New views from New Jersey

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Last week, Stephen spoke by video with Rhonda Sciarra, current IABC New Jersey president and an associate director of global external communications at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. 

Rhonda at our last event in New Jersey
Rhonda Sciarra

 

Stephen:      Hi Rhonda, thanks for agreeing to chat. Before we start, please tell me about your leadership and involvement in IABC.

Rhonda:       Thanks. In my nearly 20 years of experience as a communicator, I have found IABC to be a valuable community locally and globally. I appreciate how IABC aligns business communications with organizational goals – and then measuring outcomes. I have worked both in internal and external communications and find IABC to be relevant and contemporary – it is also an organization when you give a little, the returns are immense. 

Stephen:      Your IABC New Jersey Board helped organize, and you attended, a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop in New Jersey last summer. What was it like?

Rhonda:       When we look for professional development ideas, any experience that is engaging from the start and promotes learning while doing is ideal. Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders did just this. The exercise and workshop promoted some great discussions. By immersing ourselves in the simulated world of Carmen Spinoza and her colleagues, we were able to have detailed discussions and hear from different perspectives. Because we came from different disciplines, not everyone had the same view.

Stephen:      What three words would you use to describe the event?

Rhonda:       Dynamic, fun, thought-provoking.

Stephen:      Tell me about the last. How has the event changed your perspective?

Rhonda:       The event reinforced how we should think about leadership in a different way. As communications professionals, we have the chance to think about the big picture and take care to reflect the business strategy in our conversations with teams we work with. That wider perspective and focus on outcomes, versus just outputs, allows us to act more as strategic advisers.

Stephen:      We’re in the process of developing an on-line version of the workshop. What do you think is the main thing to keep in mind as we do?

Rhonda:       Try to find a way to have some levity and get people active beyond just sitting at a screen. As I mentioned, ‘fun’ is one of the key words for the workshop that I experienced in person, so be sure to keep that when moving the simulation to this new virtual world we are in. 

Stephen:      That’s a great point. Thank you. In the meantime, tell us about Rhonda outside work? What do you do when you are not working?

Rhonda:       Well, I live outside New York City and am really appreciating my Peloton, while trying and get out running when I can – mask on and physically distancing. My puggle is entertaining, and I am keeping in contact with family and friends back in St. Louis and Kansas City. 

Stephen:      Great, thanks for your time – hope to see you in person sometime soon.

Rhonda:       Me too! Take care. 

If you want to get to know Rhonda (we recommend it!) follow her on Twitter @Rhonda_Lea or connect with her on LinkedIn

What type of adviser are you?

Welcome to this week’s blog post … with a twist.

Those of you who are playing our #testingtimes postcard game will know that we have developed an on-line self-assessment tool to help you explore your own advisory style.

As strategic advisers, we work with our clients (internal or external) in different ways. Here at Archetypical, we have developed a taxonomy to help you explore your own style and think about how you work in different situations.

To find out more … and to complete the self-assessment survey … click here.

Meanwhile, stay tuned to our blog because next week we will be interviewing one of our favorite alumna.

 

 

 

 

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The story of a career workout in #testingtimes

Charlie Mounter, freelance editor, joined the #testingtimes challenge and here are her reflections on taking on our career bingo.

Charlie Mounter, freelance editor, joined the #testingtimes challenge and here are her reflections on taking on our career bingo.

Just as it pays to step away from the screen, taking time to really think about what we are doing can save us from making mistakes. Listening to the economist Tim Harford’s podcast Cautionary Tales reminds me of many basic principles that bear on aspects of life under a pandemic: question authority and your own assumptions; beware of ‘hot states’ when hungry, anxious, tired or under pressure; design your systems to anticipate human error; arrange information to be used in the order it is needed. Nobody can see into the future, so we need to remember that forecasts are tools for discussion, rather than edicts we must accept. 

Everything has changed, yet we can’t leave our homes to explore it. As a freelance editor I cope well with lockdown, but the boundaries between work and leisure have become more blurred than usual. Though the internet is essential to both, when I’m online I find myself reading a lot of news, where there are no end of updates and few conclusions to be reached. Time can be squandered that way, so my husband and I decided to turn off our wi-fi for two hours every afternoon. This means we can pay full attention to challenging books we were putting off reading. Being focused takes our mind off things and brings us some structure and resolution. 

Looking again at my CV, I realised that some of my skills have new implications. For instance, although I regularly manage projects there are now degrees in project management with methodologies I know nothing about. To address this, I signed up to a free course in the Fundamentals of Project Management that I can follow in small increments at my own pace. I hope I will learn to be more systematic and gain insights into other ways of working. 

Constraints can give us the impetus to be more imaginative, as can starting somewhere new or adding randomness. Back in the domestic sphere, for a while now I have been sprouting mung beans, which need daily rinsing and draining and to grow in the dark. The large jar with muslin and an elastic band that I had been using for this was a bit unwieldy and needed to be kept in a dark cupboard, which meant I sometimes forgot about it and the sprouts spoiled. When I went to put away my travel coffee cup, I realised that its lid, drinking hole and closing tab make it an improvement on my old sprouter, and its opacity means it can be kept on the counter. The cup has been salvaged from redundancy but it can fulfil its former function when the lockdown lifts. 

The new challenges and applications I’m taking on are practical. They help me reintegrate different modes of thinking and better equip me for life after limbo. Many options have been shut off, which has nudged me to make new choices. Sometimes we don’t try till someone or something makes us.

You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn. She will continue to guest blog for us in the next few weeks.

If you would like to share your experience taking part in the #testingtimes challenge, get in touch!

Looking at things from a different angle

Welcome to the second challenge of our #testingtimes campaign. Today we’ll focus on taking a looking at things from a different angle.

“It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that whatever you say to them, they always purr.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Welcome to the second challenge of our #testingtimes campaign. If you’re reading this, you might have successfully completed challenge one; if not, it’s not too late to sign up, just send us your physical address and we’ll pop a card in the post.

Today we’ll focus on taking a looking at things from a different angle. We think it’s a useful skill to have if you want to grow your career. Because to be a senior adviser you need to be better than a lawyer that only sees legal problems or a human resources expert that only sees people issues. What you want is to be is an enterprise-wide thinker, who solves business issues bringing in a wide range of perspectives. Alice, in the quote above, is sharing the frustration we sometimes hear from leaders, so don’t be a kitten to always purrs; sometimes you need to roar — or even bark or chirp from time to time.

A first step is to step back and learn to see things from other angles. Exercise your creative muscles. Artists do it, philosophers do it and now you can too. Creativity can be focused and learned, just like any other skill.

So here’s your second career workout:

  1. The warm up 

Full disclosure, we borrowed this idea from London’s premier contemporary art gallery, the Tate Modern. They use it in their creativity for artists class. We asked you to pick and object, and then photograph it from an entire different angle.

Check out our Twitter feed for our own examples, in the meantime here’s what we did:

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In this example a sculpture became a candle holder and it made me think of Frida Khalo and my travels through Mexico. And then, looking closer a cactus turns into barbed wire.

2. Exercise your core

The key learning comes through reflecting on the process:

  • How did the search for a new angle made you feel? Energised? Stressed?
  • Was it hard? Was it easy?
  • Did it invite you to create something new?
  • Could you find a new use for the object after seeing from a new angle?

Through this objects take a new life; ideas expand and even sparks of joy flow in the process.

3. Stretching

Now let’s put it into action at work. Is there a piece of work on the ‘back boiler’ that you could re-purpose to address a current need? For example, we had an old competitor analysis that we never properly finished, and we’ll now use it to help us figure out how to take Archetypical from a face-to-face business into a virtual facilitation one! (Watch this space for more.)

Creativity is a journey and we thank you for joining us in this #testing times

If you really like the idea of flexing your creativity muscles, here a few things we really like:

As always we would love to hear from you in this #testingtimes.

Your career workout for #testingtimes

Keeping our promise to be fun, without further ado, we present the “Archetypical #testingtimes bingo”: a quick reference guide to keep growing your career without leaving home.

Great! If you are reading this, it means you’ve completed the first postcard challenge.

We are all going through extremely testing times. Work is fluid, merging into home life. Some of us find ourselves looking for new ways to fill up the time we’ve recovered from no longer commuting, others face the challenge of even less time to spare, either because they play a role in their organization’s COVID response (more work!) or having to balance work with looking after children at home; or in some cases, both.

There is flurry of articles on how to deal with working from home and about looking after your mental and physical health while keeping the trains of work and home life running. Some of the ones we’ve enjoyed are at the end of this blog.

However, we have declared this space to be COVID-free space. Our mission is to bring you a little bit of joy and inspiration, while continuing to grow your career as a strategic adviser. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably signed up to our postcard #testingtimes campaign and so your challenge is to try to put one of these suggestions into action in the next two weeks. If you’ve not signed up: email us your physical address for the next few weeks. It’s not too late to join the game.

Here’s three ideas that might help you flex your strategic muscles.

  • 1. Play outside your sandbox – To jump from being a technical expert (in comms, legal, human resources, or other functions) you have to leap into a wider body of knowledge, to understand how other professions see business. This is the time to open up your mind to new fields with the strategic intent of improving how you perform in your own.
  • 2. Learn to look at things differently- The world was already volatile before COVID, now we need to be even more flexible. But to a hammer all problems look like nails. So how do you step away from the hammer? Try approaching a familiar situation from a new perspective. 
  • 3. Nurture your boundaries – Healthy boundaries – permeable, flexible ones, are the key to a healthy life and a healthy career. Limits are good. Know what yours are, only then can you decide which limits to push. 

But how?, you might ask. Keeping our promise to be fun, without further ado, we present the #testingtimes bingo: a quick reference guide to keep growing your career without leaving home.

Tip If you have more time than usual If you have less time than usual
Play outside your sandbox
  1. Sign up for a free online course in something unrelated to your field (Accounting and Design Thinking come to mind).
  2. Follow the news, stock price and commentary of a sector you are not involved with. Fashion? Aviation? The Arts? (Stephen  is a member of the Royal Academy in London: you can sign up to regular emails here.)
  3. A couple of years ago, Casilda did a creativity course at the Tate Modern. Here’s a new idea.
  1. Call up someone (a friend, a new colleague) who works on a different area and just take 10 minutes to ask what their regular day is like. 
  2. Follow a company outside your sector on social media or on the digital newspaper of your choice. 
  3. Talk to your children about what you do, pay attention to their questions. They are very revealing of what’s important.
Look at things differently
  1. Try doing “opposition research” on your organisation. If you were an NGO, what issues would you raise?
  2. Now do “opposition research” on yourself, how would you turn your weaknesses into strengths?
  3. Read an interview with Karl Rove and David Axelrod on opposition research. 
  1. Get a friend or your partner to give you feedback on a piece of work they’ve never seen before. Don’t explain, just listen. 
  2. Listen to an episode of Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford
  3. When/if you are out for your daily exercise: think about the first car you see and create an imaginary biography for it.
Nurture your boundaries
  1. Understand what healthy boundaries look like. We like Brene Brown’s advice
  2. Try setting a schedule put your phone on “flight mode” no interruptions for an hour or two a day. 
  1. Block a 30-minute pause time in your calendar a day. Just for you.
  2. Try saying no to at least one non-essential request. Read our tips on how to say no. 
  3. Unsubscribe from redundant mailing lists.
  4. Turn your phone off for an hour. Go on, I dare you.
Three of the many, many resources for working from home and mental health

The next instalment of our #testingtimes campaign will come in two weeks. 

Reader, I fired him

If you are a strategic adviser then do your job. Advise, counsel, guide, challenge, support, debate.

Guest post by Marua Kobayashi

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a senior leader in possession of a responsible position, must be in want of a strategic adviser.

Oh wait, sorry. I’m getting my 19th century English writers mixed up. But it does help me tell you a story of when I was let down by one of my supposed “strategic advisers”. As a result: he had to go.

Before I joined Globocorp I was a senior operations manager in a large company in Peru, my home country. I won’t say which company it was but I will give you a clue: Peru is known for two main industries and I hate fishing.

Anyway, to my story… and its lessons for the readers of this blog.

About a year before I left, we were in the throes of rolling out a new on-line management system for my division. I was the ultimate decision-maker. There was a project leader and an in-house team who were working with some developers to design and roll out the software. Everything was going well – we had  planning sessions and had been progressing to plan for a year. (Who knew it took so many people to make a decision and resolve the ‘small questions’? One of the reasons I left to join Globocorp, but that’s another story).

We were getting towards the end of the process – beta versions were bouncing around – when I had a great idea. Or as my friend, Carmen Spinoza, calls them “one of your ‘find the impossible solution and change the rules’ ideas”. I wish I knew her then; she would have advised me properly…. 

Instead I had a dolt of an adviser called Benjamín Wilkin, as project leader. His job title said “business partner” but, after what happened, I know his next business card said “desempleado”.

Looking back, I realised my great idea was going to make a transformational difference to the way we worked. But it did require a lot of effort, and (if I’m really honest) was probably better left for a future release. But I mentioned it in an off-hand way in a meeting with Ben – wouldn’t it be nice if…? – and the damage was done.

Turned out Ben gave my idea to the team as a direct instruction and next thing I know, we’re in a revision process, with people working until midnight, negotiations with key stakeholders about revised deadlines, extra developer fees and a lot of bad feelings all round.

I did that. 

I created that chaos. 

I created family arguments when people in my team had to work late.

I created extra cost. I made this mess.

Or did I?

Ultimately, I suppose I did. But I had no intention to. I just had an idea. I was brainstorming. But the law of unintended consequences always comes to bite you. In two ways.

First, I, as a leader, didn’t make it clear that I was brainstorming. So my ideas were taken as scripture and acted upon. I’m right a lot of the time but not always. I know now to be more clear about how I communicate.

Second, my so-called adviser didn’t advise. I was expecting sage counsel and guidance from Ben.

After all, he was the project owner and manager. A sensible adviser would have talked me through the likely consequences of my actions or at least helped me think about them. Wise counsel I was expecting or even a “that’s a very courageous decision, Marua”. Instead: nothing.

So, in effect, Ben caused the chaos. By shirking his duties.

Was he too afraid to say ‘no’? Did he secretly like creating lots of work and blaming me? Did he think about it and make a calculation and think that gaining a few reputation points with me was worth him losing loads with his team and the agency?

I doubt it. I suspect he didn’t think at all. By just implementing my brainstorming idea, he proved himself a waiter: stand and deliver. I’ve got enough waiters, thanks. (What do I mean by “waiter”? Check out the types of advisers post.) I thought Ben was a strategic adviser and senior project manager. Instead, by shirking his duties and not speaking truth to power, he failed his core responsibility.

So, reader, I fired him.

If you are a strategic adviser then do your job. Advise, counsel, guide, challenge, support, debate.

Your whole raison d’être is to add value via different perspectives and thinking. Yes, it can be hard sometimes to say no to a leader (this blog has talked elsewhere on that topic), but those days are the days you earn your money.

Yes-men and women are ten a peso. The real money is when you have someone – like Carmen is to me now – who can help me be a better leader.

Confidence, connection, and creativity

I was recently in Manchester, working with John Anthony, Senior HR Business Partner at HMRC (The UK Government Tax Department). He organized this workshop for about 35 people in order to help his colleagues i) improve their connection to the business, and to teach other, and ii) to improve their confidence in dealing with senior leaders on important business partnering issues. But this was a workshop with a difference, and provided an innovative way to re-think how we (and you) can do team meetings.

“We wanted to create a session that would energize and inspire my HR colleagues to think in a different way about their potential to connect and influence at all levels. Our team works with Customer Services business areas in HMRC; it’s high profile as performance is heavily scrutinised by government and the media. Ultimately we didn’t want the event to just be tomorrow’s ‘chip paper‘. We wanted people to come away from the event having had a memorable experience whilst improving their professional skills ready for working with senior leaders, supporting decision-making, and communicating key messages”, says John. “As part of that we invited Stephen to run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders to help people not only learn new skills but practice them in the safe environment of a business simulation.”

In response to this request, we developed a special version of the simulation, designed for HR Business Partners who want to improve their impact. We connected the scenarios and case studies to the themes of the day. Overall, participants learned about the importance of key concepts in the morning and then in the afternoon got a chance to practice and ‘play’ with them in the safe world before taking their new ideas back to the ‘real’ world. This meant that the whole day catered to different learning styles: some people learn by reading and taking notes, some by watching others, some by playing. There was something for everyone. What was the feedback?

For me, though, the best part of the day was learning from our client about new approaches to facilitating team meetings. John and his team created a really interesting agenda which turned the usual ideas of corporate away-days on their head. I’ve been to a lot of corporate away-days in my time. Most of these start with some presentation about strategy and then, as the day goes on, work down from strategy to team to individual. Typically ending with some version of “what one thing are you going to do differently?”

Sigh.

Instead, why not borrow an idea from John and his team? Why not start with the individual and work up? The first substantive session of the day was people talking about their own experiences, their USPs and (done in a nice way) their blind spots. Because people were all part of the same team, this enabled them to find out more about each other (connection) and have greater knowledge (confidence) in working with each other. “We wanted to start small and finish big. We wanted everyone to get a sense that at each stage they were being elevated up a level, from the personal to the organizational. Firstly, we asked people to start with reflecting on themselves, connecting with their own strengths but also exposing where they felt uncertain about their role and their team. This proved to be a cathartic experience for many, laying bare many concerns but setting a tone of honesty and openness that ran through the whole day. By simply knowing each other better, we began to see ways we could harness others’ expertise to influence across the team and beyond. We are a geographically diverse team so many of us had never actually met each other in person before. As a result, not only did I learn so many new things about my colleagues, their skills, and the extra value they can bring, but also we gained a real sense of common direction. The cohesion in the team feels very real to me now”, commented John.

Then, naturally, a focus on the team itself. But again, why not turn the traditional approaches on their head? How many meetings have you been to where each team member gives an update of progress in their area? Normally PowerPoint, normally dull. What if instead you put some flipcharts on the wall – one per team member, with the title of their functional area or business? Then, invite others to put post-it notes with their understanding / description of what is happening, any opportunities they see, how to support each other, questions or concerns, etc. This way the functional area owners get feedback on how well their work is understood, knowledge of what is on others’ minds and ideas for collaboration opportunities. Much more interesting, much more fun, and much more useful information. Oh, and there is one more benefit: this subverts the traditional ‘hero’ dynamic where each subsequent presenter goes on for longer and longer, and in more and more detail, just to prove how busy they are. (As the joke goes, by the end of the session most of these PowerPoint presentations have no power and no point.)

We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

John says, “we did it this way around because it gives functional or business area leaders a chance to hear some feedback from the rest of the team in a ‘live’ and energetic setting, and to correct any misunderstandings or lack of knowledge of what they are doing. Communication is a two-way process: those functional leaders need to talk about what they are doing, but they also need to get feedback from others, including where we run the risk of silo working. It could have been an uncomfortable experience but in fact the environment was such that the session was positively embraced. We could immediately see some opportunities for creating better connections at an enterprise level, so it gives us a lot of momentum to make things happen.”

So next time you are faced with designing a team meeting, an off-site or an away-days, borrow some ideas from the innovative approaches government HR teams are doing to help make an impact.

And of course if you do want to hear more about our new Human Resources version of Corporate Snakes and Corporate LaddersTM, do get in touch.

Turning the tables – part 1

In this blog, we talk a lot about how those in functional roles can become strategic advisers to their senior leaders. But today, I want to take a different perspective: what does it take to become a strategic adviser to me?

Specifically, I want to talk about how external agencies, consulting firms, or PR professionals can raise their game and fundamentally transform how they deal with clients like me. If you work in an agency or consulting firm, this blog is for you.

We’re going to turn the tables and discuss the role of external strategic advisers, and what you can do to become one.

When you start your career, in a junior role, most of what you will be doing is
at the behest of others. You are in effect, a waiter, delivering what others ask – be they clients or more senior colleagues. You develop and grow your expertise and reputation in a particular field and, as you get promoted and move through the ranks, you become an expert in a particular area.

But then something happens. You get promoted to an Account Manager or Account Director role. Congratulations!  Your role has completely changed, and you don’t even know it.

Suddenly you find yourself directing others, leading a team, negotiating with your clients, writing proposals, attending pitches, advising clients and working with other account directors to balance client needs, the firm’s needs, and your team’s own professional development.

And you have to leave all those fun, technical expert tasks behind. Because the more you allow yourself to be drawn back down to them, the less value you will add to me, Carmen Spinoza, your most important client.

So, what does it take to make the transition? In my experience, there are two sets of changes required: one internal, one external. This week I’m going to talk about internal. Stay tuned next week for the external ones.

Internal motivations

I’ve been speaking to a couple of my preferred external advisers and they all tell the same story: they started off being motivated by one type of work but now have to find their motivation elsewhere. After their initial graduate waiter jobs, many of them moved to back-office doing technical work, business analysis, or research. They were the chefs of the advisory world: producing great work but behind the scenes. And they loved it.

But just as some of the most famous Michelin chefs don’t do much actual cooking any more (they appear on TV, open branded restaurant chains, write books, etc.), my favourite advisers don’t do the detail work themselves. They have found another motivator: whether it is sales, business development, presenting, influencing, or just working with their clients. To continue my restaurant analogy, you need to become a maître d’: dedicated to marshalling a group of experts to create a great experience for me, your customer.

And so my advice to you is this: if you want to be my strategic adviser, be sure to find the right motivation. Otherwise, you risk either drawing yourself back into chef or waiter work; or you will lead an unfulfilled consulting life.

What do you think? What changes have you had to make as you develop your career in professional services? How have you changed your motivations?

Stay tuned for next week when we’ll be discussing external changes.

For more information on this topic, or to find to more about the brand new “external consultant” version of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, please get in touch.

If you are intrigued by the restaurant metaphor, explore how a being an adviser is like working at a restaurant.

Make 2020 Crystal Clear

Give your team the Christmas present of a new vision and way of working

A guest post from Buck Greenback, CFO

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The Christmas and New Year season is fast approaching. Now is the time that many organizations are doing a lot of planning. Perhaps you are planning for an end-of-year celebration for your team. Or perhaps you are starting the strategic planning process for 2020. Either way: Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders can help. People tell me I’m very direct. And you are no doubt a busy person: so I’ll get straight to the point.

New Year, new approach

You may be thinking about a Strategy Away Day, and bringing your team together to think about your vision, and to crystallize ways of working for next year.  And of course you won’t be succumbing to the cliché of calling it a “20/20 Vision”, will you?  You may know what you are planning for next year, but have you thought about the how? How are you and your team going to work in a different way to add value to your business, to deliver on your ambitious goals and agenda, and to make a difference to your organization, your colleagues, and your own career?

We can help. We can deliver a team workshop that will get you and your team thinking about ways of working, team behaviors, and how to work with a renewed purpose to deliver value. We have worked with both government and private sector organizations to help set their teams up for success. Our business simulation gives participants a chance to think about their own behaviour, have intensive discussions, and sometimes even break through performance barriers to achieve new heights. We can develop a customized workshop for you and your team to help you address the performance challenges for 2020. We can teach your team how to be real strategic advisers to your CEO and other leaders.

(Oh, as an aside, it is worth mentioning that my colleague Isobel Ching, our CEO occasionally channels her inner O-Ren Ishii when talking about strategic advisers: “Please note that, as your leader, I encourage my [strategic advisers] from time to time, and always in a respectful manner to question my logic. If you’re unconvinced that a particular plan of action I’ve decided is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo.” If you need advice on how to be an effective strategic adviser; get in touch.)

Celebration events

Or you may be planning a party for your team. If so, allow me to make some suggestions from a Finance perspective. In the UK, the cost of a staff party or entertainment counts as a deduction for tax purposes. However, be aware there are some circumstances when it can count as a ‘taxable benefit-in-kind’ for your employees. This can happen when the cost per employee is above £150. There are some tax rules which state that the event must have some business element, ie it can’t just be a nice meal and a few drinks. If you are looking for a fun business element to stay within the rules, then we might have the answer for you.

Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders can offer you and your team a fun, business-focused activity as a preamble to your real Christmas celebrations. We have versions of the game for different functions and can also create a cross-functional versions where teams will play different fictional characters in a real-life setting. Your team will get to think about business from a different point of view, debate with other teams, and challenge perspectives – both their own and others’. Our events can be aimed at teams from 7 people to 70, and include fun exercise, team challenges, interactive voting and even prize giving.

(Oh, my colleague Lloyd Barr, our General Counsel, has reminded me I need to say this: “Please note that the above does not constitute official tax vary. The exact rules will vary by country and your organizational status. Please contact your own Finance team or Accountant for specific advice.”)

Merry Christmas!

Day of the Dead … for your career?

On November 1, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. It is a tradition that dates back to Aztec times and the goddess Mictēcacihuātl, queen of the underworld, mixed with Catholic tradition and even a bit of James Bond imagination. From Melbourne to San Francisco, from London to Toronto, you will probably come across the striking colourful ways in which our Mexican friends use this day to remember their past and, ultimately, celebrate their own lives. That’s the key behind the celebration: one day you, too, will join those you remember, so celebrate life and enjoy the ride!

When it comes to your career, the same applies. Our working life is long and getting longer, and yet it is not unending. It is finite. How often do you remind yourself of this?

But we’re not here to be morbid. We’re here to be joyous and provide you with practical ways to look at things in a different way.  How can Día de Muertos give you a new perspective on your career? Here are three traditions to give you inspiration:

The “altar” – it is a colourful staple in Mexican houses. A table is set with beautiful ornaments, a picture of the dear departed, their favourite things and favourite foods. What would you like to have in yours? As I laid the one for my father and placed the book he wrote on the table, it struck me, if I too would like to have a book placed on mine one day, I’d better get writing. Would you like pictures of your travels? Well, make a plan, take that sabbatical, get on a secondment. The “altar” gives us a beautiful tool to visualise what we want from the future, and get going to make it happen.

The “calaveritas” – In Mexico, every year newspapers publish colourful limericks telling the story of what death would say when she comes to pick you up. It is endearing and funny. The most serious of events is made more palatable with humour and wit. If Mexicans can joke about death you can defuse tensions with laughter. Life, after all, is a game to be played. So take a moment to find the joy in your career!

The “pan de muerto” – Mexicans say “with bread, grief is less”, in that spirit they created a lovely little piece of syncretism: French Brioche-style bread, but in the shape of a skull covered with sugar. When it comes to our careers, we all have the routine tasks that must be done: “your daily bread.” Put it into a special shape, add a little sugar and voila! It is fun again. So maybe there is opportunity to bring joy to either the process, the people or the product you are working towards. It can be as simple as bringing in that colleague you like into the development process, or ensuring you celebrate the delivery of that annual results presentation with your team in a different way. Maybe you even run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop as your annual team planning event? The key is to sprinkle a little joy.  

Because in the end, our careers, like our lives, will end. There is no time to be wasted. To quote the immortal Horace, ‘carpe diem’.  Because Día de Muertos reminds us all that life is fragile and ephemeral and well worth enjoying,  when it comes to your career, make the most of it now. Take a chance. Challenge yourself. Think about things from a different perspective. 

We urge you then – for Día de Muertos applies to all of us – to consider how to make the most of what you have; and how to maximise your opportunities. What are you doing to take advantage of today’s chances?