Are you Beast or Beauty?

Many communication professionals I know seem besotted with the concept of becoming a ‘business partner’. They say things like: If only my CEO would listen to me … I’ve got lots of great ideas but senior executives just treat me like a copy editor … I can never get time in their diaries … they only think of communication after the fact and don’t involve me in decision-making … they seem to think my job is to ‘make things pretty’.

An 1875 illustration from "Beauty and the Beast" by Eleanor Vere Boyle, where Beast is depicted as a saber-toothed panther.
An 1875 illustration from “Beauty and the Beast” by Eleanor Vere Boyle, where Beast is depicted as a saber-toothed panther. 

This is reminiscent of my niece’s favourite Fairy Tale “Beauty and the Beast”; where a lack of mutual understanding and tolerance initially gets in the way of a fruitful and successful relationship. The power of partnership overcomes initial antipathy. If this sounds like some of your internal relationships – with senior executives or other functions in your organizations, then read on.

For many people in our profession, creating a successful partnership with senior colleagues is a vexing challenge. The dilemma is about how to balance your professional expertise with the other skills require to create a great partnership. The problem is made more difficult by the professional curriculum of the profession.

By this I contend that companies, individuals, and organizations invest a lot of time and energy on the technical skills side of training. There are many conferences on skills and tools to become an ‘expert’, or about the last ‘shiny tools’ and techniques. But becoming a business partner is about more than just becoming a great technician. Playing in the professional sandbox is great fun but doesn’t add much value.

To help understand this, I spoke to my other functional colleagues – Buck Greenback, Lloyd Barr and Hugh Mann to get a different perspective. It seems that other functions, have also started to recognise this, invest in training and new approaches, and are therefore seen as more of a partner, whether they have the job title of ‘business partner’ or not.

Developing great partnerships and being taken seriously is more than just being a beautifully crafted expert. In the fable, Belle succeeds because she relies on more than just her looks; just as the true professional has to rely on more than just technical expertise. In fact, it is rare that your internal customers will judge you on your skills, they’ll focus instead on impact. In business – whether you are in HR, Communications, or IT – becoming a true partner is demonstrating business know-how and having great advisory/consulting behaviours.

Developing these requires investment. And sometimes training. But when was the last time you attended a training course that was about business know-how, operating models, value creation, advisory skills, consulting behaviours, or coaching?

If you want a seat at the table, for the CEO (in my case Isobel Ching) or other leaders to invest time in you, then you need to invest in them. Reciprocity: senior business people will only partner with those who understand their business, know how value is created, and demonstrate that they have done their homework. But it is surprising how few functional professionals know who their organization’s biggest customers are; who are the most important shareholders; what competitors are up to; the regulatory environment. Focusing on technical skills or new technologies is the sign of the technician, not the business partner. It’s also the sign of the vacuous beauty of Belle’s friends — the Bimbettes — who don’t have her emotional intelligence and charm.

This applies whether you are working with the senior executives, or even other functional heads. How can you help them if you don’t make an attempt to understand their world, their challenges, and their operating environment? The Beast is more than just a repellent monster. To create a partnership Belle has to understand his back-story and what drives his behaviour. Then work with him. He, in turn, invests (and overcomes his antipathy) also to discover she is more than just ‘belle’.

Once you have business knowledge, then you need to marry your experience with your business know-how with the help of the priest of consulting and advisory skills. These act as the bridge to get senior leaders to listen to your advice and guidance. These skills are about relationship building, audience analysis, creating trust, influencing skills, and being clear about what you do and how you make a difference. How you give advice is just as important as what the advice is.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast has moments of tragedy and it is also tragic that many professionals punch below their weight despite the fact that business and advisory skills are relatively easy to learn.

Advancing the profession – and advancing your own career – might be easier by focusing less on knowing the latest digital communication tools and focusing more on developing consulting tools.

If you would like to learn more about how to be a business partner, and practice your skills in a safe environment, please get in touch and we can play Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders with your team.


“A bit like taking part in … Moral Maze” – 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 instalment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Steven Shepperson-Smith, a Chartered PR Practitioner and Chair of the Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR) Greater London Group. 

Carmen: I noticed that you’re a chartered practitioner, can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Steven: I’ve been working in communications for about 20 years now. I’ve been in the CIPR for my whole career.

CIPR is the only chartered body for the PR industry in the UK, meaning it is responsible for maintaining high professional standards in the industry. It supports practitioners on two fronts: developing their skills and careers; and ensuring that they have a very clear ethical code to follow, enabling CIPR members to demonstrate strong judgment when making decisions.

Chartered status is the gold standard for practitioners in the UK. It is a peer based assessment of a person’s leadership qualities, strategic approach and ethical standards. I qualified a couple years ago and it’s a great club to be in. It tells employers and customers that you’ll do a job in a highly effective and professional manner.

Chartered Status also underpins the importance of continuous professional development (CPD). It’s really important that PR practitioners invest in their careers and keep learning, Committing to CPD is just a way of making sure you do that alongside all the other work priorities!

Carmen: How did you come across Corporate Snakes & Career Ladders?

Steven: I am chair of the CIPR Greater London Group. The last couple of years CIPR has run an ethics month (#EthicsFest) and we’ve used the game in that context. I’ve played it twice myself.

It’s quite a fun way for people to engage in ethics for their CPD points. There’s a compulsory requirement: you’ve got to do one ethics module – and quite a lot of the time it can feel a bit theoretical and dull.

Instead, playing a game and discussing scenarios and trying to win against other practitioners is great fun.

I talked before about using strong judgment, what was really helpful was sitting in a room just talking with other senior practitioners about ethical quandaries. There is no guarantee at all that any of the scenarios will occur for real in a person’s career but it helps to hear different approaches to a problem. With ethics, as you know, there’s not always a right or wrong – but a lot of grey in between. It was a bit like taking part in BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze from that perspective!

Carmen: Great. What’s next?

StevenCIPR Greater London Group holds a free Drink event on the second Monday of every month at the Merchant House in Fleet Street. It’s the biggest PR networking drinks in London and we’d love to see you there sometime. You can book for that and other events on our Eventbrite page.

If you would like to learn more about attaining and maintain Chartered Practitioner status, connect with Steven on LinkedIn. 

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.

Let Christmas give you an edge

This morning, my assistant Marco Madeira, gave me the usual run down of things we have to deal with. It was a fun, productive meeting. At the end, he said “Oh and there’s an email in your inbox from Michael Ambrose. You need to approve his idea for the team Christmas do”. Christmas! There you go. It’s October and we are officially in closing-out-the-year mode.

I haven’t read Michael’s email yet, but I trust him and I’m sure he’s come up with something unique, fun and business worthy. After all, getting my whole team together for a full day is a big investment – of brains and money. So no sappy Christmas jumper competition for Globocorp – not this year.

Let me give you a tip, my friends and advisers, you can escape the escape rooms and the choir practice, do something a bit more productive than just hang about and drink. Instead, Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders can come to you and help your team grow through play.

Our game helps you learn to navigate the ambiguity between theory and practice as your team encounters real-life scenarios in a game environment.

We know that we learn best when we experience things, when we are having fun and when we get a chance to reflect with others: these are the three pillars of its design.

Players will take part in an immersive experience to:

  • Quickly establish a team, sharing roles, and reaching consensus
  • Reflect around key business challenges and how to work with other functions.
  • Understand how to apply “rules” and “best practice” when reality bites.

My creators have even designed two new festive scenarios for our enjoyment.

So, if you are in Michael Ambrose’s position and need to figure out Christmas in October, don’t give it another thought: get in touch and my creators will help you use this task to advance your career. After all, ‘tis the season to be savvy.

its the season to be savvy

I asked, you chose: this is how to ensure a team’s success

Two weeks ago, I challenged you, my friends, to pick a September resolution for me. You voted (thank you), and I’m pleased to announce the results.

The winner — with 44% of the vote — was “ensure the team’s success”. The question, therefore, is: how do I, as a leader, ensure my team’s success? Both now and in the future. How do I ace my succession plan?

To address this challenge, I naturally turned to my mentor. As many of you know, I’m not based in the UK, but do spend a lot of time here (our developers are at Silicon Roundabout in London) so I managed to persuade IABC UK to let me be part of their flagship mentoring scheme – available to IABC members. I got introduced to the wonderful Constance Marianescu — some of you met her at my session at the IABC World Conference in Montreal. But I digress…

Constance gave me some great advice which can be summarised as L-E-A-D.

L stands for ‘loosen up’. In her experience many bad leaders go for a ‘corset’ management style. That is: loose at the top (they are vague on objectives and goals), tight in the middle (they expect to be cc’d on every email) and loose at the bottom (woolly evaluation and measurement). But surely the ‘reverse corset’ is a more effective technique? Be super tight about the strategy and rules (top) and awesomely accurate on evaluation and standards (bottom), but let your people make decisions — and take responsibility — on implementation.  Hold them accountable for results, not activity. This will help them grow and develop.

E is for ‘expand’. Constance told me that the best learning and development opportunities happen at the liminal zone of people’s experience. That is: at the edge of their comfort zone. Too ‘in the zone’ and it is easy. Too ‘out of the zone’ and no learnings are possible. So expand people’s horizons gently and push them carefully step-by-step.

A is for ‘allow to fail’. Early in my career, I complained that my team checked in with me for everything — they seemed unable to make a decision without me. But Constance told me that it was my fault, not theirs. I should give them responsibility and decision-making power. This means that maybe they will fail or do things in a different way that I would. The key for their success is for me to reward lessons learned, as much as big wins. Sure, I’ll rescue them from a big mistake or doing something illegal. But if it is a minor mistake: let them make it and learn. That’s how they grow.

D is for ‘designate’. Who is your successor? Early in my career I worked in a company which had a policy: no matter how good you are, we won’t promote you unless you have groomed a successor. I know who is ready to take the baton when I pass it on. Do you?


There you are. Four tips on how to make a team successful.

Oh, and by the way, if you would like to have your own mentor, be sure to join IABC and sign up for their mentoring scheme. And of course if you would like to explore these issues — maybe as part of your team’s Christmas party — please get in touch.


“How can I become more strategic?” – A Carmen Q&A

IMG-20180727-WA0018Hundreds 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 Cari Simmons, Senior Communications Consultant, Worldwide Sales Enablement at Citrix. 

Carmen: Tell me more about your your work?

Cari: I’ve been working with Citrix for five years in October and I’ve always had a communications role. I originally did communications for our Americas sales audience (about 1,000 people in North and South America). In January I moved over into a worldwide position.

We have sellers from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and North and South America.

So it’s an interesting transition. It’s definitely been a nice learning experience.

Carmen: That’s great. And when when you you’re not working at Citrix (and not playing Corporate Snakes & Career Ladders)?

Cari: I’m a big Netflix fan. I like to catch up on the latest shows with my husband. My dog is also a key priority in my life. I like taking her on walks.

Carmen: Nice. Now, you participated in our game at #IABC18. Have you been to a World Conference before?

Cari:  This was the first time that I had been! It was awesome.

I would say I went into it pretty blind but it was a great learning experience. I didn’t anticipate that many people from around the world coming to this event. But it was amazing to learn from other people’s experiences about what worked and didn’t work for them in terms of communications.

Carmen: And you also participated in Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. Tell me more about that?

Cari: My manager encouraged me to sign up and go to that conference – and also recommended that I start it off with Snakes and Ladders. I didn’t really think we’d play a game; I thought that was just a description.

But I was very pleasantly surprised when I got there that it wasn’t the typical conference session where you’re sitting down and listening to a panel or somebody speak, and share their perspective for 50 minutes.

It was truly interactive and very eye opening. Not to sugarcoat anything here; but our team was not to the top team… I think that was interesting to see, because it altered my perspective of how I was normally thinking.

Carmen: Interesting, how so?

I needed to shift my perspective a little bit and the Snakes and Ladders really helped me to do that. It helped me start thinking ‘how can I become more strategic?’.

Carmen: That’s great. And then what surprised you the most about the experience?

Really how relatable a lot of the situations were and how different the opinions from people were. I think we had about five people in our group. Some were adamant on one answer and some very set on alternatives. It was interesting to hear the rationale each put behind their approach. We talked about this in the larger group too, agreeing that in real life, sometimes a blend of two answers might work best. And sometimes, also in real life, you might need to blend three answers. So it’s just good to chat and learn about everything.

Carmen: Has your approach at work changed?

Cari: Yeah, I don’t remember all of the classifications but we talked about how you look at different tasks. I think there was a nurse and a physician and stuff like that. So I’ve really taken that to heart and look at how the different tasks that I work on.

That’s helped me execute some tasks on my end better – and it helps gets my message across better to my key stakeholders.

Carmen: What other resources do you draw on to learn?

Cari: I’m always working on expanding my communications knowledge. I love getting different perspectives, and that includes following Carmen Spinoza on Twitter.

Something that we work with a lot here at Citrix is having that growth mindset, which I felt a lot playing a game. You don’t need to be afraid to fail. Sometimes failure helps you – and failure is the way to learn and move into the next step.

I’m going to pitch the game to my manager soon. Our team interest just grew by about 3 folks and I think it would be good for us in a corporate setting with a lot of different stakeholders and people who have their skin in the game. It’ll help us be seen as strategic leaders and partners.

If you would like to learn more about getting a growth mindset, as Cari has, why not connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her @Cari_Swerty 

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.