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Getting People to Use Structured Thinking Disciplines Is Easier Than You Think

So many of our clients and friends who work in consulting firms tell us that they are unhappy with the clarity of the thinking that their team members deliver in their internal recommendations and client reports.

They worry that clients do not receive the full value from their teams’ efforts and that their clients are working too hard to capture the important insights (that they are paying for) from the teams’ presentations.

They tell us with great embarrassment that rather than taking a helicopter view toward the end of an engagement and clarifying the cohesive story that their audience needs to hear from them, their people throw the final packs together by any manner of means, including

  • Spreading all of the pages from a project over the boardroom table and then walking around cherry picking key ones and then putting them barely changed into the final pack
  • Building the pack one page at a time during the project and then ‘whooshing the titles together’ to create a contents page
  • Describing the work the team did rather than clearly articulating a cohesive set of recommendations
  • Team leaders – partners included – accepting that they will have to redo the pack at the eleventh hour as this is easier than getting the team to do it themselves

We see this sense of frustration and disappointment across many forms of consulting from management consulting, engineering, accounting and the law as well as inside corporate strategy teams.

The busyness of life in these environments leads many teams to assume that changing this situation is too expensive in training costs and time away from billable client work.

As one partner from a global management consulting firm asked recently, “We provide our people with training when they start here and expect them to use sound structured thinking practices throughout all of their projects, but beyond that, how do we actually make them use these techniques?”

This is a great question, and one that has vexed many people that we have encountered in the last 25 years’ or so that we have been helping clients use logic and structure to clarify their problem solving and communication.

Over the past couple of years, we have identified four tactics that may help you and your teams provide clearer and more impactful client recommendations.

Firstly, insist that any recommendation being made to your in-house leadership team is presented as a one-page storyline. See the example below.

storylining

This will not only demonstrate that you are serious that this is just good business practice, it will also provide opportunities for people to practice their structured thinking skills in a low-risk environment as well as making it easier for your leadership team to make good decisions.

This should be the case for your non fee-earning staff, just as it is for your fee earners.

If you want a quick brush-up on storylining techniques have a look at our Storylining 101 pack here.

Secondly, require all problems to be mapped out as an issue tree and confirmed with the team leadership and the client before work begins on any project. It can also be used to scope out the fees and allocate responsibilities across the team.

Thirdly, mandate that no pack is prepared without a one-page storyline being peer reviewed. The one-page storyline can then form a great executive summary for your pack that can be used as pre-reading for your audience, and will also drive the structure of your pack.

Lastly (for now!), introduce the Friday storyline discipline. Whether you are running a change management program or a strategy project, requiring your team to take an hour or so every Friday to prepare a one-page storyline that describes where they currently think the answer is up to for the project will help both your team and your client. It will not only result in clearer client communication throughout the project, it will also get better answers to your client more quickly.

For more ideas on how to improve the discipline around the use of logic and structure in your problem solving and communication, have a look at this pack here.

If you would like to explore these ideas further, visit the following sites:

  • Some packs that will help you remind others of basic structured thinking disciplines and embed them more deeply across your teams: Corporate Communications on Flevy.
  • A (free) elearning academy that provides occasional insights for people who are keen to make the most of structured thinking disciplines in their business: Clarity Secret.
  • Software that will help you build one-page storylines and then convert those storylines immediately into a pack: neosi.co.

About Davina Stanley

Davina Stanley is Co-Founder and Managing Director of neosi. Team neosi consists of a small group of communication specialists who have 40 years’ experience in helping clients clarify their thinking before they communicate. The team, originally trained at McKinsey & Company, offers a range of online solutions, including software and eCourses, while also serving clients in Australia, Asia Pacific and elsewhere. They have published a number of documents on Flevy related to the topics of corporate communication, structured thinking, and communication clarity.

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  • Robin Penberthy

    This is what Barbara Minto originated about 50 years ago, and continues to teach leading consultants today. Of course you are not the first to adopt her techniques and profit our of spreading the gospel.

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