“The time-sensitive element of the game made it feel like real life” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this instalment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Kimberley Rose, Director of Strategic Communications at University of Florida Health in the United States.

“No talking at each other, but really collaborating and engaging. Under pressure I might add. The time-sensitive element of the game made it feel like real life.”

C: Hi Kim! Let’s start with telling our readers a little bit more about you and the organization you work for.

K: Hi Carmen! Well, I’m the director for strategic communication at University of Florida Health. It’s an organization that brings together higher education with first-class hospitals. In Florida we have two main campuses, six health colleges, nine research institutes and centres, nine hospitals and a host of physician medical practices and outpatient services, as well as affiliates statewide. So it’s a very, very big academic health system!

I’ve been with them for over 20 years. I was first hired by the corporate health care system and now we’re integrated with the university health system, so I joke that I work in a “corporademia” setting. This combined setting plus the fast pace of a hospital network makes my job very exciting. I love what I do. I’ve been lucky to evolve and reinvent myself over the years.

C: So what do you do now?

K: Today I lead a team that does strategic comms – internal and business communication, issues management, crisis and emergency response. In addition to supporting the hospitals through crisis – from responding to major mass casualty accidents to hurricanes -my team also has a lot of clients in the system, we develop and roll out together strategic comms plans and provide strategic comms counsel to execs and leaders.

C: Much like you, I also provide strategic communications counsel to senior executive team. In that line, how would you describe a successful strategic adviser?

K: I love talking about being an “intrapreneur”. I want my staff to always be entrepreneurial within our structure. We deliver what our clients need and we are always looking for ways to stay positive and creative and tackle challenges and have fun along the way. That was partly why your game, Carmen, resonated so well with me.

C: Tell me a bit more about your your experience of playing Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders?

K: I took part at the launch of the game in New Orleans in 2016. I was struck at how polished and professional it was. I remembered being a little daunted because I only knew two people at my table . But it turned out great. The game forced us to get to know each other and collaborate really quickly. It was remarkable how when you play, you get to hear other people’s perspectives and ideas for handling situations with a different approach than you would have taken. It was an incredible learning experience.

I also realised that, although part of a communication conference, the game was really about business. It was all about understanding what the ultimate goals and the needs of the audiences were. It got us to ask questions in a different way that in other sessions. No talking at each other, but really collaborating and engaging. Under pressure I might add. The time-sensitive element of the game made it feel like real life.

C: Did anything feel differently after playing the game?

K: It set the tone for my IABC World Conference experience. Because it was a about ideas and how you apply them, it helped me become a better listener and helped me build consensus.

During the game, I established relationships with people I didn’t know. At our table we had a very international group representing all different industries and backgrounds. The nature of the game helped us get to know each other and appreciate our professional expertise and how we’d actually apply our expertise. When playing, you need to show your strategic decision-making skills and knowledge. For example, when explaining why would they chose an option, they would illustrate with examples from their world. So it gave me insight to the kind of work they do in other industries.

Corporate Snakes and Ladders makes you put your elevator pitch into action.

C: What advice would you give any advice to future players?

K: You really need to participate and be unafraid to speak up and ask questions. You are going to learn quickly just how many ways there are to approach comms challenges, and that your usual way may not be the best. So, I’d say: “go with a really open mind and be prepared to be wrong, connect, shared ideas and go with a sense of fun!”.

C: Anything else you liked about the game?

K: I loved that at the end, we all bonded because we were intellectually connected and exhausted! It was like having run a marathon together. The competition angle worked really well. I don’t think there was even a prize, but we really wanted to win.

C: Thanks for your time Kim!

If you would like to learn more about working in health communication or reinventing your career in the same company, as Kim has done, you can reach her via LinkedIn.

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.

Memo from Montréal

We eat feedback for breakfast, so imagine our excitement when we got word back from IABC on our session in Montréal at this year’s World Conference.

Here’s what people said:

– Can we have this session again at a future conference.

– This was a great session. If we are serious about shifting the industry to executive level then it should be compulsory training for all. It is not so much as instructional as exploratory in its exploration of the rationale behind players’ decision making. A great start to the conference

– A valuable session to help us think strategically.

– Fun, easy to play and learn from, challenging scenarios geared to both individual and collaborative learning.

And the mean score out of a possible 7? 6.61…

Maybe you should try this.

See if it is right for you.

Was #IABC18 a Sunday crossword puzzle?

Six months ago, IABC invited Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagón to take me to Montreal and run the Strategic Adviser Forum at IABC18. We were all delighted for the opportunity, after all I was created for an IABC conference. Immediately we got our heads thinking: what could we add to Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders to make it more fun, more useful, more helpful to the audience?

Over 50 senior communicators from around the world were giving up their Sunday to spend a morning with us and we couldn’t disappoint.

The premise behind Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders – that corporate training has to be fun to engage the brain – has been proved right again and again. Yet, providing experiential learning through an enjoyable experience is a bit like the Sunday crossword puzzle. It takes little bit of method, a little bit of art, and some luck. The good ones are liminal. They take you just to the edge of your comfort zone, sometimes a little over and then bring you back. That’s the space we wanted our strategic advisers to navigate.

On the day, my new group of advisers applied themselves to find the answers to real-life dilemmas and they tried out a couple of practical tools to understand personality archetypes, influencing styles and advising typology. Without realising it, they were taking in complex concepts of psychology, HR and communication.
After just one session, ten teams representing cities from Astana to Johannesburg, walked away with:

  • The standard version of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, with me – Carmen Spinoza (@CarmenSpinoza11) – at the helm.
  • A diagnostic on the four types of strategic advisor
  • A self-diagnostic on influencing styles
  • A guide to the eight personality archetypes one can find at work.

They had fun and dared to put the “work” back into “workshop”. They discussed, debated, self-reflected and took away cool tips from each other, making us learn a few things along the way.

Casilda and Stephen love facilitating intense and diverse groups like these, it energises them and confirms that continuous improvement requires passion, and hard work, but no one ever said it had to be boring.

At the end of the session, participants submitted the three words that described the session. I held my breath, we had a new system and had gone through a lot of material. When the screen showed the results, my heart skipped a beat. Success: they had learned and enjoyed. The combination we live for.

If you want to know more about me, subscribe to my blog and I’ll let you know where I will go next subscribe: corporatesnakes.org/blog/

Or follow me on Twitter @CarmenSpinoza11

The view from Montréal: Corporate Snakes & Career Ladders

One of the official bloggers for #IABC18 took part in our Corporate Snakes & Career Ladders session in Montréal. Here’s an excerpt from her round-up of the first day of the 2018 IABC World Conference

Strategic Adviser Forum: Corporate snakes and ladders

Elizabeth Krecker

Led by the entertaining British team of Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagon, the Strategic Adviser Forum was designed to enhance our ability to sit at the executive table. But this session did much more than that by launching all of us into entirely new directions.

We met our teammates at round tables covered with a colorful board game, beautifully designed cards, and a pocket of black beans. Welch and Malagon tag-teamed their presentation, leading us through a guided tour of the game interspersed with robust discussion.

But first, they opened by explaining that their goal for us was that we learn from our mistakes in this room and not at the office. As we make the leap from becoming skilled technical experts in our profession to becoming a strategic adviser to our executive team, an entirely new skill-set applies. This session was designed to combine core technical skills with consulting skills through team problem-solving of real life dilemmas.

And Welch and Malagon truly made our experience a real-life dilemma. My team did all the right things. And yet in the end we ranked barely above last place because we kept falling into the same trap. We were bold in our discussions initially, but after 10 minutes, we landed on the “educated communication professional” answer to the problem we faced. And that was always the answer that gave us the least possible points.

It’s not much consolation that none of the teams chose the highest scoring answer on the last question. The highest scoring answer was the boldest answer: The answer that propelled us all from our cozy chairs onto the exciting playing field shared by other executives.

This session demonstrated the value of being bold in our role as communicators by not sitting back and responding with tried-and-true tactics, but instead being willing to risk stepping out of our traditional role.

Read the full piece on the first day of the 2018 IABC World Conference.

Carmen climbs Montréal

Hello Montréal! We are delighted to be back at an IABC World conference after launching Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders in New Orleans two years ago. Yesterday, we had a chance to play with over 50 senior communicators looking to have fun, change their perspective and improve their advising and consulting skills.

Thank you to all who attended and gave us some nice feedback.

The game has evolved quite a lot in the last two years thanks to feedback from our amazing clients – the UK government, a few multinationals and UK universities. The dilemmas Carmen faces keep getting tougher and more real, we’ve added some practical tools like an influencing style self-diagnostic and an analysis of the different styles of strategic adviser. What has not changed is our passion for making learning something enjoyable and innovative. Yesterday we tried something new and launched an interactive voting system. And now we also have a brand new website blog for players to continue following us.

IABC is about making connections and #IABC18 is focusing on the communication crossroads. This outlook could not be a better fit with our philosophy and we have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Yesterday we connected Melbourne to Johannesburg, Ottawa with Dakar, and London to Regina. We realised that all over the world communicators make a difference, and will continue to do so. We are committed to helping them along the way.

Where will Carmen go next? We are very excited about branching out into the worlds of HR, diversity and inclusion and global business. And if you would like her to come and visit you, get in touch!

Why sink or swim when you can play?

Astronauts do it.

Air Force pilots do it.

Children with their toys do it.

Let’s do it.

Let’s simulate.

We have taken a little creative freedom with Cole Porter’s lyrics about falling in love to make a point: communicators need creative learning methods to help us navigate the new—sometimes uneven—professional paths.

As we progress in our communication careers, most of us come to a point where we move ahead—or not—by doing and succeeding or by doing and failing. Once you become a technical expert in your field, the next step for you might be to become a strategic adviser to leadership and then, become a business leader in your own right. The real consiglieri know that the skills needed to become the best adviser you can be cannot be learned by maps alone: It is not a linear road, and although many have navigated it before and learned to surmount the obstacles in their way, very few leave breadcrumbs for those coming behind them.

When it comes to giving advice and leadership, most communication professionals are left to their own devices and their ability to watch and learn, sink or swim, succeed or fail. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Picture this: A seasoned communication expert—let’s call her Carmen—is promoted to the executive team of her company, mostly due to her hard work, talent and knack for delivering complex projects on time and on budget. Carmen knows that what got her a seat at the table will not be enough to help her succeed in her new role. As a leader she must learn to advise and influence more, while actually doing a lot less. Carmen is smart, she buys, The First 90 Days, consults her mentor, studies the company’s business model and strategy documents, speaks to other communication leaders through the IABC network and makes a plan of her priorities. But she knows, in her gut, that once she steps into the boardroom she will learn by fire.

The problem is that offering advice, speaking truth to power and influencing decision-making teams requires Carmen to bring together a group of very specific skills and understand when they are most effective. It is all about intent and timing. How can you teach that? You can’t. Not really. One has to live through it, to learn it.

But in the C-suite, lessons can be risky and mistakes can be expensive. So we looked at our alternatives. The answer, to our surprise, was right in front of our noses. If leadership is learned by experience, let’s bring the experience to Carmen before she goes into the room.

There is nothing revolutionary about this idea. Would you get on a plane with a pilot that hasn’t successfully landed lots and lots of planes in simulation? Would you let a surgeon who had never used a scalpel take out your appendix? In high school, many of us took part in school elections, Model United Nations, or Mock Court. In communication, many of us have prepared organizations to respond to crisis through simulations, stress testing a team’s response to media and organizational pressures. It works. We know it.

Teaching specialists think these types of methodologies—from role playing to simulating and gaming—encourage deep learning and make students use the creative thinking part of their brain. They are particularly useful to teach the ability to react to complex, multi-variable situations where decision-making can lead to multiple positive outcomes. Doesn’t that sound like a normal business day?

Take Carmen again. In our experience, the real question is not why use simulation to prepare her and the next crop of communication leaders, but why not? Yet, that’s not quite the full picture. In our quest to discover the perfect training model, we realized it has to be fun.

Make them laugh, make them laugh, make them laugh.

Let’s do an experiment. Bear with us. Read the next sentence and then close your eyes for five seconds.

Remember the smell of a batch of freshly baked cookies coming out of the oven.

If you did close your eyes and you have experienced the joy of someone baking delicious things for you, chances are you are smiling now. Chances are your brain has produced dopamine, the hormone that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Neuroscientists know that a happy brain, a dopamine-infused brain, learns better. Learns for longer.

Now that we have primed your brain with a little bit of joy, by connecting you to the olfactory happy memory of cookies, you might be more able to finish reading this article and remember it. That is what neuroscientists tell us.

But let’s get back to Carmen. We have posited that in her move from technical expert to strategic adviser and then business leader:

  • She needs different skills than the ones that got her to the executive team.
  • It is more useful for her to learn those skills through experience.
  • The more fun she has the more she can learn for the longer term.

These three principles are easy to take with you as you face a new stage in your career or as you guide your communication team through the next wave of challenges. Take some time to “practice” how you will react in a new environment, get someone to give you feedback and make it fun.

If you want to get some new skills, learn them through experience, and have some fun (and help your career) then come and play with Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagon and experience the business simulation for yourself at the Strategic Adviser Forum: Corporate Snakes and Ladders, at the IABC World Conference, happening 3–6 June 2018. Register today

If you want to meet Carmen, follow her on Twitter—she will be giving clues ahead of the forum to help you win.

About the authors

Casilda Malagon  is an expert in sustainability and communication, now leading external SD reporting at a FTSE 100 company. Malagon was previously dedicated to development, sustainability and stakeholder relations at organizations like the International Council on Mining and Metals, the United Nations, the World Bank and USAID. She is the co-creator of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders and a digital native and developer of the first model to measure interactivity and public discourse in online campaigns.

Stephen Welch is a communication, human resource, and change professional who with strong skills in consulting, leadership development and research. Welch is also experienced in marketing, mentoring and developing business simulations. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and the Market Research Society.

Strategic Adviser Forum at #IABC18

Facilitated by industry leaders Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagon, this special, new pre-conference session, the Strategic Adviser Forum: Corporate Snakes and Ladders, offers an immersive experience that will show you what it takes to be at the top of your field as a strategic adviser. You’ll gain innovative ideas to build on your current skills and discover how to elevate your career to the next level.

Make your message clear and cogent

You’ll learn about the four types of strategic adviser, the five ways of influencing, and how to articulate your value in a clear and cogent way (with the help of Bob Dylan or Love Actually, depending on your age group)—all through the mechanism of a business simulation and the game of snakes and ladders.

New techniques that broaden your perspective

Corporate Snakes and Ladders forms part of the curriculum in a master’s in PR course at a London university, has been used by GSK, a major Swiss company, and has recently been licensed to the UK government for us in their training for communicators. We have built in specific tools and approaches to help you move up. By the end of the session, you will have learned some new techniques, broadened your perspective, and had fun. It will be the perfect pre-conference prelude and help you focus your mind for the conference.

This special pre-conference event will take place from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sunday, 3 June. Additional fees of US$250 for members and US$300 for non-members apply.

Register today!

#IABC18 Pre-reading