We all have aspirations to be better at something, be that in
our career or in our personal lives. But aspirations need action. How
can we close the gap between the goal and the gratification?
years have brought greater challenges than we've ever faced before. And
with that comes a lot of self reflection and resetting. A lot of us are
striking out in new directions, being bolder in our decision making, or
simply refusing to settle for the status quo. And why should we?
Whether we're aiming to build a successful business, be a better leader, or take steps to improve in all aspects of our lives. We can all use a little guidance to help us chart that course. I sat down with Rachel Thornton, co founder and owner of employee engagement consultancy scarlettabbott, behavioural scientist Lindsay Kohler, and Charlie Sampson executive leadership coach, to talk about Even Better If – a brand new book that focuses on the power of positive change.
Rachel: "Even Better If" – we love that phrase and we're all very passionate about that concept.
We have an assumption that the people who will buy and read our book are really good at a lot of things. We're also going to assume that they want to be better. When we started to think about the book, we asked "what is it that people really want to be better at? What is it that organisations need to be better at? And if we just did a few things differently, what would really improve performance?" We started to think about those silver bullets that would enhance performance and business amongst leaders.
We were really keen to bring together the years and years of experience that we all have in our separate fields, and write something practical, easy to access, and impactful for people to use straightaway in their organisations and in their lives. That's what we hope Even Better If achieves.
Lindsay: It's really for everyone in the world of
work – but especially if you are in HR, are a change manager, or are
in internal communications. If somewhere in your remit is improving the
employee experience, this book is for you. We cover topics such as
purpose, how to do change really well, health and wellbeing,
psychological safety and financial wellness. And all of that is
supercharged by advice on how to be a better leader.
Charlie: For my areas, I've tried to target it very
much at leaders and to provide some very practical tips and takeaways.
It also speaks to the HR audience and people tasked with leadership
development. There are themes that people can lift and try in their
Rachel: It feels like it's been going for years,
frankly! It's taken a while, but in terms of what inspired us, I have to
say Lindsay. Over a coffee back in December 2019, she said, "hey, Rach,
let's write a book." and I went "okay, yeah, that'd be fun."
We got our heads together and it came together super-fast in terms of
what would really make a difference in organisations and what it was that we
believed from our years of experience would make the biggest difference
to people reading this book. We Post-It noted it really fast.
The big gap that we identified was around leadership. Lindsay and I,
whilst we're really passionate, are not the experts. So we brought in
Charlie to round out the book. We felt passionately that there were
three areas that needed to be in this book. So it's really three mini
books in one. Each is packed with expertise, practical models and
activities that you can pick up and go with.
Charlie: From my perspective, if someone had said,
"write a book" it was just too daunting a task. To get an opportunity
like this, where there's a huge overlap between what the three of us do,
and where you're forced to distil your knowledge down into three
chapters was more manageable, and therefore, a much more appealing idea.
Lindsay: I am a behavioural scientist and my specialism, back in America, was around health and wellbeing, safety and financial wellness. Those are the three areas that I focused on for a good 10 years. I was also able to bring my behavioural science expertise to areas such as purpose and some of Charlie's chapters around growth and optimism. The other thing I brought was my ability as a storyteller to bring together the different voices of over 45 expert interviewees and distil down the stories they were telling.
Rachel: I'm a communications professional of nearly 30 years. I've been working as a consultant, either in-house or in my own business, for nearly all of that time. So I've worked with, and met and helped transform multiple global organisations in every sector. I bring a really good understanding of organisational design and politics and culture. I brought a lot of perspective about how organisations work and how to optimise them. And I'm a leader and while I'm not a leadership expert by any means, I am a leader of people. For the last 15 years, I've run, and grown, my own business successfully. So I think I have a perspective about what it's like to be a leader and what you need.
Charlie: I've been working in leadership development
for about 15 years now. I cut my teeth in-house, working with large
global organisations, which was the most amazing school for seeing the
reality of leadership.
I think leadership is fascinating. Much is written about it, often
around political and military leadership. But leading in business is far
harder, because there is so much more going on. Think about the leaders
you've worked for that were inspiring. It tends to impact not just your
job, but your life in a much wider way.
Leading is such a privilege and the impact it has on people is hugely significant. So my journey has gone from big business to professional sports, to startups to big household names. The interesting thing is that the themes, regardless of the industry, are always the same. And that's really where my take on my chapters came from.
Lindsay: I think the most surprising, rewarding and also humbling part of this book was the sheer amount of amazingly smart, talented people we were able to convince to go on the record with us, sharing their insights.
If you told me at the start that we would have over 45 interviews with folks, from director level to C-suite, at big brands ... I'm going name-drop because I'm really proud of this. We're talking about Adobe, Facebook, BBC, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte and BT.
It's hard to pick out just one but the interview that I found perhaps the most interesting was when we talked about psychological safety. That's a hot topic right now in the world of work. I've never seen it talked about this as much as it is now. Admittedly, I didn't know much about it. I knew the science but I hadn't really worked on campaigns like that in organisations. A man by the name of Adam Travis, who's well known in the space, sat me down and gave me about eight different lessons on how this comes to life in organisations. And we had a few other people like that who gave us some "aha moments" that really changed the shape of a chapter.
Charlie: I was trying to get a really broad range of voices from different industries. And it makes the point that you get similarities in terms of themes that come up again and again. From big business like HSBC and Vodafone to Manchester City – from a sporting point of view. We've got tech companies and startups in there too.
Rachel: I've always wanted to write a book, I didn't know what it would be about. And so I found that it did kind of bubble out of me when I sat down to write. But it was incredibly hard making the time while running a busy business through the pandemic, supporting my own team and our clients. Making the time was really difficult. Even though, when I sat down, I found that I had so much to say. All of the memories and all of the experience from my long career in communication and consultancy came flooding out.
The most rewarding was finding my voice and distilling all of that long career onto the page and thinking "wow, I do have something pretty original to say about this." And also our interviewees, who were incredibly giving of their time, expertise and experiences. I just found it incredibly rewarding to talk to such an amazing community of people.
The thing that was rewarding and challenging in equal measure was Lindsay, because she challenged us to keep on track. She chased us for our copy; she pulled together sometimes rambling thoughts and made it cohesive. I take my hat off to her that she managed to wrangle Charlie and I into two thirds of a book!
Lindsay: I would echo Rach. The rewarding part was the rich conversations that we had with all of our interviewees. I formed really strong friendships and relationships with some of them, based on the book. So I'm really grateful for that.
What was also rewarding was how it showed me something about myself that I didn't know: I am a really good storyteller. I think I have a gift for, once somebody found their voice, making sure that what is said is in the most engaging, reflective, concise and logical way possible. It was nice to be able to to help Rach and Charlie, who had brilliant things to say, find a little bit of structure.
Charlie: Very diplomatic and polite there Lindsay, given how much you had to chase me! I think, for me, the most challenging thing was starting a book with two people who can write because I'm not naturally a writer. If someone asks you to write three chapters around leadership, it forces you to put down on paper what you really believe to be true, which is a brilliant exercise, but it's also quite scary.
But I run three businesses, and I have to put my money where my mouth is around this stuff. So I'm trying to implement and live by what I'm suggesting to others. So the challenge was the writing, which I found hard because it doesn't come naturally to me. But it just wouldn't have happened without Rachel and Lindsay giving me a kick up the backside, so thank you!
Lindsay: I don't think so. I think what's so amazing is that, even with three different perspectives, three different careers, and a large topic list, I don't really remember any time where I thought, "Oh, my God, no, you absolutely cannot say that.
I'm intimately familiar with every one of those 82,000 words in this book. Rachel and Charlie might have a different perspective, but I didn't find a single moment where I thought, "I don't agree with that", or "that's not good enough to go in here." I consider myself very lucky because collaboration could have gone south really quickly if we weren't all fundamentally writing the same book.
Rachel: I've worked closely with Lindsay for a couple of years now and we were very aligned right from the start about the kind of book we wanted to write. And Charlie and I have been talking about what we believe to be true about leadership for a long time. So I think by the time we sat down and said, "what are we writing here?" we we're really very much one mind.
Charlie: I wouldn't disagree with any of that. I don't think we really clashed on anything. We certainly didn't clash on anything content related which is quite telling probably. I think it was more around different styles of writing. Things like English versus American spelling - who knew the conversations that could go into that? So yeah, we did bloody well, actually. There was never any issue with what we were trying to put in, it was probably just how we were getting it across.
Lindsay: There really isn't anything else like it
out there. I'm always watching what's coming out in internal comms and
HR and, frankly, I find a lot of the time that they're just not that
good! The people writing them haven't spent years in-house, they haven't
spent years working with lots of different companies to understand
these themes and to make things really practical. As Rachel said in the
beginning, Even Better If is jam-packed with clear ideas, suggestions
and proprietary models. This is a book that can be at your desk,
earmarked and underlined, that we hope you go back to again and again.
Charlie often says that with a lot of business books, the main point of what they want to say could have been done in 20 pages, but they hide it amongst 300. And that's not ours. Yes, our book is long. But there is so much material in there. It wasn't just lip service to this idea of leadership or better businesses or better selves. We wrote something real. And we wrote something that we hope sits on your desk every day and is a good source of reference material. And it's fun and it's exciting! We have 45 amazing interviewees that are sharing a millennia of experience between them. It's incredible the amount of insight we were able to bring in from the field from our experience and from academia. I just don't think there's another book like it out there.
Rachel: Although Charlie says he's not a writer, he was a journalist back in the day, a long time ago, so he's all right! I would say, this is written by three business people who can write. It's really simple, it's really practical. The ideas and the smartness aren't tied up in too many words, and too complicated messaging. I think people will find it refreshing to read something that's got a sense of humour, written by good storytellers, that isn't trying to be over-clever.
Charlie: An intention the three of us had when we started this was to demystify some of these themes that exist. This huge industry is built around very ambiguous terminology. We set out to try and unpack that and say, "what are we actually talking about here?" So we used the word 'practical' and I think that's really one of the big sells. You can pull something out of the book, have a go and bring it to life. You're not shuffling through hundreds of pages to try and find the bit you need.
Lindsay: We thought the whole theme of our book – changing one thing to be even better – really fits in nicely with the idea of New Year's resolutions and fresh starts. January's a time that a lot of us have self-improvement on the mind. So we thought, let's talk about it!
We'll be hosting an event where people can bring their challenges and goals for 2022. And we can help you put effective plans in place. It feels like the perfect tie-in to all of the self-reflection and goal setting we tend to do naturally in the new year. Stay tuned for more details!