Category Archives: Optimising information and knowledge assets

Storytelling for business (Part 2)


By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th May 2018

My Knowledge Management colleague from my days with NetIKX , Stephen Dale, recently alerted us to John and Joann Girard and Co’s new book “Knowledge Management Matters – words of wisdom from leading practitioners.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 15.00.06

The editors very generously offer the book as a free pdf, although one look at the contents convinced me that I needed the convenience of the printed book.

It’s the chapter entitled: “Putting stories to work: discover”, by Shawn Callahan that has caught my attention first.

Storytelling in a business environment is a topic I am fascinated by and would like to add into my CILIP on-site course on Good Practices for Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration.

I started to explore this topic in an earlier blog on Telling stories at work and am always keen to learn more.

Shawn Callahan has written his own dedicated book on the subject: “Putting Stories to Work: Mastering Business Storytelling”.  He is an evident expert on the subject, and I picked up lots of useful tips from his chapter here which I’ve combined with some of my own insights in this blog..

Why use storytelling in a business environment?

We may not realise it, but many of us do this already!

We seem to be genetically programmed to listen to stories. They engage us emotionally and make us pay attention.  They help us to learn and remember.  As soon as someone begins to tell us about something that happened to them or to someone else, almost subconsciously, we are ready to listen to what unfolds.

So, in a business context, stories can have a lot of potential for a variety of situations, for example:

  1. At a staff meeting, to get people engaged in the vision and goals of a team or of the whole organisation
  2. When going through organisational change, to build buy-in to and commitment for the new way of working
  3. During activities relating to learning and development – to help the new knowledge ‘stick’

However, storytelling does require some skills and techniques, and this is where Shawn Callahan and others can help us.  His chapter in “Knowledge Management Matters” focuses on how to discover good stories – so I’m cheating a little here in extending this blog to the wider aspects of storytelling.  Perhaps I’ll get hold of his full book next…

What are the basic constituents of a good business story?

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 15.40.45

In my previous blog on storytelling I highlighted what Christopher Booker had to say about how the seven basic plots resolve themselves into some common characteristics: a character, an event, some conflict and uncertainty, some form of resolution.

Shawn Callahan has a framework which is not too dissimilar – there should be:

  • A time and/or place to set the scene
  • A series of interconnected events (preferably connected by “but” or “however” which are more dramatic than “and then”)
  • Two or more characters in dialogue
  • An unexpected twist

As we know, fairy or children’s stories usually have a moral lesson.  For a business story, there needs to be some link with the business point that you want to make.

What makes for an attention grabbing story?

A business story does not have to be about business!  In my previous blog on “Telling stories at work”, I describe how we learnt, during my NLP practitioners’ course, to use metaphors as a way of getting a point across. We also learnt that a story will be more powerful if we draw on the senses: what we see, hear and feel.

The metaphor I created, in the NLP course, drew on my husband’s research on the fruit growing industry in South Cambs.  My main character was a magnificent elderly greengage tree in our garden, a possible remnant of the orchards that used to fill this part of South Cambridgeshire.  It is in full delicate white bloom at this time of year and at the mercy of determinedly pecking pigeons, and of sudden snaps of late spring frosts.

Greengage treeIn the summer, downpours of rain will swell and split the fruit, and wasps will burrow into it, so that the gages fall rotting to the ground.

However, come August, I still manage to make rich green jam and succulent crumbles, and sometimes still have surplus to put in the freezer.

Despite this constant challenge and adversity, the Cambridge gage has continued to survive, appearing on the stalls in the Cambridge market and further afield. It has deservedly earned a reputation for its rich golden green colour and unique flavour.

My story was an illustration of the constant change that we experience, at work as in life, and of enduring resilience to it.

Shawn Callahan suggests a few pointers for attention grabbing oral stories in a business context:

  • They should be about topics that your audience can relate to.  So my story linked to nature, food, and (for a Cambridge audience), local to Cambridge might work. Apparently anything relating to our reptilian brains i.e. stories about power, death / near death, children’s safety, and stories about sex (though perhaps not in a business environment) will be effective too.  Power can be about position, education, money, celebrity, beauty – and of the misery or joy that they can cause!
  • Using photographs (in a presentation setting perhaps), especially if they feature people, will add to the effectiveness of a story.  Artefacts can also help with eliciting and sharing stories – a technique I’ve used for example in the adult French conversation group that I lead, where I’ve asked people to bring something that has some sentimental value to them to talk about.  That resulted in some very powerful stories.
  • And oral stories need to be shorter, less detailed and more evocative than written stories.

Where to find your stories

Shawn Callahan’s chapter is on discovery, and he has lots of suggestions for us for where we can find our stories for business.  They don’t all involve making them up ourselves.  We can:

Listen in to what we hear work colleagues talking about in cafés, restaurants, corridors, and in the informal part of meetings before they start or after they have finished.  We can then tell the story as we saw or heard it.

Reflect on an experience we’ve had, and then connect it to a business idea (as I did above with the greengage tree).

Do something unexpected at work, which then creates a story for others to tell to illustrate a business point.  (Shawn Callahan tells one about a CEO quietly replacing a light-bulb during a meeting to illustrate his value of being prepared to ‘muck-in’).

Be aware of stories that we find ourselves telling, especially those that make us feel some emotion, and that we can attach a business meaning to (as I did in my previous blog in talking about a personal experience of change).

Retell other people’s stories – but make sure we acknowledge them. I  have one that my friend Tim told us about his washing machine when we visited him and Harriet a few weeks ago.  Tim and I got quite excited about his story as he worked it up over lunch after he and I had been talking about how he could get started in storytelling.  It’s a simple story, with an unexpected outcome, and I will be using it, with his permission, to illustrate how it’s possible to start telling stories, and to find them from unexpected sources!

Victim survivor navigator

Victim, survivor and navigator mindsets in change

Draw on scenes from films, especially films that others might have seen.  I have for example used a scene from The Shawshank Redemption, where the characters are sitting in the prison courtyard, talking about their attitudes to imprisonment and how they for me depict different responses to change: the ‘survivor’ (played by Morgan Freeman) who accepts his fate (at least initially) as being in the hands of others, and the ‘navigator’ (played by Tim Robbins) who is always looking for ways to take control of his own fate.

Conclusion

Shawn Callahan had lots of useful tips to enhance those I have previously collected about storytelling.

I am starting, as he suggests, to keep a storytelling journal.  I may or may not, as he also suggests, set myself a regular time to reflect on what has happened or what I have heard during the day that might make for a good story.  I will certainly continue refining and practising the stories  I do have, so that I can draw on them when I need them.

And I am looking forward to exploring this whole topic with my delegates in CILIP’s on-site course on Good Practices for Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration.

NOTES

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

 

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Social media at work – 4 years on!


By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th November 2017

Four years ago, in 2013, I wrote a blog on the ROI for social media for SMEs based on a seminar that I delivered for the Cambridge Network [Social Media – What’s the ROI? Cambridge Network Breakfast Meeting for SMEs].

I conducted a poll before the event, the results of which suggested 3 main benefits of using social media for SMEs:

  • Building ones reputation
  • Making connections
  • Developing knowledge

Three years before that, in 2010 I wrote about the wider relevance of social media to organisations, with a strong emphasis on facilitating knowledge sharing and creating a sense of community. (I referenced communities of practice, and communities of interest.)

This year’s November-December issue of Harvard Business Review carries an article by Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley.  They reference a McKinsey Global Institute study of 4,200 companies of which 72% reported using social media for employee communication.  They also carried out their own research across a range of sectors.  (See reference under the illustration below.)

What managers need to know about social media_HBR Nov-Dec 2017

Illustration from: What managers need to know about social media. Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley. Harvard Business Review November-December 2017, pp. 118-126

Social media tools cited include Yammer, Slack, Chatter, Microsoft Teams, JIRA..

The benefits of social media for organisations

Leonardi and Neeley’s research came up with some additional angles on the benefits of social media:

  • Greater collaboration and sharing of knowledge across silos in an organisation
  • The ability to make faster decisions, and the ability to develop more innovative ideas
  • Enabling employees to become more engaged in work and in the company

The results of their 6-month study with a large financial firm also indicated the value of social media in identifying and being able to get in touch with people with the necessary expertise to meet a business goal.

So, the value of social media still seems to be based around connections, reputation and knowledge, along with feeling part of a community.

It was interesting that the main reasons the authors found for organisations adopting social media were: “other companies are so we should” and “we want to attract young talent”.  Few used a solid business case as their rationale!

Traps and guidelines for social media in the workplace

Finding the right balance of informality / formality in using social media within organisations

Leonardi and Neeley’s research suggests that “millenials” find it harder to adopt social media within organisations than older people do, whereas the assumption is often the other way around.

The reason given for these different levels of comfort is that “millenials” use tools externally for personal reasons – and so can struggle to adopt the right level of informality for use of the tools internally.

However, it is often the informal conversations (around outside interests for example) that can help people to relate to each other – and so open the way to asking for help and sharing knowledge.

Leonardi and Neeley suggest that managers “spell out the rules of conduct”, encouraging and role modelling informal conversations and steering clear of any formal postings.  These rules of conduct would include protecting confidentiality and any regulatory or legally related information.

Clarifying and communicating the purpose of social media in the organisation

Because conversing through social media can be a somewhat gradual process, people might not always recognise that they are gaining new knowledge and learning through it.  The authors suggest that people can gain “meta knowledge” about the go-to people with expertise.

There is also a risk that the knowledge gained may be misleading.  Just because someone is sharing knowledge over social media does not mean that they are necessarily the go-to expert, or that their knowledge is comprehensive.

Leonardi and Neeley suggest that managers make the purpose of using the social media clear – which of the benefits would their organisation like to emphasise? The authors also suggest that people build their “ambient awareness” of how the social media are being used by their colleagues, so that they can draw more informed conclusions about the quality of the knowledge shared.

How do these findings relate to your experiences of using social media within organisations?

What are people’s level of comfort with social media?

RiverRhee

RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams includes topics relating to knowledge sharing and collaboration.  Click here to find out more.

Is it helping to build engagement, collaboration and knowledge sharing?

Is it leading to better decision making and innovation?

NOTES

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) 

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

 

 

Competency frameworks – a management tool for recruitment, development and knowledge sharing


By Elisabeth Goodman, 15th November 2017

Competency frameworks have been very much in my mind at the moment as they are core to the recruitment and interview skills course that my RiverRhee Associate, Alison Proffitt and I recently delivered for a client as an in-house course.

They are also an excellent foundation for discussions about development and career progression that might be taking place at this time as part of annual performance reviews and appraisals.

Leadership competencies - HBR Nov-Dec 2017

Levels of [leadership] competence.  Harvard Business Review November-December 2017, p. 89

The November-December issue of Harvard Business Review also carries an excellent article on using competency frameworks as a basis for leadership development (see note 1.)

Last but not least, competency frameworks can be a useful tool to underpin the sharing of knowledge and expertise across an organisation.

Using competency frameworks for recruitment and interviewing

When recruiting candidates, we’re looking for as good a predictor of what their performance will be on the job as possible.  So it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what we are looking for in the first place, and to make sure that everyone involved in the interview process has the same understanding.

Defining the competencies – both the technical and softer or behavioural skills – that we want is a way to do this. Examples of the softer skills include problem solving, communication, decision making. Technical skills will include scientific, legal, regulatory – depending on the nature of the job.

Job advertisements can then be framed to reflect essential or desirable competencies.

Interview questions can be structured so that the interviewees are asked to share examples of how they have demonstrated the competencies in their previous work.  Questions could use a ‘STAR” approach for example:

  • “Give me an example of when…” (Situation or Task)
  • “What action did you take?” (Action)
  • “What was the outcome?” (Result)

Competency frameworks for development and career progression

Organisations usually have some form of career ladder, through which individuals can progress as a result of their technical and/or behavioural or leadership skills.

Ideally, they will have different job titles, and accompanying job descriptions, the contents of which could form the basis of a competency framework along the lines shown in the illustration from the HBR article above.   There is also an excellent example of competency levels for the analysis and use of information in this UK government document: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214008/competency-framework.pdf

A competency framework provides individuals and their managers with a concrete foundation for discussions about what the individual needs to do, and to demonstrate, in order to support their role and progress in their career.

Identifying and developing the leaders within your organisation

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz et al, in the HBR November-December 2017 article, share some excellent insights from Egon Zehnder’s collection of 30 years’ worth of data as global executive leadership recruiters.  They state that 72% of the managers within their database demonstrate the potential to grow into executive leadership roles, and 9% of these into CEO roles.

There is tremendous potential to develop managers within organisations to fulfil leadership roles.  Yet the authors’ findings suggest that internal leadership development programmes are typically weak at doing this, and that organisations either fail to use, or lose their best talent as a result.

The authors have identified 7 to 8 core competencies that can be used to evaluate senior managers on their leadership capability, and a further 4 to 5 predictors of their potential as leaders.  With the right match, and effective internal development activities such as stretch assignments, secondments, coaching and mentoring, can then shape the individuals for a leadership role.

Using competency frameworks to support knowledge sharing

There is another potentially powerful way to use competency frameworks to encourage and support sharing knowledge and expertise across an organisation.  I have seen this done in a workshop setting at a NetIKX seminar led by Chris Collison.

Although Chris uses different terminology, participants in a workshop identify different competencies present within the group.  They then use this as a starting point to agree areas to focus on for sharing their expertise.

This kind of approach could be used within an organisation, to foster a climate of sharing and collaboration.  Teams or departments could create a map of the type of competencies, and different levels of proficiency present within or across groups.

Individuals with greater proficiency in a particular area could then act as mentors to others wanting to develop their knowledge or skills in that area.  Mentors would thus develop their own management skills, as well as the knowledge and skills of their ‘mentee’.

Notes

  1. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz et al.  Turning potential to success.  The missing link in leadership development.  Harvard Business Review, November – December 2017, pp.86-93
  2. About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Telling stories at work


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th October 2017

Why tell stories at work?

I first heard about the power of using stories at work, in the context of sharing knowledge and building learning and understanding, in the 1990s.

Stories are a powerful way to share knowledge and build learning and understanding.

David Snowden, who was then a Director at the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management, was a chief exponent of the use of narrative to convey complex messages.  (Snowden’s work has since evolved, and there is an informative and somewhat entertaining account of David Snowden on David Gurteen’s website.  Gurteen is himself somewhat of a guru of Knowledge Management.)

what makes stories so powerful?

Paul McGee tells us why stories are so powerful in his article “The power of telling stories” for the April 2017 issue of the Training Journal.  He reminds us that we have been using stories since the cave paintings 20,000 years ago, and we continue to engage with stories through books, TV programmes, film and in our day-to-day conversations.

And the reason, he tells us, why good stories are so engaging, is that they activate every part of the brain.  Not only the language processing parts, but every other part of the brain.  The more sensory and action words we include: how things look, smell, feel, and the actions involved – the more we engage the parts of the brain that would be activated if the listener was actually experiencing the event themselves.  They don’t actually need to be experiencing it for this to happen..

The result of telling a good story in this way is that it engages the emotions as well as the intellect.  Emotions make a story more memorable, more inspiring, and so are more likely to lead to commitment and to action.

When and How to tell a good story?

1.  Choose your opportunity and your topic

Stories can be shared about just about anything – but they do need to have a point to be effective!

Here are some situations I can think of – and that I have experimented with in my work with RiverRhee:

In a one-to-one mentoring or coaching situation to give a verbal example of how to do something, or not to do something based on your own experience of doing so.

In a training course or workshop, to convey some key principles, a framework or a methodology.

During a presentation, to get people’s attention and/or to illustrate some key points that you want to get across

2.  Think of a main character or characters, an event, and an outcome

As McGee says, in the Training Journal article, artistic licence is fine.  The story does not have to be true, although you might find it easier to create it, and to be convincing, if it has some basis on reality.

Christopher Booker, in “The Seven Basic Plots” (Bloomsbury, 2014), argues that these different plots (including comedy, tragedy, quests, rags to riches, encounters with monsters, voyages, rebirths) actually resolve themselves into some basic common denominators.

So, as he says, a typical story unfolds as follows: “once upon a time there was such and such a person, living in such and such a place… then, one day, something happened”.  That happening leads the main character (hero or heroine) into some experience that changes their lives.  There is conflict and uncertainty.  Ultimately there is some form of resolution.

One of my most powerful stories of this type illustrates how people can react to changes that they initially perceive as positive.  The words used in the change curve below mirror, to some extent, those for Booker’s story plot above.

Positive change curve – from “The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook”, RIverRhee Publishing, 2013

Although I can’t share the details of the change here, it was a family event that we had instigated, thinking that it was the right thing to do (uninformed certainty).  No sooner had we initiated it, than I literally felt like I had gone cold with shock (informed doubt!).  We persevered for a while, but eventually realised that the solution was not going to be as easy as we had thought, and that we had to start exploring other options (realistic concern).  Eventually we did find a way forward and are in a much better place (emotionally and intellectually!) now (informed certainty).

3.  Add some sensory detail – and try some metaphors

I learnt, in my NLP Practitioner training, about the wide range of words we can use when we talk to bring our own experiences alive, and to communicate more effectively with others.  We use some of these words automatically when we speak, and often neglect the wide array available to us.

So if we deliberately think about appealing to all of our senses, the results would be something like this:

  1. For visual language use: see, look, picture, blue, yellow, light, bright, dark, transparent etc.
  2. For auditory language use: hear, sound, loud, quiet, clank, click, tinkle, shrill etc.
  3. For kinesthetic language use: touch, feel, damp, dry, wet, sharp, hot, cold etc.
  4. For auditory digital (inner dialogue, or self-talk – this is more language based) use: understand, think, explain, process etc.

In fact, in our NLP course, we also used the power of metaphors as an aid to communication: telling a story that does not even have to directly mention the principle or method that you are trying to get across.  People draw their own inferences from the story – and the fact that they have to ‘work it out’ can make the final message even more powerful.

It can take a little courage to trust your audience to make the right inferences, and I generally err on the side of telling them – as with the ‘urban myth’ I use for explaining the importance of finding root causes to address sources of waste in Lean and Six Sigma and process improvement!

when and how will you try out stories at work?

As McGee suggests in his article, and as my own experiences show, it takes some courage to have a go with story-telling, to share perhaps personal stories, and to embellish the stories with sensory detail.

Choose a situation to begin: a one-to-one conversation, a course or workshop, a presentation.

Develop a story that you are comfortable with.

Write a list of prompts to remind you of the key points.

Test it out on a friendly audience.    Rehearse.

Remember the very long tried and tested history we have of the effectiveness of stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

 

 

 

Knowledge Sharing – more than one reason and more than one way to do it


By Elisabeth Goodman, 7th April 2017

Cardiff Central Library

I am enjoying my first visit to Cardiff on two very sunny days in April, and combining a bit of sight-seeing with delivering the CILIP on-site course on Good Practices for Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration.  Spotting the rather impressive Central Library seemed an added reason to write a blog on knowledge sharing!

More than one reason for sharing knowledge

We know that people can be reluctant to share knowledge in the belief that doing so may result in them losing something – their uniqueness, indispensability, power even.  Yet hearing some of the success stories that my delegates tell about the times they have shared knowledge, and the impact that has had, should go some way towards convincing the skeptical.

Sharing knowledge brings value to the individual, and to the organisation.  It can be as simple as feeling that you have been helpful to someone and made their life easier and richer, and as ‘complex’ as resulting in cost savings to your company and improved customer service.  The gains from sharing knowledge can vastly outweigh the losses.

As an individual you can gain time as people no longer need to come to you with everyday questions.  You help to create a climate where others will be more willing to share their knowledge.  You gain recognition for the value you can bring to the organisation.  You have the satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed to improving the quality of work in your organisation.

And, as delegates discover when they try out some of the knowledge sharing techniques in the course, you can add new knowledge to your area of expertise as a result of sharing your knowledge with others!

More than one way of sharing knowledge

As delegates discover during the training course, there are many ways to share knowledge, they need not be difficult, and they can be fun!

Goldfish bowl illustration from “The Effective Team’s Knowledge Management Workbook”, RiverRhee Publishing 2016

We use the gold fish bowl as a way of exploring a topic in which two or more people have some expertise and others are interesting in learning about.  The ‘experts’ sit in the middle of the room, and have a conversation about what they know, challenges they’ve dealt with, opportunities they envisage.

Those on the outside are asked to take notes on they key points that they hear, and to then play those back.  It concentrates the attention of the listeners and so enhances their learning.  For the ‘experts’ it’s an opportunity to enjoy talking about what they know, and can also reinforce their awareness of their expertise.

It’s a simulation, in a relatively short space of time, of what people might expect to gain from “Communities of Practice”, or “Centres of Excellence” – where people have the opportunity to gather, across organisational silos, with colleagues who have related areas of expertise.  These can be short term, or longer term structures to address specific organisational problems, or provide opportunities for continuing professional development.

Other approaches we explore on the course include “Ask the Expert”, “Peer Assists”, “Learning Reviews”, “After Action Reviews” and also the use of storytelling.  Like the gold fish bowl, these provide a structure for the exchange of knowledge between those who have experiences, insights, expertise to share, and those who have questions that they would like to address.

As our delegates find, sharing knowledge in these various ways is not only enlightening but also enjoyable, and very beneficial to both the individual, and the organisation.  Sometimes it can result in a very pleasant surprise!

Torta della nonna – at San Martino, Cardiff – my treat to finish off a very enjoyable meal as a result of surfing TripAdvisor for recommended restaurants!

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she is a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Appreciative Inquiry – a tool and philosophy for positive change


The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th November 2016

Asking questions sets the tone for what will follow – start from what’s working well

It seemed obvious from the moment that our facilitator, Andy Smith (Coaching Leaders), mentioned it at the start of the two day course on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that I attended this week. The minute you ask someone, or a group of people a question, you have influenced their mindset. Ask them what they like about something, or what is going well, and the chances are they will relax, open up and be in the mood to be creative. Ask them what’s not working and they may get defensive, close up and descend into despondency.

That’s a simplification of course as people may want to air their problems before they can open up to explore solutions, and they may automatically rise to the challenge rather than wait to be asked the right question. But the general premise of AI is to focus on what’s working well, on what people do best and on everyone’s potential to do so much more and better. Asking the right, open, positive questions will enable this to happen.

There are implications for coaching and personal development, for team building, for problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management and for managing change! This blog just highlights a few of the ways to do this. There’s obviously a lot more about this that I will weave into RiverRhee‘s work and that you can find out about from some of the references below.

A new five-step model

The illustration at the start of this blog is of the five-step model. (Andy calls this ‘the 5 Ds’ but I already have a different 5D model that I refer to for time or productivity management so I will keep these distinct.)

Define the topic to be explored in an affirmative way: so it is stated in terms of what you want to move towards, rather than the problem to be moved away from. Focus on the vision and your mind and body will be already working out creative ways to achieve it.

Discover all the things that you are already doing well towards achieving that vision. This is where the affirmative questioning really starts to kick in.

Dream what it would be like when you achieve that vision: what will you hear, feel, see, think? What would it be like if a miracle happened overnight? This step engages the emotions: the heart as well as the mind and creates a really compelling vision.

Design all the possible alternatives (without evaluating at this stage) for achieving the dream. Build on what’s going well and stretch beyond that.

Deliver – this is the point at which you evaluate the alternatives and decide on the next steps to achieve your vision.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry to coaching

People familiar with the GROW and T-GROW models of coaching will have spotted that define equates with setting the topic (T) or goal (G). Discover equates to reality (R) but with a focus on what’s working well rather than on what’s generally happening. Dream is an enhanced version of the goal. Design equates to options (O) but holding back on evaluating those options. Deliver equates to will ( W ).

The slightly different order of the AI five-step process means that the aspirational vision or dream can build on the positive mood generated and so be more creative than the early definition of the goal permits in the GROW model. Although, in practice, either model can be iterative in a coaching situation.

Appreciative Inquiry and team building

The five-step model could also be used with a group of people in a team situation, to explore how a team can become more effective and attain, or sustain high performance. It could be used ‘live’ within a workshop, as an alternative to using pre-workshop diagnostics or temperature checks as described in some of my previous blogs for team development.

So the team can define in real time what it wants to achieve, discover all the things it is currently doing well, dream of what it could do, brainstorm how it could get there (design), and then agree the actions to take forward (deliver). The team could use rating scales (1 to 5, 1 to 10 etc) at any point in this discussion to make their assessments and goals more tangible.

Appreciative Inquiry and problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management

As the previous sections demonstrate, the five-step model has built in approaches to aid with problem solving, decision making and innovation. Focusing on what has gone well and using the dream steps arguably allow people to go beyond just fixing the problem into new realms of creativity.

Apparently others have already explored how to apply AI in Lean and Six Sigma, and I shall look into this more. Certainly, exploring what has gone well and why, in the Measure and Analyse phases of the DMAIC are possibilities that I do already touch upon in my RiverRhee courses. We also sometimes use ‘blue sky’ thinking to imagine a ‘to be’ way of working in the Improve phase.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, and the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis also encourage equivalents to the Discover step (yellow hat, and Strengths respectively), the Dream step (green and Opportunities), and Design (green again, and the actions arising out of the SWOT analysis).

Andy also mentioned SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) as an affirmative alternative to SWOT and which should give more scope for the Dream step!

Finally, knowledge management techniques will obviously benefit from AI, especially as having a productive conversation is at the heart of sharing knowledge between people. After Action Reviews, Learning Reviews or Retrospects (or Lessons Learned exercises in Project Management) already explore what went well. So AI techniques and philosophies would enhance the outcomes in these areas too.

Appreciative Inquiry and managing change

Last but not least, AI has something to offer those leading or dealing with change and so support one of my missions which is to create ‘navigators‘ as opposed to ‘victims’ of change! We can aim to understand and look for ways to maintain, enhance, or at a minimum, compensate for the best of what people previously had in creating whatever the new situation might be. And we can ensure that that new situation is as compelling a vision or ‘dream’ as possible.

In conclusion

There are lots of opportunities to apply Appreciative Inquiry tools and ways of thinking in our working and home lives.  I am using some of these applications already, and looking forward to exploring more with with clients, colleagues, friends and family!

I’ll try not to be a “rose-tinted evangelist” though: we still need to acknowledge the very real problems and challenges that people experience and how they feel about them.

How might you apply AI?

further references

ABOUT THE author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Personal knowledge mapping – applied to project management


By Elisabeth Goodman, 27th March 2016

Our mental maps

I’ve noticed lately that my brain is not as sharp as it usually is.  For example, when setting off in my car I have to think carefully about where I’m going, and then re-create my mental map of how to get there. Trying to remember the name of an actor, I see his face, his expressions, other things that he’s acted in before his name eventually comes back to me.  Hopefully this lack of sharpness is just a temporary result of how busy my work and life have been, and this Easter break will act as a restorative!  Meanwhile, it’s a useful context for this blog…

Isn’t a lot of what we remember dependent on the mental maps that we’ve created?  How we’ve slotted together various pieces of information?  Like the game we used to play with the children: here’s a person, a place and an object – let’s create a story from them.

MBTI judging

Creating and using maps of what we know..

Personal knowledge maps as analogies of organisational knowledge maps

In organisations, knowledge maps are described as an inventory of their internal and external sources of information and knowledge.  I quite like the idea of considering our mental maps as personal knowledge maps.

Creating personal knowledge maps about Project Management

Teaching people about Project Management recently has acted as a reminder and an illustration of how I pass on my own mental knowledge map to others.  My one-slide overview that I shared in  “A second look at project management, RiverRhee Consulting November – December, 2015” is a useful artefact to act as a starting point, or framework , for sharing my map and to help delegates build their own.

We go on from there to explore all the different aspects of managing a project such as: clarifying the goals, scope, anticipated benefits and building a strong relationship with the sponsor; understanding the constraints the project is under; identifying key milestones, and interdependencies and developing a project plan; managing risks, issues, decisions and actions; managing stakeholders and the associated change; building a strong project team.  We explore each of these topics: my experience and theirs, tools and approaches.  They reflect upon, practise and apply their existing and new knowledge to specific challenges they have been tackling.

As we talk we discover that the delegates have some useful resources and artefacts that they can slot into their new maps for managing projects:

  • Other people with expertise that they can draw upon
  • Formal meetings that are part of their organisation’s mechanisms for making key decisions about projects
  • Documents that describe procedures or act as templates for managing projects
  • Databases that hold key information about projects and which they are expected to add to

Each time I teach a course like this, my delegates’ experiences, resources and artefacts become woven into my mental map too so that, next time I share it, with a new set of delegates, they too benefit from the new knowledge that I’ve gained.

On a more personal note

This idea of personal knowledge maps and what might happen to them was made especially poignant to me recently as I read “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova, and about the main character’s experience of Alzheimer’s.  As her disease progressed it eroded so many of her memories and of the connections or mental maps she had made.  Distressing as the story was, it was also heartwarming in the account of how Alice and her family dealt with it.  How for example they created videos to remind her of their shared memories. And how feelings could still be communicated.  It was a reminder to me too of how much I value this dynamic sharing and development of our individual maps as I interact with others.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Internal Collaboration theme of the Enabling Change SIG committee.