a sommelier approach is just going to annoy people.
  2. What is the job? This might be a job description, an RFP or just an email request from one of your colleagues. You need to identify what type of response is needed.
  3. Finally, as a person, where do you get your energy? Plenty of people ask me, “how do I become a maître d’?” but actually when I quiz them in detail it is apparent they are most happy being a chef.

The trick to successful business partner relationships is ensuring an alignment between what the customer wants, the job requirement and where you get your energy.

And this applies not just to those in marketing or PR but also to professionals in other fields such as HR, Legal, IT etc. In fact, we regularly sit down with the other functional leaders in my business where we explore these issues and think about what that means. (Perhaps the same is true in your organization – how often do you sit down with your peers from other functions and think about what your organization really needs from its functional experts?)

If you would like to hear more about this methodology and how to move from one archetype to another, come to one of our workshops or get in touch directly.

A RECIPE for success

Last week, my friend Dr Kendi Guantai at Leeds University Business School, invited me to spend the day with graduate students of the Business School. It was so much fun! I got to immerse them in the world of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. This time though the dilemma of how to address the concerns an important, yet tricky stakeholder. 

During the business simulation, we explored how important it is for a senior executive to adapt their influencing style to the objective and the audience. Many leaders do this intuitively, but I’m convinced this is a skill we can all learn and practice. 

For a while now I’ve been toying with the different influencing styles I’ve been exposed to over my career, and I think existing taxonomies are incredibly useful. I keep coming back to French and Raven, Musselwhite and Pfouffe and the fantastic work of Positive Power and Influence. 

I think that all professionals should learn them and use them. I confess, however, the most popular approaches are so hard to remember, which makes it impossible for busy people like me and my team to retain, internalise and use.

That’s why a new RECIPE for influence is needed. I smell the scent of success coming out of the oven! 

“R-E-C-I-P-E” is a mnemonic for the six most common influencing styles used in business. It has given my team and I a shared understanding, a shorthand, to talk about influence and motivation.

Without further ado, here’s my RECIPE for success:

  What it is What it sounds like… Use it when you… Tip!
Reward A style based in giving something for a future unspecified prize. “As a sign of good faith…” “here’s a little extra” don’t need anything immediate want to establish long-term rapport Every time you work late, for nothing, you are investing in the relationship with a “reward” behaviour
Exchange You give and receive.

“What can I do to make you stay”

“The deal is…”

know you both have something the other needs/wants This is great for sales or to motivate a team with a clear goal in sight.
Connect Engaging the other at a personal, emotional level

“This is what we can achieve together”

“Yes, we can!”

want to create an atmosphere of unity Politicians are the experts at connect
Inform Using data and facts to make your points I recommend this for three reasons…Evidence suggests that… know the audience can be persuaded by reason/facts

Use it sparingly when you have an airtight case.

Remember it’s not the only tool in your arsenal.

Picture Tapping into your audience’s imagination “Imagine a year from now what our business will be like” want to establish an emotional connection  It’s a very powerful way to open a presentation.
Exit Allowing for time and space when you find yourself at an impasse. Let’s take a break!Let me reflect on this and come back to you.  sense that you aren’t getting anywhere. This is not bluffing or walking away. Make sure you establish a time and place to reconnect.

Interested? If you’d like to know more about our approach to learning and development contact us through here or @carmenspinoza11.

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.