Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

When an organisation is introducing technical and complex changes, the temptation is to place all the relevant information in lengthy documents and make it available to everyone that may be affected.

The assumption being, that everyone will read it, interpret it and thus know what they need to know.  In most organisations, where the volume of information is vast, that is, at best, unlikely.  In addition, if the information has been written by technical experts, it may serve more to confuse than to enlighten.

Although the obligation of providing information has been fulfilled and thus can be ticked off the project plan, it often fails to enlighten anyone and can create frustration and confusion. There is another way.

Alana bought a new carpet-cleaning machine at the weekend. (She is an official grown up now!). She shared on Monday morning the excitement of unboxing it, which rapidly turned to amazement and then to confusion at just how many parts it seemed to have. Her mood shifted to despair as she realised how much needed to be done to assemble these items to produce a fully functioning bit of kit. Perhaps the carpets could wait a day or two?

Thankfully, the despair was short lived, because the very thoughtful carpet machine manufacturers had created a wonderful technicolour spread of just exactly what went where and the order in which it went.  As well as clear assembly instructions, there were visual diagrammatic steps for operation too. What attachment was for what surface, how much solution to mix and which brushes were specially for homes with pets. A potential technical minefield easily explained and the previously terrifying array of bits was swiftly transformed into a fully functioning domestic delight.  Result – a delighted Alana, some very clean carpets and a slightly disgruntled Murphy dog. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the same happened in business? Technical, complex and dry but necessary information conveyed in a way which people can quickly understand and apply.

Here is the thought process we go through when we are faced with the challenge of translating technically complex information into the understandably simple.

1. What one thing do we want people to know?

2. What do we want them to do afterwards?

3. How do we want them to feel?  

Then:

1. What is a metaphor, a phrase, an analogy or concept that conveys all this information?

2. What creative vehicle could we use to clearly demonstrate that concept?

3. What other information needs to be conveyed that can be weaved into this overarching idea.

 

This diagram illustrates some examples. These creative ‘hooks’ can then be used throughout the messaging to reinforce the key point. 

Having a strong hook isn’t going to be able to describe your complete IT network in 5 minutes but here are a few other techniques we use in order to make the technical more simple: 

1. Make it Visual    

Take a leaf out of the carpet cleaning machine manufacturer’s book- make it visual. Need to show the relationship between the head office and the factory floor? Show it. Depicting the environment in which people work makes it immediately relatable and recognisable.

2.    Don’t try and include every little thing.

You will run the risk of getting stuck in the weeds and never actually getting to the end of articulating what you need to. Extra discussion can address the more detailed data once you have delivered the basics.

3.    Make sure it is relevant

Sense check it with individuals from the business who live it day to day. They will soon be able to tell you if it lands with them at a human level or not.

4.    Include the benefits

This works well in process visuals – to be able to see the benefit of a certain process step really helps in getting buy-in from individuals. Click here for examples of process maps and other visual creations. 

5.    Have some fun!

Can you include in-jokes? No car parking? Temperamental printers or dodgy light switches? Feature a nod to these! The laughter of recognition is a great icebreaker.  

Here is a recent example of a before and after: 

Whilst we are not suggesting that the assembly of a carpet cleaning machine presents the same technical challenge as say, introducing a new ERP, we are ultimately seeking the same outcome. 

A communication vehicle that can simply explain process and procedure and convey the required complex technical information in a simple and effective way.  Visuals really are the key.    

By the way, should anyone want their carpets cleaning …Alana recommends VAX.  If it’s strong simple visuals you are after, then please feel free to get in touch!



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Bringing energy to break-out session playback

Bringing energy to break-out session playback

A SUCCES story of breakout reporting.

During a conference last week in Dubrovnik for a global client, we used, as we often do, one of our favourite frameworks – SUCCES – from the book ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath. They identify 6 key elements that make an idea effective and ‘sticky’ in the minds of the listeners. You don’t need every element to make an idea stick, but the more of them you have the better. Based on their research, the stickiest ideas have the following traits.

SIMPLE

UNEXPECTED

CONCRETE

CREDIBLE

EMOTIONAL

STORIES

There were two ways during the week in which this model was used to impactful effect. One was our practical application during the conference and the other was a story, told by a wonderful tour guide sharing the history of the old town of Dubrovnik.

The practical application – Bringing energy to breakout group playback

One of the challenges of large conferences and meetings is the over long and unduly repetitive ‘report backs’ from breakout sessions. What may have been a robust, lively, interesting and important discussion during the breakout can be reduced to a bland meander when played back to the plenary session by the elected representative.

Often the chosen speaker is dutifully reporting everything that was discussed but hasn’t really had time to edit it. This is further compounded by the repetition of the same points by the following groups. Somehow the requirement to be fair and include every breakout group’s feedback outweighs the common sense of not needing to hear the same point 15 times.

It really can reach the ‘losing the will to live’ moment well before the last group have brought forward their flipchart.

So, here’s a big hurrah for the Heath Brothers, because in our experience, the introduction of their model changes the way the group thinks about sharing their ideas. Last week was typical and we were inundated by people thanking us for making the session engaging, entertaining and most importantly, memorable.

Plenty of the ideas were made sticky and are going to bring about real change. They injected energy and purpose into the feedback, rather than sapping it. Alongside the model, we encouraged the participants to consult with the monsters, so they had every chance of ‘bringing their content to life’.

We encouraged the use of live music, theatre, film, dance and any and every other creative avenue. We’re delighted to report that the delegates ran with the ball.

With a focus on agility and adaptability, no group was worried about trying to be perfect and instead, put across their SIMPLE ideas in UNEXPECTED ways, using CONCRETE imagery and examples, with CREDIBLE statistics and every group, without fail, locked on to the EMOTIONAL hook and used STORY to make their point.

There were 10 groups to hear back and the time flew, making the session both enjoyable and effective.

Download more information on the SUCCES framework here  

The Tour Guide Story

The guide was well informed and engaging and shared lots of information and stories, including the wonderful fact that the head of state (the Rector) only had an elected term of 30 days and during that time, wasn’t allowed out. food for thought. One story though, really stuck with our intrepid monster tourists. Dubrovnik has a rich history, including many periods of strife and many of affluence, due to its reputation for trade and diplomacy.

At various points in history, the town was faced with devastation, famously from a huge earthquake in 1667, but on many occasions by fire.

In an attempt to make the town safer, the city council wanted to encourage householders to use more stone in construction than wood, but of course it was more expensive, so how could they influence a change in behaviour that would mean more expense for the inhabitants?

The answer – pass a law stating that only those people with stone houses would be allowed to keep and store wine on the premises and not those in wooden homes.

We leave you to consider whether or not this was an effective catalyst for change, but just a glance at the picture below, reveals a town famous for its beauty and …for its limestone and marble

If you want to know more about ideas that stick, or how to ensure that your breakout sessions have fabulous report outs, then get in touch with The Monster’s.  



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Avoiding ‘average’ communications

Avoiding ‘average’ communications

Are your communication efforts ‘average’?

Getting communications right is tricky.

Some people want visuals, some want detail, others just a quick note to let them know they’re included, but whatever the communications message to be imparted, it is terribly tempting to ‘just get some comms out’.

We know everyone is busy and they really are, but just taking a little bit of care and time over important messages will bear fruit in the end. So, what do we mean by ‘average’ communications?

Presenting long PowerPoint decks, reverting to the ‘norm’ for leadership conferences, standard talking heads videos or cramming town-halls with loads of content which simply ‘must’ be rolled out. Come on…. That’s just taking the easiest path to getting messages out there with little regard as to how they’ll be received. So why does it happen?

Unintentional lack of awareness

The author/presenter genuinely believes that telling people stuff will mean that it has been fully understood and internalized.

Unwillingness to put the effort in

You’re busy, so the quickest way to ‘get stuff out there’ is to take the path of least effort – normally slide decks of bullet points.

The perception of ‘silliness’

Anything that moves away from the hard content is perceived to be silly, wasteful or indulgent. The serious business-like way is seen to be serious business content.

Risk aversion

Standard communications are seen as the least risky approach. No-one ever got fired for presenting a content heavy slide deck so it’s probably best to take the comfortable and safe option.

The problem with average communication though is the wasted effort, budget and opportunity that organisations are paying for every day. How many times are messages communicated in conferences, town-halls, emails, even training programmes which you could classify as ‘average’? Not enough care being taken to how that message can be brought to life and therefore it’s unlikely to be remembered or acted upon.

How much is this costing the organisation? Not only in budgetary terms (spending money on communication and engagement efforts that are likely to be ineffective) but also the opportunity costs; opportunities to increase productivity, drive a cultural shift or change ways of working.
Here are some ways you can avoid the average communications trap:

1. Get to the essence of the message – what is the one really important point?

2. Use visuals – they are easily understood and can convey multiple messages in seconds.

3. Be surprising – Average communicators breed average communicatees. (Is that a word? No? Well just go with it – we’re being surprising! Ed.) If people expect to be talked at for 45 minutes then they’ll mentally prepare themselves to not listen for 42. Add an element of surprise to get people hooked in quickly.

4. Get people involved – let people interact with your content – run exercises, activities and games to create interest and involvement. It just helps people to connect to the point you are trying to make.

5. Avoid being ‘corporate’ – Business is serious, but it needn’t be dull. By making communication more relaxed and friendly, then people will feel able to engage on a more human level.

 

 

  

If you want more advice as to how to bring messages to life you might find this article helpful. 

An example of what not being average looks like…

Purple Monster are currently working with a client to help roll out a global programme about Cyber-Security in a manufacturing setting. It’s technical, complicated and full of IT information that is critically important but also difficult for engineering staff to understand as it isn’t their area of expertise.

This organisation wanted us to help them translate their cyber-security content into a series of workshops focused on the key benefit for the engineering teams. So we created a picture of a manufacturing plant including making invisible cyber threats visible.

Activities have been designed to interact with the picture. Where technical content is required then it has been drafted into an overall ‘flow’ which makes all the sessions hang together and the key messages reinforced throughout.  

For the relatively small outlay of our involvement, this global engineering function are now much more likely to not only understand the importance of being cyber vigilant but what they need to do in order to protect their plant. This enhanced knowledge could ultimately prevent shut-downs costing millions of pounds. All by this organisation choosing to not fall into the average comms trap.

Don't go for average!

We are experts in bringing creative and ‘different’ approaches to corporate communications and engagement.  



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Making your engagement efforts scalable

Making your engagement efforts scalable

Creating an engaging and interactive ‘workshop-in-a-box’ communications approach

An observation in Monster Towers at the moment, is how many times per week Danielle writes the following phrases in project scope documents – ‘we will develop a compelling corporate narrative’ and ‘we will design and create a visually engaging and content rich workshop in a box’

We shared with you previously, here, some steps and ideas around the first so now we will explore the second.

Why workshop-in-a-box?

The need to connect and engage people face to face is still strong. Even in a digital world there is still a desire for live interaction, as an opportunity to discuss as a group and to build relationships.

But with tighter budgets and globally dispersed employees, conducting centrally held face to face sessions is not always possible. A viable alternative is needed – combining the power of face to face interaction with the consistency and impact of centrally run events.

A workshop-in-a-box is this alternative.

What is a workshop-in-a-box?

It really is what it says on the box. A pack containing everything needed to run an engaging, interactive workshop. This usually includes:

  • A visual focus point 

Normally an illustrated version of the vision or strategy or a different visual representation of a new process or way of working. Whatever it is, this central visual provides a comprehensive focus point for the discussion. The more engaging, visually compelling and interesting it is, the more likely it is that people will spend time exploring and discussing the key messages.

  • Facilitator guide

This helps anyone facilitating the session to do so in an engaging and consistent way. Containing information not only on the subject matter but also tips on how to set up the room, how to ask open questions and what to do with the outputs. This helps to drive both consistency in messaging but also provides support to people who might be nervous or inexperienced in hosting such discussions.

  • Output templates

Most workshops lead to the development of outputs, be they commitments, action plans or ideas. By providing templates, the messages are more likely to be captured consistently. The added advantage is that these can be transformed into a permanent visual output which can be used on an ongoing basis to remind people of the part they played in the discussion.

  • Question cards

These help the facilitator drive interesting and engaging conversations.

  • Exercise instructions and materials

By designing activities or exercises for people to carry out during the session this will encourage interaction and increase understanding. The pack can contain everything you need to set up and deliver these activities including instructions and any materials.

  • Memory stick loaded with an Introduction video or animation

A good way to ensure that each workshop starts with the same context. Again, the more interesting and engaging this is, the more likely it will capture people’s attention from the start.

Does this approach work?

We are huge fans of big, impactful events in order to bring people together, forge strong relationships and encourage cross functional working but recognise this isn’t always possible. A workshop in a box approach is a very strong substitute. This is what previous workshop in a box attendees said about events they attended.

93% agree it was a good use of time
89% said “the conversation brought to life our objectives and helped me understand them”
92% said “I was encouraged to express my views during the conversation
95% of Managers said the pack has been an effective tool for communicating our Customer Delivery objectives to my team

Why are visuals so important?

Simply put, engaging visuals make content much more interesting. They allow people to discuss, debate and ask questions so much more than a set of PowerPoint slides. An engaging visual helps to physically draw people together, as quite often this is a large printed sheet that allows attendees to gather around and really collaborate. It can also be used following the workshop as a proof point of the involvement of many.

What topics could use this approach?

It could be used for the roll out of a future vision, the cascade of strategic plans and even training material related to technical technology changes. In order to make it a cost-effective solution however, work out how many people need to be communicated to, as the more people that can be involved, the more the cost per person reduces. This usually means communicating strategic or critical messages, collaborative visioning sessions and involving people in new ways of working. Now you could carry out a DIY version for minimum cost as long as it still remains engaging. Just providing a box of printed PowerPoint slides and instructions to read is not going to help your messages land!

So while nobody wants to be put in a box, a workshop in a box doesn’t mind at all. And Danielle won’t mind writing out her favourite sentence all over again!

Got a complex topic you want employees to engage with?

Our visual and creative design team can help you make an impactful, interactive and business relevant workshop. 



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Do we know where we are going?! Bringing your organisations’ vision to life

Do we know where we are going?! Bringing your organisations’ vision to life

The importance of bringing Organisational Vision or Strategy to life, and our top tips.

Everyone wants to know where they are going and how they are going to get there, unless of course you are one of those carefree travellers who puts a pin in a map at random and leaves the house with nothing but a backpack, a passport, a change of pants and a toothbrush… wow, that was a great conference…no, but seriously, we are talking about Organisational Vision and Strategy.

No, no, please don’t hit delete, we know it may sound a little corporate and dare we say uninteresting but isn’t that just exactly why we need to bring it to life in a more interesting way?

In our experience, the clearer an organisations’ plan is to see, understand and communicate, the easier it is for everyone to get behind it and the more likely you are to actually stand a chance of getting there.

If your people believe in what you are all doing and where you are all going, they are more likely to stick around and give their best in order to help achieve it. And that feels good for everyone!
Even better, if you can involve people, and truly understand the business challenges faced at all levels, then tangible, actionable, creative solutions can be developed.

This level of involvement gives individuals the chance to have their say and feel they are contributing, and are not just another number on a page. It will also ensure that your future vision is relevant and applicable to everyone.
So how on earth do you do this, especially if you have numerous global locations? We have a step by step process that we adopt and here are some top tips from some of our previous experiences…

1. Acknowledge the truth

You can’t make a clear path for where you want to go if you don’t know where you are. Get out into the business – talk to people, spend time doing focus groups, doing interviews etc- the more people and levels you speak to the better. If you can offer anonymity, you are more likely to get a truer picture of what is going on across the business.

We’re happy to talk to anyone, by the way.

2. Create the future

You may already have a stated vision, a mission statement, or a purpose statement. Don’t let it just be words on a page but encourage people to explore how it actually looks and feels.

Involve as many different voices as you can and ask them what they believe the future can be – an Leadership Team vision is not going to be the same for Mel who works in the plant.

3. Replay your findings

If you don’t tell people what you have done with their inputs, they will see this as an exercise and won’t believe you. We always use powerful visuals, videos or animations to replay these findings.

4. Involve everyone in the ‘how ’

This is undoubtedly the trickiest part, the biggest risk of people going off at a tangent or getting bogged down in the data and smaller intricacies of running a business. Or worse, just being generic and not specific enough.

Design events and communications in such a way that involve people, will allow localised teams to build on the existing state, add their relevance to the future vision, keep on track with their discussions, have an interactive experience and generate outcomes of tangible steps and actions that they can implement.

5. Share it!

Creating a rich picture is one way to show the collective vision and strategy. Tell your story to everyone!

Keep communicating and show evidence of things that have already happened as a result of this approach that is making a difference.

6. Don’t let it be a gimmick

Keep it front and centre.

If it is a picture, have it on display in offices. Keep dialogue going in meetings, townhalls etc…you name it.

Hold yourself accountable to it. If needs be, revisit it 6 months down the line for a refresher session; have you done what you said you would do? If not, then look at how can you amend that to ensure you are back on track.

An Example..

If you really want to be clear on where you’re heading and how to get people to all pull in the same direction then, in our experience, nobody has done this better than our friend Ben Hunt-Davies and his concept of Will It Make the Boat Go Faster. The ultimate literal ‘all pulling in the same direction‘ which ended in him and his colleagues achieving their lofty ambition.
Your ambition might not be an Olympic Title but if you and your people are losing direction and feeling overwhelmed then a clear view of where you’re going is going to help.

If you want a step-by-step guide about how to share your organisational strategy or vision, find a copy here 

Need your vision bringing to life?

We are experts in helping organisations to breathe life into their vision, values or strategies. Bringing our creative expertise to make corporate narratives engaging, compelling and memorable. 



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Who has got the ‘D’? Decision-making in complex organisations

Who has got the ‘D’? Decision-making in complex organisations

It may come as no surprise that if you search the term ‘decision-making’ on the internet, it doesn’t throw up just one framework or methodology, but, well … umpteen. In fact, it’s quite a decision to decide which ones to read.

Just searching the term RACI reveals the following deviations and variations. RACI, RASI, RASCI, RACI-VS, RACIQ and our personal favourite (just for the way it sounds), RASCEIO. Isn’t that one of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan?

Now we don’t intend to get involved in the politics of Brexit in this article. After all, we are doing everything we can to retain and build our readership, rather than conspire to drive people away. However, here’s a little help for those closely involved in the decision-making process and for those involved from a distance too; either as bemused observers, interested stakeholders or comedians seeking new material.

Whatever Brexit may represent to you, one thing we can all be sure of is that after a long decision-making process, involving a huge number of people, it did not happen on time.

The deadline has come and gone and we’re no clearer on the next steps. Now that is certainly a familiar story in business and one that affects us all.

So, what can help us to make better decisions, or perhaps more timely ones?

The Cynefin Model

 

In an article for HBR, David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone suggest that understanding the kind of problem you’re solving is a key starting point. They describe a framework which Snowden and a team at IBM developed, which must be one of the very few to have a Welsh title. Cynefin

Ref: Cynefin model. Dave Snowden (1999) IBM.

It sets problems into what he described as a ‘sense-making’ model rather than categorizing model. So, how might this help us everyday?

What kind of decisions are you trying to make?

 

If you are deciding where to hold your conference or which external speaker to book then this is ‘simple’, according to Cynefin. Weigh up the pros and cons, set a deadline for the decision and once made, go ahead with the arrangements.

If it’s simple, keep it simple. However, if the challenge is to shift behaviours and ways of working and you wish to bring that problem to life through experiential activities, you can’t expect to arrive at a ‘decision’ quickly or simply. This kind of solution takes time, because the problem is ‘complicated’ and requires deeper analysis. Be realistic about how much time it should take and plan accordingly.

According to Cynefin, it also requires experts, so if you’re looking for someone to bring complicated content to life, then remember to get in touch.

Who is making the Decision?

So, we know the context and the kind of decisions that need to be made, but who is going to make them? This can be the most complicated part of the process.

In large organizations, this problem can seem insurmountable, as there is no agreement about which function/region/individual has the authority to make a decision.

On one occasion we had stepped through the whole proposal, pitch and contract process before discovering that the person with the financial authority had never actually been told about the planned conference, at all.

It turned out that everyone was so scared of the individual, they dared not tell him. Thankfully the work went ahead, but that was only because, in the end, WE told him!

Having confidence to make the decision.

Finding out who approves or signs-off is something that can prove very elusive. We’re working with a client who has a useful framework in this regard, crafted specifically to fit their values.

Their company-specific framework focuses on knowing who has the ‘D’ for decision-making and endeavouring to make that transparent to everyone.

It may not be the most senior person, nor even the budget holder. It could be a number of people, such as a project board or steering group, but whoever it is, everyone needs to know. Other people can still be consulted or give advice or be in the information pool and so on, but the certainty is that they are NOT the ‘D’.

Since using this framework, and the nomenclature of the ‘D’, the company concerned has turned the corner in the speed and efficiency of their previously ponderous decision-making process. It’s more than a happy coincidence that they are also growing the company successfully too.

The fear that important business decisions, strategic and financial, will be held up, is slowly dissipating.

Do you need help bringing your decision-making process to life?

We are experts in bringing to life complex concepts and this can include helping people to understand the impact of the existing decision-making culture. 



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