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.

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.

From May to June, of butterflies and caterpillars

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

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

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

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

Next ….

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

And then….

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

Finally, she becomes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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