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!

How many reputation ‘beans in the bank’ have you got?

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Earlier this year, in conjunction with the Partnering Partnership and Richard Goff, we launched the new version of our workshop, starring Hugh Mann, Globocorp’s HR Director. This workshop is aimed at HR Business Partners who want to make an impact with senior leaders. 

Michael Berry

One of the participants was Michael Berry FCIPD, a Senior Human Resources Business Partner at HM Revenue & Customs. This is his story, as told to Stephen Welch.

Stephen:       Hi Michael. Thanks for participating in the début of HR Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. Please can you tell me a little about your work?

Michael:        I’m a senior HR business partner at HMRC. I support the Customer Services Directorate. I’ve been in the Civil Service 17 years in various roles and locations including Sheffield and London before returning to Nottingham where I’m from.

Stephen:       What are the key challenges in your role?

Michael:        I need to balance our long-term transformation goals with short-term actions and political uncertainty. It is hard for some people to look beyond the short-term; and this makes it sometimes a challenge to involve people in a discussion about the long-term.

Stephen:       Why did you decide to attend the Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop?

Michael:        I’ve been in my current role just over a year and wanted the chance to step back and think about my stakeholder relationships in a new way, and how I need to flex my leadership style in different situations. The Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop helped me do that, and gave me a chance to consider new approaches.

Stephen:       What was the highlight for you?

Michael:        Taking the time to think about my impact. It was also good to work with people from other organizations and consider things in a different context; learning from other people’s experience and their different approaches to similar situations. It helped me think differently about my key stakeholders and how I can build credibility with different groups of leaders as my stakeholders change.

In the game we had to consider our reputation with different stakeholders, and keep track of how many reputation ‘beans in the bank’ we have with each fictional leader / character. I’ve now started to apply this concept in my real-life relationships and think about how I can put beans in the bank with key people.

Stephen:       That’s good to hear. We developed the concept of the simulation and fictional characters to enable exactly that: the translation of the concepts from the game into real-life situations. So I’m glad it’s been useful. Thank you for the feedback.

Michael:        I’d like to see if we can find a way to bring the simulation to HMRC to support our HR Business Partners. I think it’s a great learning experience for people who are working with senior leaders in the business.

Stephen:       Well, as you know, we do run frequent in-house workshop tailored for specific clients and their challenges, so let’s keep talking. In the meantime, please tell me a little about Michael outside of work.

Michael:        Well, I like sports: especially cricket, hockey and fencing.
I’m a member of Chilwell Blades Fencing Club. Spending time with these clubs, my family and my friends is crucial for me and helps build my resilience, balancing the books —so to speak— with a busy job.

Stephen:       I agree. Thanks for your time and let’s keep in touch.

If you would like to learn more about HR Snakes and Ladders, and see if it is right for you, get in touch.

Image from https://www.chilwellblades.co.uk/

 

What would Carmen do?

Guest post and feature photograph by Sharon Hunter.

What would Carmen do? Well, that depends on your point of view.

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Hi, my name is Sharon and I’m addicted to Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. It has been seven days since I last played the game…

Seriously, I was hooked the first time I met Carmen Spinoza at an IABC conference in 2017 – so when back-to-back workshops in Toronto and Montréal cropped up last week, I jumped on a plane to explore how the experience had evolved in the last two years.

The Toronto workshop Sept. 19 was organized by Contact Monkey, and the Montréal event Sept. 20 by the local IABC chapter. Each attracted a diverse mix of professionals and students from across PR, marketing and communications, spurring interesting discussion. I enjoyed reconnecting with a few @IABCToronto members, which sparked a little friendly competition between the cities.

The compelling thing about this game is the immersive learning environment it provides. As participants, we step into the fictional world of Globocorp and its cast of executive team characters. Working in teams, our role is to guide Carmen Spinoza, Globocorp’s Director of Communications, to navigate a tricky landscape as a newly appointed member of the executive team. To advance her career successfully, she must stretch beyond her comfort zone as a strategic adviser to the C-suite to become one of its business leaders. She must also step back to reflect on the best course of action within challenging scenarios, while considering the different perspectives of the other characters when making choices that affect them.

As communicators, we can all identify with Carmen’s challenges. As her advisers in this engaging business simulation, we are challenged to question our own habits: to pause before falling into conditioned behaviours, to consider different points of view and perspectives before offering solutions, to rise above our perceived rank to make strategic contributions that impact business results and, ultimately, demonstrate our worth to the organizations we serve.

The richness of this learning experience is reaped from the diversity within the room. Teams with participants representing all stages of the career journey must reach consensus on the advice they give Carmen to move forward. This sparks dynamic debate and evokes various degrees of emotional intelligence – much like in the corporate world.

To explore our own behaviours and preferences, Stephen Welch took us through exercises on the types of advisers. He also explored different influencing styles to help us identify our own recipes for success. Tip: If you can’t admit you’ve been Yannis the Yelper at the wrong time – you’ve got a long way to go on this journey!

What I love most about Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders is how adaptable it is. Countless simulations can be played within the Globocorp universe, and not just for communications scenarios. The game can be tailored to suit a variety of learning outcomes for teams across business functions. We played the role of a communications leader, but variations for other business functions like HR exist for those who want to advance from technical expert to strategic adviser.

So, here’s my final tip: Don’t wait for a public event to try your luck at this strategic thinking game. Get in touch and we can bring it home to you. I think that’s what Carmen would do.

The sky’s the limit!

Sharon Hunter, SCMP is a past chair of IABC international executive board, former IABC/ Montréal chapter president, independent consultant and a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders facilitator in Canada.

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!

 

Two lessons on a Snakes and Ladders workshop

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Early in July, Stephen Welch went to Bristol to run a session for the UK Government Communications Service. One of the participants was Sophie Mason, Head of Key Themes (Strategic Priorities Communications Team) at UK Research & Innovation. Here’s her story.

Stephen:          Hi Sophie. Can you tell me a little about your work?

Sophie:            I’m a senior strategic communications manager at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). We have a budget of £7billion to provide funding for universities, research organisations, businesses, charities and others. My job is to lead teams working on specific projects.

Stephen:          UKRI is a fairly new organization. How has your job changed since you took on this role?

Sophie:            Earlier in my career, I worked in small organizations and UKRI has 7,500 people. So influencing and advising is completely different. I’ve had to learn to stop ‘doing’ communications and do more ‘leading’ and ‘advising’. The real challenge is learning how to influence people who you don’t know. In small organizations you are more visible to people at the top – you can bump into the CEO in the kitchen – but in large organizations you need to be more systematic at building relationships and influencing people to get the job done.

Stephen:          Is that why you came along to our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event in Bristol?

Sophie:            Yes, I wanted to find out how to build and develop relationships in a different context and learn to be a strategic adviser. A lot of my previous jobs have been short-term contracts; in this one I want to build relationships and reputation for the long term. I wanted to learn how to be a business partner to senior people which is why attended Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders.

Stephen:          What was the key learning for you?

Sophie:            The Snakes and Ladders workshop taught me two key things. First: as a strategic adviser you need to work to see the long term. The benefits of your advice may not always be apparent in the short term and you need to be ready for this – sometimes you need a tough conversation (and lose some reputation points with a key stakeholder in the short term) but they will thank you in the end when your advice turns out to be right later on. Second: I found the ‘stakeholder mapping your career’ exercise really useful.

Stephen:          I’m glad to hear that. A lot of communication and marketing professionals know how to prepare and use a stakeholder map for their campaigns, but relatively few use the concept to help plan their career. To support this process, we are currently developing a ‘promotions pack’: a toolkit to help people going into a new job think about what they need to do to be successful in a new role.

Sophie:            That’s good. In my case, I had a mentor to help me with the transition. In my career until now, I’ve always had ‘outputs’ to measure my results. Now the challenge for me is to measure my results through others’ achievements.

Stephen:          Mentoring is great! I’ve been involved in the IABC Mentoring scheme for a few years… Do keep us posted on your progress. As we discussed, we would be pleased to come and run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop for UKRI, at your convenience. In the meantime, tell us about Sophie outside of work? What do you do when you are not working?

Sophie:            While I love my job, I’m very much a “work to live” person and I put the money I earn to good use having as many adventures as I can. My main passions are travelling and scuba diving – my partner and I are child free, so we get to go on lots of holidays and explore over- and under-water. We recently spent three weeks in Panama, diving around wrecked pirate ships and exploring the jungle. Last year we were island-hopping in Thailand and next year we’ll be diving in Malaysia and driving across the States. I also love cats and I’m about to adopt two new ones, which I intend to spoil rotten!

Stephen:          Ah, we can compare notes on cats some time. I have two. Meanwhile, thanks for your time, and perhaps see you at the next GCS event.

Learn more about the work of UK R&I and the GCS. And you can connect with Sophie on Linkedin. And if you’d like to try Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders: see if it is right for you.

Hugh Mann makes his mark…

…or how to gamify your career in HR.

Last Wednesday, as part of the “Experts at Work” events hosted by Richard Goff of The People Director Partnership, we played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders with a group of Human Resources professionals.

Hugh Mann - HR DirectorThrough our business simulation we gave them a chance to experience what it is like to be a senior HR Business Partner in a large organization. We ‘played’ the role of Hugh Mann, the archetypical HR Director, and helped him navigate key challenges as a business partner, while managing his relationships with other stakeholders, and using influencing skills to achieve their desired outcomes.

In small groups, they had to solve a series of business challenges, thinking about their own behaviour. Naturally, different teams had different answers, so we had a good debate to understand their points of view and how the ‘right’ approach to being a business partner is situationally-driven.

As one participant said, “Really innovative way of learning and getting you to think while making it fun.” Another said, “Fun with real meaning behind it. Lots of learning.”

In between rounds of the game we also explored specific tools to improve business partnering relationships, such as the different advisory roles and influencing. We learned the RECIPE for influencing, and the six styles you can use.

Asset 8

You can find out more about the six styles and when to use them here. We also discussed how great influencing – by strategic business partners — happens when three things are aligned:

  • Your personal preference and preferred style.
  •  What the situation requires: in other words which approach is going to have the most impact?
  •  What is most likely to persuade the other person: in other words what influencing style will your interlocutor most likely be swayed by?

Take a few minutes to think about this. Or maybe next time you are talking to a leader, have an exploratory conversation before you start trying to influence, to identify these three elements and which approach you need to use.

As “Hugh” discovered, sometimes the best approach isn’t the most obvious.

For more information on how you can use Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders as a learning approach in your organization, contact Richard or 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!

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.

The ‘how to say no’ menu: dessert

Carmen Spinoza profile card
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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

The menu of how to say no, first course.

Carmen Spinoza profile card
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My time is precious. So is my team’s.

We work hard to focus on the right things.

This week I have invested two days spending time with fellow communication leaders at the IABC EMENAComm. It was convenient travelling back from Dubai, to stop and recharge my batteries while spending time with old and new friends.

Today at lunch, I had a long chat with Laila -a young  marketing director-who is being pulled in different directions and needs to set boundaries. Now, I am listening to the fascinating story by Hanisha Lalwani. Her courageous story has inspired me.

Marua Kobayashi profile card
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I know how that feels. As the Communications Function, we are strategic advisers and get a lot of requests to help others. Marua Kobayashi, our COO, is frequently popping by wanting advice or support for her latest initiative.

It’s often a pleasure to help her but sometimes we need to keep control of our own agenda, and not be completely beholden to other people’s needs.  Which leads to the big challenge:

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?

Here is my menu of tips for saying no to people so that you can keep control of your agenda. These tactics sometimes work for me. I don’t use all of them in all situations. You will like some better than others, so feel free to pick and choose.

I leave you with the appetisers and the main course, and will go back to my session. The desserts will come tomorrow.

Appetizers

They are little things which are easy to do and generally won’t get you into trouble.

  • Disappear. People can’t interrupt you if they can’t find you. Find a quiet room somewhere. Lock yourself away. Turn off email. Do what you need to do and then re-engage.
  • Delay. Say “yes, but not now”. You are the middle of something. You are about to have meeting. You have a phone call you need to make in five minutes. You are travelling. “Of course I will do it for you, but it will have to be later / tomorrow / next week, etc.” Remember the old maxim: “a lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part”.
  • Direct. Point them in the direction of the intranet or wherever so they can self-serve the information they need. Send them a link. Or send them to a colleague who is better placed than you to deal with the issue. (This works especially well for me when I am travelling.)
  • Deal. They want something from you. Ask for something in return or give them a little obstacle to overcome. “Absolutely, I would love to help you. Have a look in my diary and find a free space so we can give proper attention to this. Send me an invite and arrange a time to come to my office.”

Main courses

These are slightly more complex items which move slightly beyond the immediate tactical request and your instant response.

  • Stakeholder analysis. How important is this request or this person to you? Do you have lots of reputation points in the bank with them already, or do you need to strengthen the relationship?
  • Say yes, but with conditions or discussion. Can you get more resources? Can you delay another request from them? “I’d love to help, but I’m just doing something for X. Can you negotiate with her on which of your two requests is more critical and I’ll prioritise accordingly? Can you do the task in a simpler, quicker way?”
  • Strategy connection. Ask questions about the business need, which elements of our strategy this supports, what is the wider context. Why is this request important?
  • SPIN. This stands for “Situation, Problem, Implication, Need.” What is the situation or context? What’s the problem they are trying to solve? What’s the implication of the problem and what is the need? This is a sales technique which enables you to open up the conversation and explore the underlying need… and maybe, find a simpler solution that saves you time, energy and resources.
  • Simplify. “Yes, of course, I can give you a quick short reply now or a more detailed thought through analysis later. Which would you prefer?”

Desserts are more controversial so I will share them with you as part 2 of this menu (you can follow me here if you wan to be sure not to miss it).

Those are my tips, my menu, but what are your tips for saying no and managing your time? Are they appetizers, main courses, or desserts?

As Hanisha invites us to do: ‘says yes to talk about saying no’.