Today’s post was inspired by an article I read in Harvard Business Review in which the author spoke about the advantage medical schools have over business schools because of most medical schools being affiliated with hospitals, allowing students exposure to real-world and real-time situations, in contrast to inserting business students into real-world managerial situations which is more challenging. Now as the author points out while it can be disconcerting for patients to put their lives in the hands of individuals who are still learning their profession, the medical profession supervises its trainees, giving them enough autonomy to learn while minimising the chance they harm their patients.
The author goes on to talk about how Harvard Business School has long used case studies as a method to project students into the role of managers solving problems and while acknowledging case studies as a very effective tool, also recognises the limitation for business students who can only imagine how they’d tackle a problem, whereas medical students are facing real-life health concerns. The author goes on to talk about a curriculum change Harvard is undertaking to close this knowing-doing gap.
This article resonated with me because of a meeting I had recently with a previous colleague who is now working with a leading university on Work Based Learning. The university has pioneered an Institute for Work Based Learning which partners directly with individual learners and organisations to create bespoke programmes from certificate through to doctorate level. Additionally they have partnered with two leading Business Schools by way of collaboration on the delivery of training. This initiative is further supported by the Work Based Learning Research Centre they’ve established allowing real-time understanding of the relationship between work practice and learning within organisations together with development needs in line with UK policy and international demands.
This is an area of further interest for me because many organisations have cut back on their training and development budget as a result of the current economic situation. Many have come to recognise the adverse impact this has had on their corporate growth strategy, particularly as many of these organisations have gone through downsizing and restructuring exercises, and as a result have lost valuable employees, causing intense pressure to the ‘survivors’ to not only steer through everyday challenges and increased workloads but also improve their skills and learning to allow them to perform in line with the needs and demands of their roles and organisational development.
Organisations always say employees are their most valuable asset but slashing training budgets doesn’t convey that message and is incongruent with that philosophy Surely Work Based Learning is the solution to enable individuals and teams in bridging that knowing-doing gap that would support their organisation in achieving their business strategy.
Check Out http://www.mdx.ac.uk/wbl for further information on their learning programmes.
Clients will often ask me if they should put interests/hobbies on their CV and without hesitation I respond ABSOLUTELY. I believe it’s so important when people are being interviewed that the interviewer/s take time to understand who they are as individuals, what’s unique and different about them over and above their skills, and experience in allowing an understanding of how they will perform in the role and be an ambassador for the organisation.
After all we spend so much of our time in our job that there is a need to have a holistic view of what makes people tick, what motivates and inspires them and keeps them energised in their work and their life outside of work. Good organisations will want to understand and support this and quite frankly if I was being interviewed by an organisation that showed little interest in me other that my capability to perform on the job, I would make a very quick exit, simply because I need to know that the organisation values my happiness and well-being and in order to do that, they need to have this insight and understanding.
This allows me an understanding to how they value their employees which is important because the core of my work is supporting individuals and teams in being fulfilled in their careers, managing and developing their careers, which in turn impacts the organisation’s vision and business strategy.
Remember an interview is a two-way process, as much as you need to sell yourself to the organisation they need to sell themselves to you too. Good interviewers will give people the chance to tell their story, which in turn allows them to see an individual’s real potential. I’ll share a story about Mary to demonstrate what I mean.
When Mary and I began working together she was ready to move on from her current organisation, which no longer inspired her, it was in a sector that was quite progressive in a commercial sense but wasn’t in line with Mary’s values. Her internal fire for this type of organisation had burnt out and she felt she was putting on the mask of Chief Financial Officer every day whether with her team or at board meetings.
To facilitate her impending career move she began to connect with head hunters, all of whom were eager to represent her, by either putting her forward for a role they were already recruiting for, or to put her forward as a strong candidate to organisations they had a relationship with who might not have been actively recruiting for a specific position but were undergoing some changes that would benefit from having Mary on board, and of course being in a position to put forward a candidate of Mary’s calibre would strengthen the head hunters’ credibility and relationship with the organisation.
However as with many head hunters and recruitment consultants they were considering Mary for organisations similar to the one she wanted to move on from rather than taking the time to understand who she was as an individual to take into account her interests and potential across other industries and sectors. Unfortunately this is a sign of the times and in a competitive market this is how head hunters and recruitment consultants are forced to operate, simply because they have a stronger chance of securing a role for a candidate who is a better fit for the job specification in terms of their current experience.
Among Mary’s passions were a love for English Heritage and a love of animals. She supported charities in both her areas of interests, through donations and she was also a trustee and board member of her chosen charities, she did this in a voluntary capacity. She had also taken a two month sabbatical during which time she lived in a small community in remote Africa and worked alongside the local people offering her financial expertise to support them in developing a sustainable business strategy for the community which allowed them to be self-sufficient in promoting their social enterprise. At the end of the two months the community held a carnival in celebration of Mary’s support and she was even crowned queen of their village!
Along with all of this Mary also has her pilot’s licence and at weekends you’ll find her navigating the skies of Britain along with her husband a fellow enthusiast. Now Mary is quite unassuming and so you’d never really know these things about her and it would be unusual for it to come up in an interview situation, unless of course she has it on her CV and the interviewer is interested in finding out who she really is. Then of course the interviewer would see Mary’s true potential and would understand why she should be considered as a serious candidate for a role in an organisation or sector different to where she’s come from.
And so yes, do include your interests, hobbies on your CV and make your decision about joining an organisation based on how interested they are in understanding who you are as a person both in your work and your life outside of work. I also think by doing this you will demonstrate your attributes and I believe this is an important consideration for employers alongside the skills and experience represented on your CV.
Mary’s story does have a happy ending, she interviewed but was pipped at the post for a role in a charity that provided care for donkeys in developing countries, this may bring a smile to your face but the role of these donkeys is integral to the community and their owners needed to take better care of them to allow them to work at their best and to be taken care of when they could no longer work. Although Mary was disappointed not to secure the role, the experience gave her the belief that she could transition into a sector that has more meaning for her in line with her values and as since secured a role and is working for an organisation within the National Heritage.
*Published with client permission. Name has been changed.
There’s an old story about two shoe salesmen whose company sends them to a remote village in Africa Upon arrival, one sends home a message saying, “No one here wears shoes; will return shortly.” The other salesman sends this message: “No one here wears shoes; send inventory!” The point of the story, of course, is that your perspective influences your behaviour. If you consider it’s all doom and gloom, and there’s nothing you can do to change a situation, you act one way. But if you see the world as a series of opportunities, you act differently.
Some time ago I was asked to write an article for Communication Director Magazine http://www.communication-director.eu about what Communications Specialists need to do to be in a position to manage and develop their career in these times of uncertainty. Here’s what I had to say:
If I were to consider what has come out of the great recession to date, I think it would be that individuals at all stages in their career from emerging leaders to executives to members of the board are reconsidering the next steps in their careers. They are taking control of the planning of their own career management and development ensuring that with a long term career plan, they can refocus their development wisely to make the most effective impact on their career. The recession has forced us all to focus on what matters and to use limited resources wisely to make the greatest impact. The key is to have a mind-set that focuses on the opportunities evolving as a result of the current economic environment as opposed to dwelling on the problems, after all a positive approach could help you sell a lot of shoes!
It’s all too easy to let the urgent demands of the workplace and the ailing economy trample over your need to focus on your own growth and job satisfaction. Yet, especially during lean times, if you don’t manage yourself, no one else will. Taking a step back and acknowledging the environment has shifted and while you may not be doing the work you were expecting to be doing, ask:
‘What can I do in this context to make sure that I’m still growing toward my vision?
You need to come up with a career plan that’s two-fold, both short-term and long-term. A natural tendency for people is to over-estimate what can be achieved in one year and under-estimate what can be achieved in five years. One benefit of keeping a strong focus on your vision is that it makes it easier to find alternate routes when you encounter road-blocks. Map out alternate pathways in advance before there is a road-block.
In the short-term you can advance your learning agenda in this current climate by keeping the vision of where you want to be and take advantage of every opportunity to gain the knowledge and experience that will move you closer to that vision.
Areas where communications currently play a key role and where you the corporate communications professional can make a difference include:
Company Business Strategy
The economic downturn forced organisations to scale back, sometimes quite dramatically but growth will again reappear on the horizon and when it does it will bring a new challenge of how to develop a team in sync with a business that’s operating in a very different environment. A strong business strategy will need to be in place to allow this growth.
But even the most brilliant strategy is worth nothing if it isn’t executed well. Communications is unilaterally deemed critical to the success of strategic initiatives. Historically communicators placed their role in an advisory capacity and not beyond, however to support the powerful convergence of strategy, communications should act as an integral and active component of strategy development and execution. There is no strategy without communications.
The strategy needs to be communicated across the organisation. Strategy communications need to be accompanied by metrics to help front-line employees take ownership over their roles in the execution. The message should be two-fold: this is what we are trying to achieve and this is how we will measure if we are achieving it.
To drive your own growth in this current climate you need to seek perpetual education and development and this is not necessarily by going to college but by putting yourself forward for new and perhaps demanding assignments.
▪ Demonstrate that you are willing and able to support business strategy from implementation through to execution
▪ Establish the role of communications as a resource to strategists
▪ Find ways of gaining exposure to new people and ideas by being a participant in the strategic task force
▪ Develop a strong collaborative working relationship with strategic planners and leaders
Understanding the intersection of strategy, leadership and communications by capturing all three of these viewpoints and different perspectives will provide a richer, more complete and holistic approach to your role of corporate communications specialist.
Sustainability and Social Responsibility
How as a corporate communications professional are you taking advantage of the stronger focus on Sustainability and Social Responsibility?
Companies are being more proactive towards the social pressure of protecting the environment, placing an emphasis on good employee relations and human rights as well as the business interest in assuming a leadership role in society and the economy. It is linked to the long-term sustainability for businesses.
▪ The key role of corporate communications is to establish ways of tying sustainability to a brand’s core business to ensure it resonates with customers. This needs to be authentic by connecting the vision and execution in a credible and meaningful way, for example car brands must focus on making more fuel-efficient, cleaner cars – not saving the rainforest. Honesty and transparency go a long way with consumers. Disclosing what you’re doing well, and what you could be doing better, will instil trust and trust breeds loyalty.
▪ Communications play an important part in supporting your organisation in having a competitive edge when price and quality are equal. Work collaboratively with the team to ensure all sustainability efforts are in place, functioning and measurable before being announced. This will allow you to communicate a message that is credible, has clarity and is engaging – all of which are key to sustainable brand success.
▪ Social media offers great opportunities in supporting communication around CSR and Sustainability and there is clearly potential in digital communication to advance the sustainability dialogue for stakeholder engagement. But before getting on the social media bandwagon and focusing on the technology and the tools/platforms offered (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc.) consider the best practices of social media, which are primarily about conversations and relationship building. Revolving around trust, social media also requires openness, transparency, accountability and two-way engagement with an ability to listen and this is even more important in the field of communications as all of these elements are fundamental principles of CSR and Sustainability strategies.
CSR/Sustainability programs, when appropriately communicated, demonstrate the actualisation of values that are becoming more prominent in society. The emphasis here needs to be on appropriate communication. People tend to know when they are being “played” or when actions simply do not match the messages from to top. It is important then that the messaging around CSR/Sustainability focus on realistic activities and objectives, while celebrating actual successes and activities. An effective, and effectively communicated CSR/Sustainability program can demonstrate improved quality of process and organisational management, and can improve the quality of use of corporate resources.
But you also need to stay focussed on working toward your long-term career goals. Most professionals should be looking three years ahead and thinking about the ways in which they can make their actual day-to-day responsibilities more congruent with their deepest interests. This includes thinking about what kind of culture you want to have around you and how you can do more of the more meaningful aspects of your work. You should try to imagine as deeply as possible your vision for your work reality. Then you should work backwards from that to determine what you need to learn or experience over the next one or two years to be seen as a highly desirable candidate to step into that role.
As organisations prepare for growth a number of key areas that employers will focus on are:
▪ Ensuring an adequate pipeline of future leaders
▪ Retaining high-potential employees and those with critical skills
▪ Understanding the key roles and workforce segments that drive business success
▪ Linking employee performance to business goals
▪ Attracting the right workforce for the right roles
So, as well as surviving the current economic climate you also need to take responsibility of your own talent management and find ways of developing yourself in order to secure that competitive edge that is vital to your long-term success. How can you position yourself within your organisation to ensure you have an opportunity to leverage your skills, talents and motivated abilities?
There are a number of ways in which you can you take control of your career to ensure you are motivated, stretched, inspired and your talents are nurtured through meaningful development opportunities and these include:
▪ Increasing your self awareness – Having clarity about who you are and what you want, empowers you to consciously and actively make those wants a reality
▪ Have focussed one to one coaching – An effective coach will support and challenge you to enable you to achieve what’s important to you
▪ Role model authentic leadership behaviours – Identify people you admire and respect and model their behaviours
▪ Make mentoring work – engage with senior people for career advice
▪ Take responsibility through benchmarking – Benchmarking allows you to compare yourself with others, identify their comparative strengths and weaknesses and learn how to improve
▪ Embrace learning through experience – be open to learning and change, talent needs to be nurtured and developed through the right experiences and this will support meaningful work
▪ Use assignments and secondments creatively – bring your personal insights and creative abilities to each assignment, this is your opportunity to shine
▪ Demand inspirational leadership – support your manager in being innovative with leadership programmes
▪ Aim to build breadth and personal depth – develop personal mastery through learning, intellectual agility and authenticity
Organisations are finding it tougher to retain their star performers, help them to tailor your job in line with your interests, take on new responsibilities that enables you to express those interests. Maybe as a communications professional you have an interest in quantitative analysis, ask to take on duties working with market-research analysis or perhaps you want to develop your people management skills, put yourself forward for planning and managing new-hire orientation.
This creates new opportunities for utilising resources within the organisation as the key forces in driving organisational success. You have the opportunity and responsibility to support your organisation in recognising the impact of making sure the most important people stay motivated, happy and productive and that they stay with the company. Now is the time to take responsibility for your own talent management.
In this current economic climate many organisations are forced to go through restructuring processes resulting in considerable downsizing. This can seriously impact morale and bring it to an all-time low. People are struggling to keep their heads above water but they need to somehow come through this and make it work if their organisation (and their roles) are to survive.
‘Survivors Syndrome’ is when the people who have remained in a job are challenged with delivering not only on their original roles/workloads but also stepping in and stepping up to fill the gaps caused by the loss of their colleagues along with their skills, knowledge and experience.
Low morale leads to negativity causing a ‘stuckness’ in people’s thinking. Fresh thinking is needed to be able to move beyond this, to explore ideas that stimulate. A useful technique to help achieve this is to work with archetypes.
Kate as head of Human Recourses is tasked with rebuilding morale within the organisation. She brings in Evolving Careers Players (ECP) to explore ideas that will be stimulating to the project and the team. A pilot team made up of 4 people across 4 functions of the organisation: I.T. , Finance, Sales and Marketing and Research and Development are selected work with the ideas before the project is rolled out to the organisation at large.
To be in a position to understand the 4 team members ECP need to take on their characteristics. Working with the core principles of ECP around the techniques, structures and methods of theatre, together ECP, Kate and the team are able to identify/recognise the team/themselves as the following archetypes:
The Brick Wall: This role specialises in stonewalling, it refuses to make any contribution to the interaction. It is the archetypal ‘no comment’
The Rescuer: This role is about putting the focus on to other people, calling for help to be given to someone else. This way the spotlight on the self is avoided.
The Mouth: This role likes to talk its way out of situations, saying anything at all, even complete rubbish, rather than have the focus of enquiry more meaningfully directed.
Mr Cool: This role likes to take a laid back approach to life, essentially articulating an arrogance that makes a mockery of any challenge.
The first scenario
The ‘big question/problem’ is raised: ‘How do we rebuild morale’ and is answered in a ‘round robin’ way in character.
This is conversational: by way of dialogue the players take on the identity of the 4 team members. This allows the players to gain an understanding of each person: to get under their skin, to feel their pain and to get into their minds to allow them to know how they think.
Kate and her team observe and the scene is filmed to be watched back and discussed. Each team member is asked to say one positive thing about themselves in the interaction, to say what one thing would they change about themselves to allow this to move on. Then the person sitting to their right is asked to say one positive thing about their colleague in the interaction and to make one suggestion to their colleague of a change to be made to move on. They are instructed to keep this positive. Following on from this the second scenario is established. The team take on the role of directing themselves.
The second scenario
The ‘big question/problem’ remains. ‘How do we rebuild morale’
The players in their characters keep the two positive things mentioned and take on the two suggested changes they could do to move things on. The conversation continues, is observed, filmed, watched back and discussed. Each team member again says one positive thing about themselves in the interaction along with one thing they would change about themselves to allow things to move on. The person to their right once again says one positive thing about their colleague in the interaction and one suggestion of a change to be made to move on.
The exercise was repeated as many times as needed for the team to be confident they had a workable action plan which would help rebuild morale that could be rolled out throughout the organisation.
The market during the downturn provided significant challenges for employers when hiring. Conservative decision-making became widespread, particularly in the form of narrow sector focus and an unwillingness to ‘risk’ transferable skills or experience, seeking the comfort of market expertise. Downsizing within organisations called for restructuring processes where employees had to compete with each other by interview for roles within the new business structure. How can these challenges be overcome in a recovering but ever changing market place.
Ultimately, we must respond to the changing dynamic of the market and look to exploit the opportunities that arise from it – just as hirers become less risk-averse, so do prospective candidates and this provides opportunity to attract candidates with real potential. Recognising potential is key for all companies striving to keep pace with this rapidly changing, increasingly complex world.
The argument for hiring from outside because people from different backgrounds can bring in new perspectives and opinions that will challenge the existing and sometimes stubborn organisations is strong, however promoting from within presents the argument that the inspiration it gives to other insiders helping to keep your talent pipeline strong and motivated.
When hiring from outside you’re forced to write a proper job-spec, consider a larger pool of candidates, grill them in well-structured interviews and conduct in-dept reference checks. This isn’t as easy with internal candidates who are already your colleagues and friends, who will naturally ask ‘aren’t my years of contribution and performance evidence of my qualification?” ‘don’t you know me well enough after this time?’ which in all probability is true but to make it a fair playing field everyone needs to go through the same rigorous process.
Start by defining the profile of the ideal person and consider a wide pool of both insiders and outsiders. To identify the best you need to recognise the people who have the right motives, qualities and potential to help you excel. You need to get past the polish to hire the best candidate. Using role-play for real-play workplace scenarios allows you to get to know each candidate beyond ‘canned’ answers because they’re having to react in the moment allowing you to find the right person that both fits your company culture and can refresh your business with new ideas.
There are many challenges when hiring, and anyone who strives to lead from good to great knows the importance of getting things right at the root which is the people. Focusing on hiring for insatiable curiosity and the insight to see connections, to achieve greatness in building and transforming companies that remain at the forefront of society is the key to success. Start from a fair playing field and consider the best people from both inside and outside, surround yourself with the best by seeking out potential because this is what will keep you at the forefront of this recovering but ever changing market place.
Role-Storming is a brainstorming technique to encourage group members to take on other people’s identities while brainstorming. This reduces the inhibitions that many people feel when sharing their ideas with a group, and it helps people come up with ideas that they may not have otherwise considered, because they’re considering them from someone else’s perspective.
It’s a useful technique for #CorporateDramaRolePlay for developing problem solving skills.
Begin by presenting the problem to be solved to the group. It need not be a problem directly related to their work, in fact its probably even more beneficial to have a generic problem, because this demonstrates the transferability of problem solving skills which can be taken back to the workplace and applied to real problems.
Step 1. Brainstorm obvious ideas by conducting a regular brainstorming session with your group. Not only will this generate some good initial ideas, it will also highlight more obvious ideas. This leaves the group free to expand their thinking and push boundaries in later steps.
Step 2. Identify Roles: Ask each group member to think of someone they know – alive or dead, who they admire and respect for their problem solving skills. Ideally, they should know enough about them to take on their identity for a short time. The person they choose can be anyone, so long as it’s a person not in the current group.* Its best for it not to be someone the rest of the group knows.
Step 3. Get Into Character: For each role, allow group members a few minutes to get into character. ‘Hot Seat’ (put them on the spot with quick fired questions) using these questions to help with this:
• How does this person see the world?
• What is this person’s personality or attitude likely to be?
• How would this person solve problems?
Make an effort to support each member to get into the persona of the character: the more deeply
they understand this person’s feelings, worldview, and motivations, the better they can use this
perspective to generate good ideas.
Step 4. Brainstorm in Character: Present the same problem to the group and ask them to brainstorm in their chosen character.
Step 5. Repeat the exercise with as many different identities as you need, so that you can generate enough good ideas.