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.

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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.

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.