Strategy, sales, leadership, communication or coaching is VERY responsive to CONTEXT. Most people nod in agreement when I make this point… but think about the last time you were in a strategy session (of any kind!!!) where you took a deliberate time-out to examine CONTEXT.
I just received the latest issue of Rotman Management from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. This magazine is – hands down – my favorite for ‘design-thinking’.
This issues is dedicated to changing behavior! Karen Christensen, the editor writes, “At it’s core, every organization is in the same business: changing behavior. For-profit companies try to saw consumers to buy their products; governments try to convince citizens to pay their taxes on time; and an NGO might want to encourage families to sign up for tuition support for their children.”
Buried in the first article is this little nugget about DESIGNING CONTEXT!“We know from Psychology that context influences choice, it should be possible to design contexts to steer choices to a desired outcome.”
Great sales designs the CONTEXT through PREDISPOSITION, the FLOW of the VISIT, and TEAM SELLING (that is, determining the context of the team that will engage with the prospect.)
Most people (not ‘nonprofit people,’ just people in general) don’t know HOW to engage… how to create engagement… how to be deliberate in communication so that the other person is engaged. And yet, we always hear that you want more engaged customers, staff, funders, relationships and board members!
First, let’s define ENGAGEMENT: a dynamic within a relationship which holds attention, heightens interest and motivates action.
Attention! Interest! Action!
How do we maximize Attention, Interest and Action? How do we MAXIMIZE ENGAGEMENT?
Ask Questions. Then Listen. Or, Just Listen. No better way to engage than to listen. Also, when a person speaks it engages his or her brain fully.
Be 1:1. It’s tough to listen to a room of 200. Heck, it’s hard to listen to 12 board members at a meeting!
Use Visuals! They are several studies, but all conclude that visual learners make up more than half of our population!
Better than Visuals, Create a Memorable Experience. If a picture is worth a 1000 words than a tour or an experience with your impact is worth many more.
DRAW! Create a visual experience with the prospect. We love using 2’x3′ ENGAGEMENT TOOLS – these make the case for support visual and they offer plenty of white space in which to draw while you’re visiting with someone. Picture two people standing over a blue-print – Pointing, Talking, Moving – giving your case meaning. This is Engagement.
Predispose. Predisposing someone to your visit or your conversation provides clarity ahead of the visit – making it easier to hold attention and create interest.
Be Simple. We need order. We need simplicity. If things are complex, you’ve lost my attention because I’m trying to figure out what you’re saying.
Be Specific with an Ask. If the stated goal is to create action then you need to let the other person know what the action looks like. Being specific in an ask directs attention and let’s me know what action to contemplate. In the funding sense, you must ASK in order for me do something.
If we focused on ENGAGING in this way:
We would worry much less about ‘what to say’ and instead think about what questions to ask.
We would probably burn Powerpoints in effigy and stand around flip charts with markers instead.
We would ditch ‘special events’ in favor of one-on-one, engaging visits.
Start with Why is a best selling book and one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time. Simon Sinek introduces the concept in the context of marketing but the importance of ‘starting with WHY’ applies to all dimensions of communications, management, and leadership.
The WHY question is one of incredible utility.
This nugget is about moving from utility to power (i.e. GREATEST IMPACT and FOCUS) through more nuanced WHY questions.
There are dozens of ‘WHY’ questions. To name a handful…
Why (are we doing this)?
What is our purpose?Note: Do not be fooled. ‘What is our purpose’ is a WHY QUESTION.
What’s our mission?
What’s our reason for existence? Raison d’etre?
What’s our cause? Or, for WHAT do we stand?
The reason we use the Altitude Framework is because it represents ALL of these questions (at 30,000′). The mental picture here is that of a kaleidoscope; depending on which way you turn the WHY question you’re going to get a slightly different picture at 30,000′.
In the WHY kaleidoscope, one question consistently has the greatest power to focus and guide:
TOWARD WHAT END?
This question sharpens the WHY. It takes it somewhere.
Toward what end does your organization exist?
We want to start a new program. Toward what end?
Communication is an art. To land on the right clarity and communication, leaders should play around with the entire ‘WHY-kaleidoscope’. If one WHY question isn’t teasing out enough power, or focus, shift to another question.
Your organization’s story is about MORE than a mission statement, strategy, and clear goals – it’s about the CONTEXT that creates meaning.
In all my reading I’ve not been able to find (or compile) anything as strong and complete as what is expressed by Ben Horowitz, the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with investments in Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb. I’m sharing a full excerpt from his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
Bold emphasis is mine. Translate all of this to our ‘Impact world’.
The CEO must set the context within which every employee operates. The context gives meaning to the specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision making, and provides motivation. Well-structured goals and objectives contribute to the context, but they do not provide the whole story. More to the point, they are not the story. The story of the company goes beyond quarterly or annual goals and gets to the hard-core question of why. Why should I join this company? Why should I be excited to work here? Why should I buy its product? Why should I invest in the company? Why is the world better off as a result of this company’s existence? When a company clearly articulates its story, the context for everyone— employees, partners, customers, investors, and the press— becomes clear. When a company fails to tell its story, you hear phrases like
These reporters don’t get it.
Who is responsible for the strategy in this company?
We have great technology, but need marketing help.
The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.
The story is not the mission statement; the story does not have to be succinct. It is the story. Companies can take as long as they need to tell it, but they must tell it and it must be compelling. A company without a story is usually a company without a strategy.
Horowitz, Ben (2014-03-04). The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (p. 237). HarperCollins.
I LOVE this framing. And, I can’t post without a coaching point for sales people (fundraisers). We, as fundraisers, must do everything we can to help CREATE, SUPPORT and OWN the story. It’s too easy to say, “Leadership doesn’t get it.” In my estimation 90% of companies and nonprofits don’t really understand the power of STORY as something that SHAPES meaning, strategy and impact.
Every MBA student hears about the story of the railroad industry. As the need for transportation grew and grew, the railroad industry failed to capture growth. It thought it was in the railroad business and failed to realize it was in the transportation business.
More recently, Blockbuster video hired big box retail executives to help grow its footprint. They thought they were in the big-box retail business and failed to realize they were in the content delivery business. Blockbuster declined to purchase Netflix in 2000 for $50M. Blockbuster – as a store – is long deceased and Netflix now has a $56Billion market cap.
Those are two examples of failure. Here are two examples of enduring success:
“We are in the business of democratizing the skies.” – Herb Kelleher. Founder, Southwest Airlines.
“We are in the reliability business.” FedEx
Asking, “What business are we in?” is a clarifying question.
Increasingly, we’re asking organizations to answer this in TWO ways.
What business are you in? (What is your promise?)
What business are you in? (What is your model focus?)
One is aspirational — around a customer promise and one is operational.
I think it could be argued that I’m really asking for mission + strategy. And… I am okay with that. In the real world there are many different ways to ask questions to arrive at clarity. The ‘What business are you in’ is a FOCUS question, we’re just coloring it with mission and strategy.
ALL of the examples above illustrate a statement of (customer) PROMISE. I don’t think an organization can really be strategic if it doesn’t focus on its core operation. As the examples illustrate, they can’t endure in IMPACT if they don’t know their promise.
Today we reflect on the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. Here are some nuggets about the I Have a Dream speech. Appropriately, it comes up again and again, in studies of metaphor, engagement and story.
Dr. King finished writing his speech at 4am, just hours before his address. It was originally entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.”
King used over FIFTY metaphors in his speech! Contained therein was was an extended and powerful frame of the biblical struggle for freedom and the American struggle for freedom.
“I Have a Dream” represents a CHANGE of story to INSPIRE and LEAD! In The Story Factor, Annette Simmons writes that Dr. King’s refrain offers a positive vision that, “inspires generations to change their story from “I have been oppressed” to “I have a dream.”“
The original and prepared speech did not contain the phrase, “I Have a Dream!” 11 mins into the speech gospel singer Mahalia Jackson — sitting behind Dr. King — shouted “Tell ’em about the ‘dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘dream’!”
Dr. King recalled that he ‘just decided’ to go with it! In front of millions, he started RIFFING!
There is no substitute for authenticity. When I listen to Dr. King’s speech I believe I can FEEL his heart kick it up a notch with each riff. (Dr. King’s final speech ended up being DOUBLE the length of his prepared remarks.)
Story recounted in Originals by Adam Grant, and Shortcut.
The Rule of 3 is the ultimate simplification and framing device. It’s powerful because it simplifies anything AND offers an arrangement that is digestible… even attractive to the human mind.
We are wired to receive things in threes! When you have two of something it creates conflict – it’s an either / or. In a traditional three-act story, the second act creates the tension, and the third act resolves.
When you have more than three, studies show the brain is more inclined to ‘give up’ than to internalize all the points.
Going back age of the Roman ages, Cicero became a famed orator using the cadence of three’s in his speaking. Today, politicians, advertising agencies, and media people use this device — the second you look for it, it’s EVERYWHERE.
Think about the resonance and stickiness of three’s…
Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
Small. Medium. Large / Tall. Grande. Venti.
Faith, Hope, and Love.
Goldilocks. Mama Bear, Baby Bear, Papa Bear.
Blood, sweat, and tears.
Note: This one comes from a Churchill speech, “Blood, toil, tears and sweat.” The fact that no one remembers ‘toil’ underscores the point of THREE.
We use the Rule of 3 in a lot of our For Impact framing.
Speaking. The next time you give a speech, focus on making just three points (or even better yet, three short stories – supporting three simple points). I’ve coached Fortune 500 CEO’s that have said, “I’ve had a lot of communications coaching. That’s one of the best tips I’ve ever received. It’s simple and works every time!”
AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!
Simplifying Your Funding Message! Instead of trying to explain ALL of your programs and projects, simply say, “We do these THREE things…” (Notice how we do that in our presentation framework.)
Productivity. Try to accomplish ONLY THREE things in one day… and become more productive than you ever imagined.
We use an Altitude Framework to order thinking, communications and storylines.
In sharing this with others, one goal is simply to make everyone aware of 30,000′ and what it means to share the message and story at 30,000’.
People respond to you at whatever level you communicate. So, if you’re at 3,′ talking about where the architects are placing bathrooms, this will frame the conversation. Instead, if you’re at 30,000,′ talking about changing and saving lives… the conversations will be different.
One example: We worked with a well-respected social entrepreneur and Ashoka fellow. A driven individual and true visionary, he gets up every morning trying to change the face of poverty. Whenever he went to make an ‘ask,’ however, the conversation always turned into a debate about the business model (at 14,000′). The Altitude Framework helped him to see why this was happening.
Being an award-winning social entrepreneur, his message had taken shape around ‘doing business in a different way’… about ‘earned income’… about ‘not relying on philanthropy’… about being ‘best in the world at being sustainable.’ Naturally, prospects were engaging him at this level (14,000′). The 30,000′ WHY wasn’t coming through in his message. His story needed to be about being best in the world at changing the face of poverty (30,000′) — first — and then incorporating a different business model (at 14,000′).
The Altitude Framework was a simple tool that made him aware of his 30,000′ message. We’re happy to report his funding conversations changed considerably based on this conscious framing exercise.