Tag Archives: managing change

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.

 

 

 

 

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Operational excellence can give you the competitive edge!


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th September 2017

According to Sadun, Bloom and Van Reenen, writing in the Sept-Oct 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, a disproportionate amount of emphasis is put on the competitive advantage of strategic planning, to the detriment of operational excellence.

Competitive advantage of operational excellence_HBR Sept-Oct 2017

From: Why do we undervalue competent management? Neither great leadership nor brilliant strategy matters without operational excellence. Raffael Sadun, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen. HBR Sept-Oct 2017, pp. 120 – 127

What is operational excellence?

Their definition of operational excellence, or good management practice, goes beyond a more traditional focus on Lean and Six Sigma process improvement techniques.  It covers four broad dimensions, and 18 specific aspects.  The four dimensions are:

  1. Operational management – which includes Lean process management
  2. Performance monitoring – which includes the use of key performance indicators (KPIs)
  3. Target setting – which includes a clear link between organisational strategy, and individual goals (aka. a clear top-to-bottom cascade of objectives)
  4. Talent management – which includes setting stretch goals, employee development and retention

What is the evidence for the competitive advantage of operational excellence?

As Sadun et al say, MBAs and management experts such as Michael Porter distinguish between strategy and operational effectiveness, and put greater emphasis on CEOs’ priority being on strategy for competitive advantage.

The authors of this HBR article have been carrying out in-depth research since 2002 on more than 12,000 organisations in 34 countries, in conjunction with the London School of Economics.

They have found that operational excellence is a massive challenge for organisations and that the large persistent gaps in these practices are associated with large persistent differences in organisational performance.

The better managed organisations are more profitable, grow faster, are less likely to die, focus on innovation as well as efficiency, attract talent and foster employee well-being.  All in all they demonstrate sustained competitive advantage.

Achieving operational excellence boils down to three things

Erroneous self-assessment, a blame culture, overestimating the costs involved and underestimating the potential benefits can all get in the way of adopting good management practices.

Managers, especially in family businesses, can worry about potential loss of control if they bring in others with greater expertise in operational management.

The workforce may not have the numeric, analytical and other skills to implement operational excellence.

And it requires a shift from working in silos, to collaborating across teams; reassurance that greater process efficiency won’t lead to redundancies; and “walking-the-talk” by management (CEOs included).

So achieving operational excellence boils down to three things:

  1. Commitment from the top: with a clear vision, visibility and role modelling by senior leaders (i.e. all key approaches for managing change)
  2. Understanding and ensuring availability of the required skills i.e. those associated with all four broad dimensions of operational excellence, as described above
  3. A shift in mentality at all levels to adopt these management practices as a way of working

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 was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Why leadership training fails – some tips for what to do about it


Guest blog by Liz Mercer, 11th January 2017.

why-leadership-training-fails_hbr-oct16

Editor’s note

Delegates from RiverRhee’s training courses often come away with one or more new ways of working that they would like to influence when they get back to their place of work. We are glad that this is the case: it is an indication that we have helped them to reflect about their own and others’ approaches to work, and what could be done to improve things.

However, they can sometimes be frustrated by the difficulties associated with implementing these changes. So I was very interested to hear about this article that Liz Mercer had come across, and suggested that she write this blog as a guest author to tell us more about it.

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Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

The organisational context needs to be right for learning and growth

As passionate proponents of all things Leadership Development, I was drawn to an article in Harvard Business Review’s October 2016 edition, entitled ‘Why leadership training fails – and what to do about it’.

It’s my own experience, and long held belief that there are four key elements that need to be in place before any leadership development activity can truly work:

These are:

  • The leader has a desire to learn and grow, and the timing is right
  • The leader has some self-awareness and is motivated to improve their emotional intelligence
  • Supportive mentors and managers provide the right playground for development to be a positive learning experience
  • The organisation creates the space and opportunity to experiment and grow

So, when the articles’ authors Michael Beer et al, proposed that “no matter how smart and motivated they (leaders) are” unless you have “a favourable context for learning and growth” brought about by “senior executives attending to organisational design”, my attention was turned to much broader and more wide ranging considerations.

More than that…” if the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behaviour change – indeed it will set it up to fail”.

They go on to say that organisations will continue to put millions of pounds, time and energy into leadership development, only to find when leaders try to embed the behaviour change that they are now so committed to, they simply hit brick walls, barriers and infertile ground: a somewhat depressing thought for so early in this new year.

HR’s role came up for closer inspection once again too. I am familiar with the need to align learning, training and development with organisation strategy and goals: to identify the right set of competencies to develop in the people who can deliver the strategy and make change happen.

The organisation as a ‘system’

And yet, I was reminded by the article that organisations are systems of interacting elements, including, but not limited to roles, responsibilities, relationships, organisation structures, processes, styles, cultures, back grounds – the list goes on. It’s an amalgamation of all these elements that drive organisation performance and behaviour, not just, and only, the leadership community.

In their research, the authors found that CEO’s and their leadership teams needed to be confronted with uncomfortable truths more frequently, in order that they can free up the organisation and its leaders to take it where they want it to go.   One CEO insisted on taking a step back before approving a programme of leader development. When managers were asked to say what barriers they experienced, it wasn’t a lack of training that was the issue, some old favourites emerged…

  • The senior team didn’t have a clear and articulated strategy with corporate values
  • Well-structured talent and development planning discussions were infrequent
  • Talent hoarding restricted movement and created higher turnover

I noted that in the end, once the systemic changes happen then this encourages – even requires – the desired behaviours that leaders embrace in leadership development programmes.

So, what can you do about it?

The authors identified six basic steps to real talent development and these are summarised here:

  1. The senior team clearly defines values and an inspiring strategic direction
  2. Identification of barriers to learning and strategy execution: this may result in the redesign of roles, responsibilities and relationships.
  3. Day to day coaching and process consultation to help improve effectiveness in this new ‘system’
  4. Training and development activity is embedded where needed
  5. New metrics for individual and organisational performance are developed.
  6. Systems for selecting, evaluating, developing, and promoting talent are adjusted to reflect and sustain changes in organisational behaviour.

And so, what I loved about this article was that it reminded me of the importance of the ‘system’ in leader development and organisation growth. To ignore the system runs the risk of the huge investments made in leadership development, simply not paying off.

What this means for me as a proponent of managerial, leadership and organisation development is an increased focus on diagnosing the systemic barriers to individual growth and organisational development: for these to be worked on at least in parallel to leader development, if not earlier than that.

Only in this way will leadership development efforts have a real chance of success and, thereby, make organisations unstoppable in what they can achieve!

HBR article authors:

Michael Beer is the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and a cofounder of TruePoint Partners, a research and consulting firm specialising in organisational transformation. Magnus Finnstrom and Derek Schrader are directors at TruePoint.

About the editor

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 leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

About the author

Liz Mercer is an Associate with RiverRhee Consulting.  She is a Human Resources professional, with 30 years experience, mainly in Pharmaceuticals and Biotech and understands the challenges of leadership, management and team development. 

Liz runs her own business, Perla Development, providing training, facilitation and coaching, for individuals and teams: with a particular interest in the challenges for virtual team leaders. She is an accomplished facilitator and development coach.

She has a Masters in Organisational Behaviour, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and is accredited in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.