“Keep the gameboard. This recalls childhood games, and is fun!”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Recently, Alberto San Pedro, from Archetypical’s Barcelona office, spoke with Debra Capua of Davis & Company in New York to get her perspective.

Alberto:         Hi Debra. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. To start off, please can you tell me where you work? What is your job?

Debra:            I’m a project consultant at Davis & Co, a 35 years old Communication Consulting firm (internal mainly) with a strong reputation.  We have about 30 people and a strong client portfolio (pharmaceutical mainly), with clients all over the world (particularly Germany, Switzerland, etc.) .

Alberto:         What is your day-to-day life these days?

Debra:            I’ve been isolated at home, since 25 February. No client calls these days. I’m concerned but have hope for the future. Due to the absence of requests from clients, our main contribution is creating content and translate into marketing flow, in order to get prospect clients.

Alberto:         When did you attend a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event?

Debra:            It was in June 2019, hosted by IABC with a mixed audience of students and professionals. Stephen Welch was the facilitator. We had about 15 people, with lots of great feedback. I loved it!

Alberto:         What do you most remember? Your main learning points? What did you find most useful?

Debra:            Where to start? The discussion in the team. The competition. The conversations happening during the game: everyone had a take on it; a different angle. The facilitation was good: Stephen was particularly good at keeping the conversation up.  Mainly I learned that, to become a strategic advisor, to take a seat at the table, is definitely worth it and there are different routes to consider.

Alberto:         What 3 words would you use to describe the workshop?

Debra:            Fun, interesting, valuable.

Alberto:         As we are developing an on-line version, which should be 2-3 things to focus on, to ensure a great experience to participants?

Debra:            Keep the gameboard. This recalls childhood games, and is fun! Be sure to give an opportunity for people to introduce themselves- find out who the other people are. Have breakout rooms discussions and then everybody shares. Oh, and keep the character personalities.

Alberto:         Great, thanks for that. How, if at all, has your attendance at the Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event helped you in your job?

Debra:            Due to the fact there were several people from Davis, that has helped to have challenging conversations internally, keeping the conversation up and exploring other ways to being more strategic in our different roles.

Alberto:         If you could travel in time, what advice would you give to your junior self?

Debra:            Having a better understanding of how other people think, and make decisions, maybe I did not consider this while interacting with others before. There are linear thinkers (such as financial, operational people), and that gives them a perspective on how they see the world that has nothing to do with mine (more circular and transversal). This reminds me of the need of behaving in a more flexible and adaptable manner.

Alberto:         Great, thanks again for your views. Bye.

Debra:            Bye.

If you want to get to know Debra (we recommend it!) connect with her on LinkedIn

Looking at things from a different angle

“It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that whatever you say to them, they always purr.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Welcome to the second challenge of our #testingtimes campaign. If you’re reading this, you might have successfully completed challenge one; if not, it’s not too late to sign up, just send us your physical address and we’ll pop a card in the post.

Today we’ll focus on taking a looking at things from a different angle. We think it’s a useful skill to have if you want to grow your career. Because to be a senior adviser you need to be better than a lawyer that only sees legal problems or a human resources expert that only sees people issues. What you want is to be is an enterprise-wide thinker, who solves business issues bringing in a wide range of perspectives. Alice, in the quote above, is sharing the frustration we sometimes hear from leaders, so don’t be a kitten to always purrs; sometimes you need to roar — or even bark or chirp from time to time.

A first step is to step back and learn to see things from other angles. Exercise your creative muscles. Artists do it, philosophers do it and now you can too. Creativity can be focused and learned, just like any other skill.

So here’s your second career workout:

  1. The warm up 

Full disclosure, we borrowed this idea from London’s premier contemporary art gallery, the Tate Modern. They use it in their creativity for artists class. We asked you to pick and object, and then photograph it from an entire different angle.

Check out our Twitter feed for our own examples, in the meantime here’s what we did:

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In this example a sculpture became a candle holder and it made me think of Frida Khalo and my travels through Mexico. And then, looking closer a cactus turns into barbed wire.

2. Exercise your core

The key learning comes through reflecting on the process:

  • How did the search for a new angle made you feel? Energised? Stressed?
  • Was it hard? Was it easy?
  • Did it invite you to create something new?
  • Could you find a new use for the object after seeing from a new angle?

Through this objects take a new life; ideas expand and even sparks of joy flow in the process.

3. Stretching

Now let’s put it into action at work. Is there a piece of work on the ‘back boiler’ that you could re-purpose to address a current need? For example, we had an old competitor analysis that we never properly finished, and we’ll now use it to help us figure out how to take Archetypical from a face-to-face business into a virtual facilitation one! (Watch this space for more.)

Creativity is a journey and we thank you for joining us in this #testing times

If you really like the idea of flexing your creativity muscles, here a few things we really like:

As always we would love to hear from you in this #testingtimes.

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.