Make 2020 Crystal Clear

Give your team the Christmas present of a new vision and way of working

A guest post from Buck Greenback, CFO

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The Christmas and New Year season is fast approaching. Now is the time that many organizations are doing a lot of planning. Perhaps you are planning for an end-of-year celebration for your team. Or perhaps you are starting the strategic planning process for 2020. Either way: Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders can help. People tell me I’m very direct. And you are no doubt a busy person: so I’ll get straight to the point.

New Year, new approach

You may be thinking about a Strategy Away Day, and bringing your team together to think about your vision, and to crystallize ways of working for next year.  And of course you won’t be succumbing to the cliché of calling it a “20/20 Vision”, will you?  You may know what you are planning for next year, but have you thought about the how? How are you and your team going to work in a different way to add value to your business, to deliver on your ambitious goals and agenda, and to make a difference to your organization, your colleagues, and your own career?

We can help. We can deliver a team workshop that will get you and your team thinking about ways of working, team behaviors, and how to work with a renewed purpose to deliver value. We have worked with both government and private sector organizations to help set their teams up for success. Our business simulation gives participants a chance to think about their own behaviour, have intensive discussions, and sometimes even break through performance barriers to achieve new heights. We can develop a customized workshop for you and your team to help you address the performance challenges for 2020. We can teach your team how to be real strategic advisers to your CEO and other leaders.

(Oh, as an aside, it is worth mentioning that my colleague Isobel Ching, our CEO occasionally channels her inner O-Ren Ishii when talking about strategic advisers: “Please note that, as your leader, I encourage my [strategic advisers] from time to time, and always in a respectful manner to question my logic. If you’re unconvinced that a particular plan of action I’ve decided is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo.” If you need advice on how to be an effective strategic adviser; get in touch.)

Celebration events

Or you may be planning a party for your team. If so, allow me to make some suggestions from a Finance perspective. In the UK, the cost of a staff party or entertainment counts as a deduction for tax purposes. However, be aware there are some circumstances when it can count as a ‘taxable benefit-in-kind’ for your employees. This can happen when the cost per employee is above £150. There are some tax rules which state that the event must have some business element, ie it can’t just be a nice meal and a few drinks. If you are looking for a fun business element to stay within the rules, then we might have the answer for you.

Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders can offer you and your team a fun, business-focused activity as a preamble to your real Christmas celebrations. We have versions of the game for different functions and can also create a cross-functional versions where teams will play different fictional characters in a real-life setting. Your team will get to think about business from a different point of view, debate with other teams, and challenge perspectives – both their own and others’. Our events can be aimed at teams from 7 people to 70, and include fun exercise, team challenges, interactive voting and even prize giving.

(Oh, my colleague Lloyd Barr, our General Counsel, has reminded me I need to say this: “Please note that the above does not constitute official tax vary. The exact rules will vary by country and your organizational status. Please contact your own Finance team or Accountant for specific advice.”)

Merry Christmas!

Day of the Dead … for your career?

On November 1, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. It is a tradition that dates back to Aztec times and the goddess Mictēcacihuātl, queen of the underworld, mixed with Catholic tradition and even a bit of James Bond imagination. From Melbourne to San Francisco, from London to Toronto, you will probably come across the striking colourful ways in which our Mexican friends use this day to remember their past and, ultimately, celebrate their own lives. That’s the key behind the celebration: one day you, too, will join those you remember, so celebrate life and enjoy the ride!

When it comes to your career, the same applies. Our working life is long and getting longer, and yet it is not unending. It is finite. How often do you remind yourself of this?

But we’re not here to be morbid. We’re here to be joyous and provide you with practical ways to look at things in a different way.  How can Día de Muertos give you a new perspective on your career? Here are three traditions to give you inspiration:

The “altar” – it is a colourful staple in Mexican houses. A table is set with beautiful ornaments, a picture of the dear departed, their favourite things and favourite foods. What would you like to have in yours? As I laid the one for my father and placed the book he wrote on the table, it struck me, if I too would like to have a book placed on mine one day, I’d better get writing. Would you like pictures of your travels? Well, make a plan, take that sabbatical, get on a secondment. The “altar” gives us a beautiful tool to visualise what we want from the future, and get going to make it happen.

The “calaveritas” – In Mexico, every year newspapers publish colourful limericks telling the story of what death would say when she comes to pick you up. It is endearing and funny. The most serious of events is made more palatable with humour and wit. If Mexicans can joke about death you can defuse tensions with laughter. Life, after all, is a game to be played. So take a moment to find the joy in your career!

The “pan de muerto” – Mexicans say “with bread, grief is less”, in that spirit they created a lovely little piece of syncretism: French Brioche-style bread, but in the shape of a skull covered with sugar. When it comes to our careers, we all have the routine tasks that must be done: “your daily bread.” Put it into a special shape, add a little sugar and voila! It is fun again. So maybe there is opportunity to bring joy to either the process, the people or the product you are working towards. It can be as simple as bringing in that colleague you like into the development process, or ensuring you celebrate the delivery of that annual results presentation with your team in a different way. Maybe you even run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop as your annual team planning event? The key is to sprinkle a little joy.  

Because in the end, our careers, like our lives, will end. There is no time to be wasted. To quote the immortal Horace, ‘carpe diem’.  Because Día de Muertos reminds us all that life is fragile and ephemeral and well worth enjoying,  when it comes to your career, make the most of it now. Take a chance. Challenge yourself. Think about things from a different perspective. 

We urge you then – for Día de Muertos applies to all of us – to consider how to make the most of what you have; and how to maximise your opportunities. What are you doing to take advantage of today’s chances?

Purpose, profit and Bieber

It’s amazing what makes the news these days! The top US CEOs redefined the purpose of their companies to look beyond profit to be profitable, they exist not only for their investors, but for their employees and stakeholders. 

Last year, purpose got an unlikely hero: Larry Fink, BlackRock’s CEO. “Purpose” he explained “is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose — in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.”

Game. Set. Match. It’s time to move the conversation from “what are we here for?” to “how do we make it real”.

Simulations can help bring a purpose to life.

I’m at the helm of the purpose journey at Globocorp. We started a couple of years ago. For me “success” will come when my employees quote not Larry Fink but that well-known Canadian wordsmith, Mr. Bieber, the “other” Justin. As I lead our purpose rollout, I imagine all our people singing as they walk into the office or plant:

…you’ve blessed me with the best gift
That I’ve ever known…
…You give me purpose

OK, that might be a stretch.. but it warms my heart to imagine it. It helps me to visualise us giving our people a reason to keep keeping on.

Gartenberg and Serafin, point to three hurdles that might block a company’s journey: 

  • the short-term outlook of an investor base, 
  • incentives – putting value creation in the right place
  • leadership and the culture you establish through unwritten rules.

They are absolutely right, but let me add one more, misalignment on how to “live” the purpose. (ps – follow them on Twitter, their work is amazing! @cmgartenberg  & @georgeserafeim)

I don’t know of any company that has managed to embed their purpose through a snazzy campaign or by engraving it into every door. It only happens when living up to your purpose is measured in everyday wins. 

Living the purpose, means employees – at al levels – consider the impact of their choices on the whole spectrum and how they align to the company’s ultimate goal. Last year, we started running purpose presentations at Globocorp. I saw how, time and again, people left our purpose “workshops” and then went on about their business in the exact same way. Nothing had changed. So I worked with our head of People, Hugh Mann, to change our incentives and with our CEO to help be a star role model. Still… I didn’t see the change I needed. Changing the routine is much harder than rising to meet extraordinary challenges, because we always tend to return to the norm. This much I’ve learned. 

And then… 

we introduced simulations

and archetypes, 

through a game,

and I watched our teams flourish.

I saw them have facilitated discussions about the choices they made, their motivations and impact. The teamwork, the fun, the real-life scenarios and, voilà! The learning sticks. 

We are still on a journey, cultural transformation is a long process but I am starting to hum Mr. Bieber as I go into work. 

If you want to know more about the Globocorp journey and how we can bring this workshops to your company, get in touch!

 

Wimbledon’s life lessons for a business leader

It’s that time of the year again. July has come along and I have the delight of hanging out with some of our top clients in SW19.

I am one of the very very lucky few, not only do I love tennis, but I am fascinated by the human spectacle that the yearly strawberries and cream pilgrimage offers.

Now, I write as I’m waiting for another flight, and so far, I have been musing about what some of the players are going through in their careers. Such wealth of human experience!

In my usual style, I have identified five career moments personified in my favourite players.

Coco Gauff – Let’s start with my favourite find: the rookie! This extraordinary fifteen-year old showed us all the powerful combination of hope, grit, talent and hard work. I have a couple of Cocos on my team. Their talent must be challenged and nurtured, they might not win it all the first time around, but they need us – their leaders – to tell them how much they can and do contribute to our overall success. We also must hold their hand through their first defeats. If you get the chance to mentor or supervise a Coco, do not underestimate the influence you will have in her career. Handle with care!

Roger Federerthe seasoned champion. The #GOATs of business come along every once in a while. At Globocorp, his name is Michael Ambrose. He is clever, fun and consistently delivers great results even when faced with the toughest challenges. My approach to him is let him fly, correct him gently because his ego is fragile, and learn to deal with the very human difficulty of having an employee that outshines you.

Andy Murraythe lateral mover. Every life has its moments of reckoning. Sometimes by choice, sometimes for health or personal reasons, we take a step back and are invited to reinvent ourselves. If he wasn’t ready to come back to singles, he found joy and comfort in doubles and in the marketing miracle that is MurRena (the Serena/Andy pair). Give the lateral mover in your organization a chance to come back and find his or her place, they might deliver unexpected riches!

Serena Williams – the comeback queen. Returning is always tricky. Returning from maternity leave is particularly difficult. Over the years I have changed my approach to supporting those in my team who have families, both men and women. Nowadays, I hire them a transition coach to help them and us adapt to their new selves. They have added skills and a newly found focus. As I watched pictures of the Queen of tennis cooling down with her toddler in arms, I’m reminded of how businesses who provide space and time for employees with caring responsibilities to fulfil them and fulfil their career dreams, reap benefits time and again. It just requires us to shift gears a little.

Johanna Konta– the consistent performer that suddenly disappoints you. Oh Jo! You-broke-our-hearts. Again. Her case is a tricky one, her talent and hard work shouldn’t be questioned. But something happens that when the stakes get high, she freezes…. Now,  I have a confession to make. At the very early stages in my career, I suffered from this. I was a 90% deliverer… and then I dropped the ball. I had an enlightened manager that noticed it and paired me with a “finisher”, to keep me motivated to the end. Not only did it save my career and make me a lifelong friend, I keep using that technique. I always have a finisher in my team and someone who delights in detail, they are there to help me hold my serve until the end.

Each one of these situations comes with its own challenges and opportunities, and they present leaders like me with special chances to inspire, motivate and elevate.

Because, as a leader, my success is defined by my ability to make my team succeed. And I love it!

What do you think? Any other Wimbledon stories that mirror real life for you? I would love to hear them.

As usual, if you would like to know more about how I can come and help you and your team, just drop us a line.

New York State of Mind

Last week I was in New York. I kicked my trip off with a meeting at the Fashion Institute of Technology; then a leisurely dinner with an old friend who was in my team, oh I don’t know how many moons ago. Then I went out to New Jersey to run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop with the IABC NJ chapter.

In a couple of hours, I will board a Cathay Pacific flight (Isobel insists!) to Hong Kong where will be putting a few new ideas to the test in that important market. So I’m sitting here reflecting on meetings with old friends and new. Is there such a thing as a “New York state of mind?”. Or was Billy Joel completely wrong?

Of course there is the archetype of the typical New Yorker, but let us of focus on the “new”. Is there a mindset or an approach to life that can make a difference in your career? Can you be purposeful? I think the answer is ‘yes’. Let me give you two examples, without giving too much away.

Exhibit one: my ex-team member, Kelly Anson. Moved to NY after a failed marriage and wanted to rebuild her life. She took positive steps to fix a few things, and made it happen. Now she lives in a great house, with a great job, and a great family. She’s got it all! But only because she took some active steps to make changes. Yes, luck is important – or, for Isobel, cleromancy – but you do make your own. And she did in spades.

Exhibit two: a completely new friend, Casper Toms. He came to my workshop at the Vanderbilt residence (more on that later). As you know, our workshops are generally designed for people in comms who want to advance their career. Casper works at a wealth management company, having studied Economics and Sustainability in Europe. So why did he come to my workshop? He wanted to expand his horizons, play outside his comfort zone and meet new people.

This got me thinking. There was a lot of excitement for the IABC world conference in Vancouver last week. A lot of communicators I know where there. I couldn’t go, alas. But I couldn’t help but wonder, are comms professionals over excited about playing in their own professional sandbox? Or should we be more like Caspar and attend things outside our natural home … to learn more about business. Maybe we all need to be a ‘bit more Caspar’ and have a different state of mind when it comes to networking and professional development. After all, if a finance person can come to a comms event, why not the other way around? Dare to be new, I say.

Oh, I promised something about the Vanderbilts. We did our workshop in one of the rooms of their old house: Florham. About an hour west of NYC. An echo of a golden era – I was reminded of West Egg but of course it is really modelled on Hampton Court in London.  Now of course, the house is part of a University and is focused on creating intellectual wealth, not financial. And I bet you didn’t know this: there’s good evidence that Cornelius Vanderbilt started his life as a technical expert (ferry captain in New York) before becoming strategic adviser (to his business partner in the 1810s) and then … famously … business leader.

That, to me, is the true New York state of mind!

From May to June, of butterflies and caterpillars

In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders Workshops, we talk about this concept all the time: how do I transform myself from technical expert to strategic adviser? The underlying questions participants are trying to answer are: “How do I grow into my next self? How do I transform myself to the person I want to be?”

Today, let’s look at nature for the answer: the butterfly. That’s the goal. The majestic creature that inspires children and grown-ups alike, attracts all kinds of attention. She shows the way with panache, elegance and sometimes even a bit of whimsy. 

Yet, our imagination rarely focuses on what it takes to make a butterfly: the three stages before.

First, the egg. We are all this at the start of our careers: full of potential and often indistinguishable from our peers in terms of know-how and experience. The employee.

Next ….

Second, the caterpillar. She’s starting to develop a personality, so let’s call her June. She knows her task, she follows her plan, she executes. Think of her as the manager. The one that has spent time in perfecting his or her craft and is a true expert. She is hungry, ambitious and on a growth journey.

And then….

Third, the chrysalis. She stops. She reflects. She transforms herself. When ready to be a butterfly, she takes a step back and looks inward to build a new self. She forms herself into a pupa and, while it looks like nothing is happening internally, she is transforming. She is changing her motivations, her style and her approach to life.

Finally, she becomes…

Fourth, the butterfly. The leader. She’s made it and is the queen of all she surveys.

In this story, nature provides the chrysalis stage, the chance for metamorphosis. But in the real world, too often we see June the caterpillar-manager, jump straight into the butterfly-leader world and are disappointed to see that she hasn’t flourished. June goes about her business in the same way, with no pause and no transformation. And then, inevitably, the caterpillar who didn’t invest in becoming a butterfly fails at flying. Caterpillar behaviour is inappropriate in the butterfly world.

In nature this would make no sense, it does not exist. Transformation is required not only for success, but for survival. In business, we often forget the pause, the chrysalis stage, and then are surprised when the transformation does not occur.

In the UK today, we have watched another political leader fail because — although widely recognised as a pretty successful caterpillar — there was no transformational stage before she got picked to be a butterfly almost three years ago. Being a very hungry caterpillar brought her success. She built her craft, did the hard work. Succeeded where others had failed. But caterpillar behaviour doesn’t work in the butterfly world.

If you are ready to transform into a leader, recognise that a radical transformation is needed and that the unsung hero is the chrysalis stage. When the time comes, leave your craft, your hunger, your systems and approaches behind and embrace the journey of becoming a butterfly. 

This is how leaders flourish, and successful careers are built. One natural state at a time. If you try and ‘hack’ the chrysalis stage, others might not think you can hack leadership. Your colleagues will gang up on you and force you out of the corner office. 

With Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, we provide a fun, meaningful space for you to pause, learn and get the tools you need to transform yourself into the next version of you. If you want to find out more, drop us a line. 

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.

The ‘how to say no’ menu: dessert

Carmen Spinoza profile card
Follow @CarmenSpinoza11

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

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