Story quote of the week

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 29, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

De Mello Quote

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Different ways to envisage the future

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 29, 2011
Filed in Communication, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Strategy

How do you get your people to think about what the future could be, in a way that inspires them and starts to spark action, but also takes into account the simple fact that the future is unpredictable?
I was reminded of this challenge, yet again, last week.
We were working with a client on developing a session for a two day leadership conference focussing on bringing their strategy to life. As we were throwing round ideas on the types of things we could do, someone suggested an exercise that involved the participants spending time writing a magazine article about how things are for that organisation in 5 years time.
This triggered a recollection when we did a similar thing when I was working in the UK for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). I was involved in planning and running a series of workshops for the management population of my division, working with American management guru Noel Tichy to bring his concept of ” cycle of leadership to life. These were 2 day courses, and we ended up running them for nearly 5000 leaders, over a two year period in 2006 and 2007.
On day two there was an exercise where everyone had to draft a magazine article, for the leading business magazine The Economist, with these instructions:

You are assigned to write a cover story for the Economist – dated September 21st, 2012. The story is about the dramatic transformation of RBS, and how through your leadership and outstanding execution, RBS is achieving unprecedented success. The article should be written as if it were 2012 and should discuss the challenges RBS has overcome, how that was done and what the business now looks like.

Now to understand the rest of this story you need to know that RBS during that time was one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world. In 2005 it announced a profit of $A10.27bn, up 14% from the year before, and in
2006 the profit increased another 16% to $A13.69bn. By 2007 the profit stood at a very impressive A$15.33bn and the share price stood at $A8.94.
It was held up as a major success story in the UK corporate world, and its Chief Executive, Sir Fred Goodwin, who had been knighted in 2004, was a darling of Wall Street and the city in London. The feeling was that we could do no wrong, the business would just keep growing and growing, and become even more and more successful.
People spend an hour crafting these beautiful magazine articles talking about RBS and its success five years in the future. They then worked in three’s sharing each other stories, before three or four of the best ones were shared with the whole group. I remember they talked about things like how RBS now had 500,000 staff (up from its 120,000 at the time), that its market share has gone through the roof (i.e. its share of the credit card market was now 80%, up from 20%), that the world’s most innovative companies came to RBS to learn how to do it, and that its profit had just hit A$30bn a year.
At the time I thought the exercise was very useful. It created energy in the room, made people feel good about themselves and the organisation and all of what was mentioned seemed realistic and achievable.
On the 19 January 2009, RBS announced a loss of AS41.65bn, the biggest ever annual loss in UK corporate history. On that same day the British Government increased its holding in the bank to 70%, and the share price stood at less than 14 cents. Tens of thousands of people lost their jobs, businesses within the RBS Group were sold and Sir Fred resigned, he was vilified by the British press, and his house was even attacked by angry protestors.
There is no way in 2006 or 2007 that we could see this downfall happening. It was completely realistic to think of continued success and global domination. The exercise seemed to do exactly what Tichy had wanted it to do, and people were still talking about months after the events. But every single prediction that 5000 people made about the future proved to be wrong.
How do you get your people to think about the future, and what it could be, but which also takes into account its unpredictability? How do you manage and deal with that paradox? Was the exercise we did at RBS ‘wrong’, or did it achieve what it wanted, if its purpose was to get people excited about RBS’ future, and reinforced to them why they wanted to be there. Is it more of an engagement technique than a strategic visioning exercise?
I would really like to hear your views on exercises like this and your experiences of dealing with the challenge of trying to envisage a rapidly changing, unpredictable future and the value in doing so.


Story quote of the week

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 22, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

Simmons Story Quote

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No fun at work – values in action

Posted by Shawn Callahan - July 17, 2011
Filed in Anecdotes, Employee Engagement

I heard this story from one of our workshop participants. We were talking about values and how they play out in practice. Their organisation, a government department, has ‘fun’ as a stated value.

With that in mind Janet (not her real name) thought it would be fun to take her team on an outing to the newly opened Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. She mentioned her plan to her manager who suggested she should write a memo outlining her plans. The memo was sent to her manager’s manager and the text was edited and massaged and eventually it was sent all the way up to the head of Janet’s division.

That was six months ago and she has never heard a thing about it since.

What would you say is valued in this organisation?

A company that values ‘fun’ should be teaming with ‘fun’ stories. It’s a little difficult, however, to have ‘fun’ stories without fun experiences.

We’ve developed a story-based approach for embedding values. Send us an email if you would like to explore using this approach in your organisation.

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Story quote of the week

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 15, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

Bone Story Quote

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Story quote of the week

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 8, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

Pullman Story Quote

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What is collaboration?

Posted by Mark Schenk - July 7, 2011
Filed in Collaboration

This question pops up regularly. Shawn blogged about the differences between collaboration and cooperation here and here. The Economist Intelligence Unit provide a paper here describing the difference between collaboration, coordination and cooperation, using trust as one of the key differentiators.

Yesterday, I came across this excellent short video from Phil Culhane of the Collaboration Lab in Ottawa. It describes the difference between communication, consultation and collaboration. In this construct, the main differentiator is accountability. In essence, collaboration will only occur where both (all) parties are accountable for what happens.


The need to know why

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 6, 2011
Filed in Communication

I was reminded, yet again, last week about the power that comes from overtly answering the “why?” question.

I was working on a client site when I saw this poster stuck on an external door:

Delta Non Smoke Reason

The explanation below the main text makes this poster far stronger as an influence tool and more likely to stop people smoking directly outside the door. Why? It gives a reason not to smoke in that place.

The power of giving a reason was highlighted in research by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer as far back as 1978. She undertook a very simple experiment with students queuing up to use a library photocopier.

When students were asked; “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the machine?” 60% agreed to the request; 40%, however, said no and continued with their own copying.

When a reason was added; “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the photocopier, I’m in a rush” – 94% percent agreed to the request.

This makes sense.

However, what doesn’t make sense is why the same number agreed when the request was changed to “Excuse me, may I use the photcopier because I want to make copies.” This reasoning doesn’t really make sense. Why would you use a photocopier if you were not planning to make copies? It is the same as no reason at all.

Langer therefore concluded that the key difference to whether the majority of people would agree to a request or not, was if a reason was attached to the request. If people at least tried to address the “why?” question.

Now I believe that any reason is fine, even it doesn’t make sense, when you are asking a stranger for a one off favour. But when it comes to influencing behaviour on an ongoing basis in our homes and workplaces, the reason itself also becomes important.

There are a number of ways I think this poster works in getting across the reason not to smoke outside the door. It:

  • makes the consequences of smoking in that location very concrete
  • has narrative elements (although not fully a story)
  • encourages empathy on the part of the viewer in order to gain compliance

Dan Pink has a whole section on his website about posters like this, which he calls emotionally intelligent signage that is well worth checking out.

For such a simple poster, it really does a great job of answering the “why?” question and positively impacting behaviour.

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Story quote of the week

Posted by Kevin Bishop - July 1, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

Sanderson Story Quote

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