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053 – Andy habits build rapport

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —January 21, 2020
Filed in Business storytelling, Podcast

You can’t find out what is really happening in your business from behind your desk. In this episode, Andy Billings shares one leader’s technique for getting out within his company.

Storytelling podcast image

Happy New Year! Anecdotally Speaking is back for 2020. To kick off the year, Andy Billings joins Shawn and Mark on the podcast.

Andy, Vice President of Profitable Creativity at Electronic Arts (EA), shares a story about a senior VP who worked from a different desk, alongside a different team, every month. Andy is a huge fan of storytelling, and he tells this story with impeccable timing! 

To find out more about the workshops mentioned at the beginning of this episode, click here. If you’d like to catch up with Shawn or Mike while they’re in Europe, email us at people@anecdote.com

For your storybank

Tags: character, curiosity, insight, leadership, perspective

This story starts at 03:17

During Andy’s early days with EA, he worked as a consultant. One of his clients was Monty, a very experienced senior VP.

In an industry where most people wore jeans and a t-shirt to work every day, Monty stood out. He looked very distinguished.

One day, Andy went to visit Monty at his office but found it empty.

In the office next to Monty’s, he found his admin.

“Where’s Monty?” he asked.

The admin led him to a completely different part of the studio where things like broken-up computer parts were scattered.

There, in a humble engineering office, he found Monty.

“What are you doing here?”

“I have all my materials in these two cardboard boxes,” answered Monty, pointing to two beaten-up boxes in the corner of the room.

There was a picture of Monty’s family on his desk, next to his laptop.

“Every month or so, I move to a different location. It tends to scare the people I move next to but, within the month, I know exactly how that part of the studio is functioning, how the game is doing, how the people feel, and I can anticipate the future.”

Podcast transcript

Shawn: 

Welcome to Anecdotally Speaking- a podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. Hi everyone, I’m Shawn Callahan.

Mark:

And hello everybody I’m Mark Schenk. Welcome to 2020. I hope everybody had a fabulous festive season. We’ve been back at work a few days and one of the things keeping us busy in the office is organising travel, so Shawn what’s happening?

Shawn:

Mike Adams and I are heading over to Europe in February so in mid-February we will be in Munich to start with running both Storytelling for Leaders and Story-powered Sales programmes and the following week we will be in London.

During that week we are actually going to launch our London office.

Mark:

That is going to be a very big event.

Shawn: 

Well a small event but an important event, so some drinks and let me know if you are going to be in London in that week in the middle of February. Send me a note and we will invite you along to drinks we are going to have somewhere in London in an unspecified spot, I’ll tell you what.

So that is what we are doing at the beginning of the year.

Mark:

Even if you are not able to come along to the drinks, if you are in London or Munich let us know so we can catch up and maybe talk about stories in Europe.

Shawn:  

Yeah, sounds great.

Now the story we have for you today is from one of our customers from a company called Electronic Arts. You will know these guys as the video games developers; they are based in Silicon Valley. Our story teller today is Andy Billings who is going to share a story and we will have a chat about that and exactly how you can use it and what you can learn from it.

Mark: 

Yes, so Electronic Arts, a very cool company; some of the biggest video games on the planet.

Shawn:

Yes, they do the games like Sims Cities was a big one for them and of course things like FIFA and those types of games so it’s a massive operation. I’ll be heading out to Electronics Arts in April to do some more work with their leadership teams so I’m looking forward to that.

So let’s hear Andy’s story and then we will come back.

———————————————————————————————————–

Andy:

I’m a huge fan of telling stories in business and leadership situations since they are so memorable and so much more powerful than what I might say in my boring PowerPoint slides. We are a computer and video game developer; we are a hybrid between a creative company like a movie business and a software high technology engineering business where my role is to work on the intersection between creativity and profitability. So I work with the organisation to be both creative and profitable simultaneously.

Shawn:     

Fantastic. Well, I believe you have a story for us, I’ll queue you so away you go, tell us your story and then we will have a bit of a chat about it at the end.

Andy:

In my early days working with Electronic as I was still a consultant and one of my executive clients was Monty [00:03:26 inaudible] who was a senior vice president, very experienced distinguished-looking grey-haired guy which is kind of a contrast for a blue jeans, tee-shirt environment.

As things progressed in my visits I moved out of the lobby and into the working environment of Electronic Arts so one time when I went to visit Monty and see his admin and there next to the admin cube there was Monty’s Cube, his name was still on it but there was no Monty there and in fact, the cube was completely bare.

I thought what has happened to Monty, has he gone? No, the admin led me to where Monty was down another floor and way out in the Netherlands of the studios which would include old pizza boxes,  beer bottles and broken up computer parts.

There was Monty sitting in a humble engineering cube. I said, Monty what is going on?

Monte explained I have all my materials in these two cardboard boxes. He pointed to two beat-up cardboard boxes on the floor of his cube. He had a picture of his family and his laptop sit in his cube.

He said this is what I have, these are my possessions and every month or so I move to a different location. It scares the shit out of people when I move in next to them and they realise who in the world I am.

Within about a month or so I know exactly how that part of the studio is functioning, how the game is going and how the people feel and really really good anticipation of the future.

So what I take away from that is a very distinct leadership style, a lot of humility and just a huge amount of practicality.

—————————————————————————————————————-

Mark:   

That is such a cool story.

Shawn:

It’s lovely isn’t it, it is simple and clear.

Mark: 

Very well told.

Shawn:  

Yep, good point and I can see how Andy is getting good mileage out of that. He has obviously shared that a few times and he is comfortable telling it.

What are the things that jump out for you Mark in terms of the specifics in that story that make it a good story?

Mark:

The fact that it was so clear, simple and concise. I know that is three things but let’s just start with the point first of all. One point very clearly made.

Shawn:

Yes.

Mark:

It’s the hallmark of a really good story.

Shawn: 

You don’t want one of those stories that you keep adding on and adding on. You don’t quite know why you are listening to the story. So that is fantastic. I like the fact that he gives us a little description of Monte right at the beginning; the older guy with the grey hair, the suit which is clearly different to everyone else who works in that type of organisation. The jeans and the tee-shirt wearing of younger folk if you like that are building games for Electronic Arts.

To me, that’s a very Gladwell approach. We do the character thumbnail at the beginning of the story. I love that and think it is fantastic.

Mark: 

I loved the visual elements that he had; the two beat-up boxes with all his gear in it. And don’t underestimate the importance of those little details because they help you picture what’s going on. For me that’s one of the key elements of that; that tiny little detail makes a big difference.

Shawn: 

The lovely thing about this is we get to the point we know exactly what the story is telling us. Do you have any suggestions for Andy? Let’s put on our coaching hat and provide some suggestions. What would make that story even better?

Mark:

I’ll answer that firstly by what were the questions I had in my mind because often those questions provide good feedback in terms of how to make it better. The first question I has was when was this? I was thinking how do you find Monty, is this pre-mobile phone, how do you get in touch with him?

Shawn:

That’s a good point—a stronger time marker. The other thing that would be really useful would be to understand what Monty’s role was. I’m not too sure if it was really clear. I understood he was a senior person in the organisation and I loved that little moment where he would rock into an area and people would be scared witless—what was the phrase?

Mark:  

Scared the shit out of them.

Shawn: 

Yeah, which is a very Australian kind of phrasing—that was just perfect. You could just imagine the senior guy rocking in and they haven’t really known who he is except for his role and going what the hell’s going on here.

Mark: 

Yeah, what’s your plan? Oh, I’m going to work here for a month or so. What! Good luck with that.

Shawn:

There are a couple of tips that would help. Anything else?

Mark: 

No. Certainly, the timing was fantastic so that was one of the things I liked about it. High impact, high return for time.

Shawn:

Good. In terms of the business point. We touched on it. But what are the main business points that we want to make in that particular story?

Mark:  

For people who tend to spend their time behind the command console; managers who run their business behind their desk, thinking they can run their organisation by pulling an imaginary set of levers but Monty’s actually out there at the coal face learning what’s going on.

If I wanted to change behaviour, Monty would be an example of where I wanted people to spend more time out on the shop floor. The old management by walking around.

Shawn: 

I could imagine if you were a senior leader and had your direct ports around the table for a bit of a chat you could say, ‘guys I want you to be out in the business—I heard this great example from Electronic Arts’ and then tell them Monty’s story. And it would generate a really interesting conversation wouldn’t it because they’d be trying to work out how does that work in our business?

Mark: 

Yeah and this is just a nuance of that; to make the point that it’s really good to find out what’s going on in your business—let me give you a really good example of a guy called Monty from Electronic Arts and then tell that story.

And maybe even go ‘I don’t want you to go as far as Monty did but take Monty’s lead and spend more time out there on the shop floor talking to people, finding out what’s really going on.

Shawn: 

I came across something that I thought was useful to notice; this happened this morning at the breakfast table, my sister’s visiting from Sydney, Stacey, and yesterday she sent me a text message saying ‘Shawn, I need a story about trust’.

One popped into my mind and it was the Hewlett Packard one I told you today, Bill Hewitt (one of the founders of HP) comes into work on the weekend, wants to use some of the equipment in a cupboard and the cupboard is padlocked so he gets some bolt cutters. He rips off the padlock and puts a note on the cabinet saying this cabinet should never be locked up again; we trust our employees.

So I told my sister that story and then this morning I asked how did the story go? ‘It was great but I didn’t tell it. But it reminded me of something that happened in our school.’ This is the other benefit of these stories. You may not tell this story but it reminds you of something that happened in your organisation because that’s going to be even more relevant.

Mark:  

Did Stacey tell you the story she told?

Shawn:

She gave me a synopsis; not the whole story. But it got me thinking that this repertoire we’re helping you build, this story bank is also a memory trigger for you. So don’t just listen to these stories and write that down; ask yourself if you’ve seen anything like that happen in your organisation. You’ll probably have had a leader who’s been out there at the coal face so get that story down. If you can tell it like Andy did you’ve got absolute gold in your hands. That’s just a little thing that popped into my mind this morning as I was chatting to my sister.

Mark: 

That reminds me there is something I need to put into my story bank. A few years ago my brother was a senior executive in our customs department. He had been transferred from Melbourne to Canberra. I was living in Canberra so I said awesome, let’s go for beers and dinner and he said, ‘no, I can’t’. I said ‘dude, it’s your first day’.

And he said ‘no, my team work in shifts and the 2nd shift starts at 7 o’clock and my policy is that within the first 24 hours I meet everyone in my team and remember one of two things about them; their name, maybe the team they support, kid’s names, something. That’s my job; I speak to everyone and learn two things.’

Shawn: 

Wow.

Mark:  

So, he wouldn’t come out for a beer with me but that’s a good example about getting to know your people, being approachable.

Shawn:

And also what your priorities are; getting drunk with your brother or…

Mark:

It might not have led to that.

Shawn:

I think this is when we get down to a rating unless you have something else.

Mark:

But wait there’s more. The fact that Monty would have been out there collecting a whole bunch of stories about what’s happening in the business would have helped him understand what needs to be done but also to influence others in the organisation, particularly at the senior executive level who would have only had opinions about what’s happening in the business. And of course, a story is going to beat an opinion every day of the week.

Shawn:

It’s hard to collect stories when you’re sitting behind your desk.

Mark:

They don’t tend to arrive at your desk; you need to go out into the wild and find them.

Shawn:

That’s a really good point. With that let’s go to the rating of this story. I brought this one to the table so, Mark, you get to kick off.

Mark: 

I’m giving it an 8. I loved it. I can easily see myself using it; short, powerful, clear point, cool story.

Shawn: 

Big names associated with it as well.

Mark: 

Thanks, Andy, I’m going to put that one straight into the story bank.

Shawn:

I’m going to give it an 8 as well. It’s a good story; one I’ve already told a few times so it’s got mileage.

Mark:  

Perfect.

Shawn:

Well guys, that’ll wrap things up. Thanks for listening to Anecdotally Speaking and we look forward to sharing some more stories with you in the future so you can go and put stories to work. Until then bye for now.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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