Your career workout for #testingtimes

Great! If you are reading this, it means you’ve completed the first postcard challenge.

We are all going through extremely testing times. Work is fluid, merging into home life. Some of us find ourselves looking for new ways to fill up the time we’ve recovered from no longer commuting, others face the challenge of even less time to spare, either because they play a role in their organization’s COVID response (more work!) or having to balance work with looking after children at home; or in some cases, both.

There is flurry of articles on how to deal with working from home and about looking after your mental and physical health while keeping the trains of work and home life running. Some of the ones we’ve enjoyed are at the end of this blog.

However, we have declared this space to be COVID-free space. Our mission is to bring you a little bit of joy and inspiration, while continuing to grow your career as a strategic adviser. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably signed up to our postcard #testingtimes campaign and so your challenge is to try to put one of these suggestions into action in the next two weeks. If you’ve not signed up: email us your physical address for the next few weeks. It’s not too late to join the game.

Here’s three ideas that might help you flex your strategic muscles.

  • 1. Play outside your sandbox – To jump from being a technical expert (in comms, legal, human resources, or other functions) you have to leap into a wider body of knowledge, to understand how other professions see business. This is the time to open up your mind to new fields with the strategic intent of improving how you perform in your own.
  • 2. Learn to look at things differently- The world was already volatile before COVID, now we need to be even more flexible. But to a hammer all problems look like nails. So how do you step away from the hammer? Try approaching a familiar situation from a new perspective. 
  • 3. Nurture your boundaries – Healthy boundaries – permeable, flexible ones, are the key to a healthy life and a healthy career. Limits are good. Know what yours are, only then can you decide which limits to push. 

But how?, you might ask. Keeping our promise to be fun, without further ado, we present the #testingtimes bingo: a quick reference guide to keep growing your career without leaving home.

Tip If you have more time than usual If you have less time than usual
Play outside your sandbox
  1. Sign up for a free online course in something unrelated to your field (Accounting and Design Thinking come to mind).
  2. Follow the news, stock price and commentary of a sector you are not involved with. Fashion? Aviation? The Arts? (Stephen  is a member of the Royal Academy in London: you can sign up to regular emails here.)
  3. A couple of years ago, Casilda did a creativity course at the Tate Modern. Here’s a new idea.
  1. Call up someone (a friend, a new colleague) who works on a different area and just take 10 minutes to ask what their regular day is like. 
  2. Follow a company outside your sector on social media or on the digital newspaper of your choice. 
  3. Talk to your children about what you do, pay attention to their questions. They are very revealing of what’s important.
Look at things differently
  1. Try doing “opposition research” on your organisation. If you were an NGO, what issues would you raise?
  2. Now do “opposition research” on yourself, how would you turn your weaknesses into strengths?
  3. Read an interview with Karl Rove and David Axelrod on opposition research. 
  1. Get a friend or your partner to give you feedback on a piece of work they’ve never seen before. Don’t explain, just listen. 
  2. Listen to an episode of Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford
  3. When/if you are out for your daily exercise: think about the first car you see and create an imaginary biography for it.
Nurture your boundaries
  1. Understand what healthy boundaries look like. We like Brene Brown’s advice
  2. Try setting a schedule put your phone on “flight mode” no interruptions for an hour or two a day. 
  1. Block a 30-minute pause time in your calendar a day. Just for you.
  2. Try saying no to at least one non-essential request. Read our tips on how to say no. 
  3. Unsubscribe from redundant mailing lists.
  4. Turn your phone off for an hour. Go on, I dare you.
Three of the many, many resources for working from home and mental health

The next instalment of our #testingtimes campaign will come in two weeks. 

Reader, I fired him

Guest post by Marua Kobayashi

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a senior leader in possession of a responsible position, must be in want of a strategic adviser.

Oh wait, sorry. I’m getting my 19th century English writers mixed up. But it does help me tell you a story of when I was let down by one of my supposed “strategic advisers”. As a result: he had to go.

Before I joined Globocorp I was a senior operations manager in a large company in Peru, my home country. I won’t say which company it was but I will give you a clue: Peru is known for two main industries and I hate fishing.

Anyway, to my story… and its lessons for the readers of this blog.

About a year before I left, we were in the throes of rolling out a new on-line management system for my division. I was the ultimate decision-maker. There was a project leader and an in-house team who were working with some developers to design and roll out the software. Everything was going well – we had  planning sessions and had been progressing to plan for a year. (Who knew it took so many people to make a decision and resolve the ‘small questions’? One of the reasons I left to join Globocorp, but that’s another story).

We were getting towards the end of the process – beta versions were bouncing around – when I had a great idea. Or as my friend, Carmen Spinoza, calls them “one of your ‘find the impossible solution and change the rules’ ideas”. I wish I knew her then; she would have advised me properly…. 

Instead I had a dolt of an adviser called Benjamín Wilkin, as project leader. His job title said “business partner” but, after what happened, I know his next business card said “desempleado”.

Looking back, I realised my great idea was going to make a transformational difference to the way we worked. But it did require a lot of effort, and (if I’m really honest) was probably better left for a future release. But I mentioned it in an off-hand way in a meeting with Ben – wouldn’t it be nice if…? – and the damage was done.

Turned out Ben gave my idea to the team as a direct instruction and next thing I know, we’re in a revision process, with people working until midnight, negotiations with key stakeholders about revised deadlines, extra developer fees and a lot of bad feelings all round.

I did that. 

I created that chaos. 

I created family arguments when people in my team had to work late.

I created extra cost. I made this mess.

Or did I?

Ultimately, I suppose I did. But I had no intention to. I just had an idea. I was brainstorming. But the law of unintended consequences always comes to bite you. In two ways.

First, I, as a leader, didn’t make it clear that I was brainstorming. So my ideas were taken as scripture and acted upon. I’m right a lot of the time but not always. I know now to be more clear about how I communicate.

Second, my so-called adviser didn’t advise. I was expecting sage counsel and guidance from Ben.

After all, he was the project owner and manager. A sensible adviser would have talked me through the likely consequences of my actions or at least helped me think about them. Wise counsel I was expecting or even a “that’s a very courageous decision, Marua”. Instead: nothing.

So, in effect, Ben caused the chaos. By shirking his duties.

Was he too afraid to say ‘no’? Did he secretly like creating lots of work and blaming me? Did he think about it and make a calculation and think that gaining a few reputation points with me was worth him losing loads with his team and the agency?

I doubt it. I suspect he didn’t think at all. By just implementing my brainstorming idea, he proved himself a waiter: stand and deliver. I’ve got enough waiters, thanks. (What do I mean by “waiter”? Check out the types of advisers post.) I thought Ben was a strategic adviser and senior project manager. Instead, by shirking his duties and not speaking truth to power, he failed his core responsibility.

So, reader, I fired him.

If you are a strategic adviser then do your job. Advise, counsel, guide, challenge, support, debate.

Your whole raison d’être is to add value via different perspectives and thinking. Yes, it can be hard sometimes to say no to a leader (this blog has talked elsewhere on that topic), but those days are the days you earn your money.

Yes-men and women are ten a peso. The real money is when you have someone – like Carmen is to me now – who can help me be a better leader.

Confidence, connection, and creativity

I was recently in Manchester, working with John Anthony, Senior HR Business Partner at HMRC (The UK Government Tax Department). He organized this workshop for about 35 people in order to help his colleagues i) improve their connection to the business, and to teach other, and ii) to improve their confidence in dealing with senior leaders on important business partnering issues. But this was a workshop with a difference, and provided an innovative way to re-think how we (and you) can do team meetings.

“We wanted to create a session that would energize and inspire my HR colleagues to think in a different way about their potential to connect and influence at all levels. Our team works with Customer Services business areas in HMRC; it’s high profile as performance is heavily scrutinised by government and the media. Ultimately we didn’t want the event to just be tomorrow’s ‘chip paper‘. We wanted people to come away from the event having had a memorable experience whilst improving their professional skills ready for working with senior leaders, supporting decision-making, and communicating key messages”, says John. “As part of that we invited Stephen to run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders to help people not only learn new skills but practice them in the safe environment of a business simulation.”

In response to this request, we developed a special version of the simulation, designed for HR Business Partners who want to improve their impact. We connected the scenarios and case studies to the themes of the day. Overall, participants learned about the importance of key concepts in the morning and then in the afternoon got a chance to practice and ‘play’ with them in the safe world before taking their new ideas back to the ‘real’ world. This meant that the whole day catered to different learning styles: some people learn by reading and taking notes, some by watching others, some by playing. There was something for everyone. What was the feedback?

For me, though, the best part of the day was learning from our client about new approaches to facilitating team meetings. John and his team created a really interesting agenda which turned the usual ideas of corporate away-days on their head. I’ve been to a lot of corporate away-days in my time. Most of these start with some presentation about strategy and then, as the day goes on, work down from strategy to team to individual. Typically ending with some version of “what one thing are you going to do differently?”

Sigh.

Instead, why not borrow an idea from John and his team? Why not start with the individual and work up? The first substantive session of the day was people talking about their own experiences, their USPs and (done in a nice way) their blind spots. Because people were all part of the same team, this enabled them to find out more about each other (connection) and have greater knowledge (confidence) in working with each other. “We wanted to start small and finish big. We wanted everyone to get a sense that at each stage they were being elevated up a level, from the personal to the organizational. Firstly, we asked people to start with reflecting on themselves, connecting with their own strengths but also exposing where they felt uncertain about their role and their team. This proved to be a cathartic experience for many, laying bare many concerns but setting a tone of honesty and openness that ran through the whole day. By simply knowing each other better, we began to see ways we could harness others’ expertise to influence across the team and beyond. We are a geographically diverse team so many of us had never actually met each other in person before. As a result, not only did I learn so many new things about my colleagues, their skills, and the extra value they can bring, but also we gained a real sense of common direction. The cohesion in the team feels very real to me now”, commented John.

Then, naturally, a focus on the team itself. But again, why not turn the traditional approaches on their head? How many meetings have you been to where each team member gives an update of progress in their area? Normally PowerPoint, normally dull. What if instead you put some flipcharts on the wall – one per team member, with the title of their functional area or business? Then, invite others to put post-it notes with their understanding / description of what is happening, any opportunities they see, how to support each other, questions or concerns, etc. This way the functional area owners get feedback on how well their work is understood, knowledge of what is on others’ minds and ideas for collaboration opportunities. Much more interesting, much more fun, and much more useful information. Oh, and there is one more benefit: this subverts the traditional ‘hero’ dynamic where each subsequent presenter goes on for longer and longer, and in more and more detail, just to prove how busy they are. (As the joke goes, by the end of the session most of these PowerPoint presentations have no power and no point.)

We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

John says, “we did it this way around because it gives functional or business area leaders a chance to hear some feedback from the rest of the team in a ‘live’ and energetic setting, and to correct any misunderstandings or lack of knowledge of what they are doing. Communication is a two-way process: those functional leaders need to talk about what they are doing, but they also need to get feedback from others, including where we run the risk of silo working. It could have been an uncomfortable experience but in fact the environment was such that the session was positively embraced. We could immediately see some opportunities for creating better connections at an enterprise level, so it gives us a lot of momentum to make things happen.”

So next time you are faced with designing a team meeting, an off-site or an away-days, borrow some ideas from the innovative approaches government HR teams are doing to help make an impact.

And of course if you do want to hear more about our new Human Resources version of Corporate Snakes and Corporate LaddersTM, do get in touch.

Turning the tables – part 1

In this blog, we talk a lot about how those in functional roles can become strategic advisers to their senior leaders. But today, I want to take a different perspective: what does it take to become a strategic adviser to me?

Specifically, I want to talk about how external agencies, consulting firms, or PR professionals can raise their game and fundamentally transform how they deal with clients like me. If you work in an agency or consulting firm, this blog is for you.

We’re going to turn the tables and discuss the role of external strategic advisers, and what you can do to become one.

When you start your career, in a junior role, most of what you will be doing is
at the behest of others. You are in effect, a waiter, delivering what others ask – be they clients or more senior colleagues. You develop and grow your expertise and reputation in a particular field and, as you get promoted and move through the ranks, you become an expert in a particular area.

But then something happens. You get promoted to an Account Manager or Account Director role. Congratulations!  Your role has completely changed, and you don’t even know it.

Suddenly you find yourself directing others, leading a team, negotiating with your clients, writing proposals, attending pitches, advising clients and working with other account directors to balance client needs, the firm’s needs, and your team’s own professional development.

And you have to leave all those fun, technical expert tasks behind. Because the more you allow yourself to be drawn back down to them, the less value you will add to me, Carmen Spinoza, your most important client.

So, what does it take to make the transition? In my experience, there are two sets of changes required: one internal, one external. This week I’m going to talk about internal. Stay tuned next week for the external ones.

Internal motivations

I’ve been speaking to a couple of my preferred external advisers and they all tell the same story: they started off being motivated by one type of work but now have to find their motivation elsewhere. After their initial graduate waiter jobs, many of them moved to back-office doing technical work, business analysis, or research. They were the chefs of the advisory world: producing great work but behind the scenes. And they loved it.

But just as some of the most famous Michelin chefs don’t do much actual cooking any more (they appear on TV, open branded restaurant chains, write books, etc.), my favourite advisers don’t do the detail work themselves. They have found another motivator: whether it is sales, business development, presenting, influencing, or just working with their clients. To continue my restaurant analogy, you need to become a maître d’: dedicated to marshalling a group of experts to create a great experience for me, your customer.

And so my advice to you is this: if you want to be my strategic adviser, be sure to find the right motivation. Otherwise, you risk either drawing yourself back into chef or waiter work; or you will lead an unfulfilled consulting life.

What do you think? What changes have you had to make as you develop your career in professional services? How have you changed your motivations?

Stay tuned for next week when we’ll be discussing external changes.

For more information on this topic, or to find to more about the brand new “external consultant” version of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, please get in touch.

If you are intrigued by the restaurant metaphor, explore how a being an adviser is like working at a restaurant.

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?

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.

Carmen Spinoza profile card
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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.

Buttons or Zippers?

Here at Globocorp we strive to be at the leading edge of fast-fashion, coupled with a dose of tech. After my previous trip in June, I’m back in New York this week as part of New York Fashion Week to see some of our latest designers strut their stuff. Watch out for our consumer versions in a store near you … very soon.

In case you missed it, the big themes this year were buttons and zippers. Together, sometimes. Apart: definitely.

Rihanna
I’m not allowed to tell you what happened at my friend Rihanna’s show – as you may have seen they took our phones away. But the break from email did get me thinking about buttons and zippers in a different way ….

… as a strategic adviser to my colleagues, part of my job is to make connections, and button or zip things together so that we see the whole picture.

No, I’m not talking about the clothes strategic advisers wear (that’s for a different blog), but more about how those two items connect in a different way, and what that means for business partnerships with your key stakeholders.

Adding value in three ways
If you are operating as a business partner or a strategic adviser, either in a functional role in a large organization like me, or as an external consultant, the value you add will depend on three things: 1) the skills and expertise you have, 2) the organizational understanding you have so that you can translate expertise into results, and 3) your consulting skills to build and develop relationships.

In many relationships the fulcrum is the personal chemistry between the receiver and the giver of advice. We can use the terms ‘adviser’ and ‘client’ whether the adviser is in the same organization, or a different one. The ‘client’ has operational responsibility for a large group of people and their job is to take the adviser’s counsel and operationalize it. The adviser’s job is to harness and marshal the expertise of their own team and mobilize to face the client. In effect the two individuals are acting like a button and button-hole, holding everything together. All the connection is held by the button.

For some types of relationships, this can work fine. But in other situations, the button at the centre – represented by the relationship of the two individuals – can get stretched and pulled, and sometimes pop (yes, Buck Greenback, I’m talking about you!). And if the button is too tight, it’s painful, circulation gets cut off and the relationship falters.

Zippers
A zipper relationship, on the other hand, is generally much stronger. The zipper has lots of connection points with lots of people working together in partnership across the ‘seam’. The connections might be hierarchical: I advise my CEO and other leaders; people in my team tend to work with middle management. Or it might be functional or expertise-based. But the key is multiple connection points. If one link fails then the zipper still holds.
If you find yourself in a button relationship – either as the consultant or the adviser – here are some things you can do to start building your zipper:

  1. Create a relationship map to explore what the future connections might be. Who are the key players on the other side? What can you do to involve / connect with them? Please get in touch if you would like some examples.
  2. Try to identify the main reasons for ‘button-ness’; is it convenience, lack of trust, people being protective of their own personal power or position? Once you understand the motivation you can start to make changes.
  3. Look at your own behaviour and see if you are inadvertently encouraging the wrong type of behaviour among your colleagues. What can you change?

I’m not universally saying “buttons bad, zippers good” but it is important to recognize when the relationship is the wrong shape. And maybe the next time someone tells you to “zip it!”, you’ll interpret that as constructive advice, not an insult.

Now that Rihanna’s people have given me my phone back I can take lots of photos of our up and coming designers. Look out for the hashtag #globocorp on Fashtagram!

If you would like to hear more about how to build and strengthen relationships, and improve the quality of your connections, get in touch and we can come to your office and share ideas. We can’t promise Rihanna but we do have John Lennon and Bill Gates as ‘guest speakers’ at our events.

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!