Countdown to Christmas: Day two

Today’s Countdown to Christmas article was first published in June 2015 and features what IC pros can learn from Game of Thrones.

It was written by Ross Tarbard and it’s one of my favourite articles from the year.

I’m republishing guest articles from 2015 every day between now and Christmas. Got a story to share? See my guest article guidelines to find out how you could see your name here.

What IC pros can learn from Game of Thrones

SPOILER ALERT – If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and haven’t seen the season 5 finale yet, look away now. Seriously. I know people get really cross about knowing the storylines. Don’t say I didn’t warn you there’s a spoiler in here…

In this article you’ll discover what we can learn from Jon Snow’s character, why he needed internal comms and what lessons Game of Thrones has for IC pros.

Game of Thrones is an original series based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling ‘A Song of Ice and Fire‘ series of books.

I’ll hand you over to Ross Tarbard, @owlyross, who works in internal communication at the University of Leicester and has written this article for the All Things IC blog…

P.s. Did I mention there’s a spoiler?

Forget the ravens…

What Jon Snow really needed was internal communications

Jon_snowThe internet is exploding after the shocking last scene of the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones.

But was there anything Jon Snow could have done about his betrayal?

And are there any lessons that Internal Communicators can learn from Jon Snow’s stabbing at the hands of his own men?

The big picture

Jon Snow (pictured, played by Kit Harington), is one of the good guys, the archetypal hero. Like his father he’s fair and even-handed, he knows his job, what’s required of him and he is very clear about the big picture he’s a part of.

His big concern is the invasion of the White Walkers, and of course that’s exactly as it should be. What he doesn’t take into account are the views of his men, essentially his staff.

He has seen the danger posed by the Walkers first-hand, but to the majority of the Night’s Watch they are still a fairly existential threat, something feared but not understood.

Changing your mission

Jon’s biggest problem was not getting across to his men just how important this was. (Tweet this)

130509-ep-27-jon-outside-300This is something faced by many CEOs entering a rebrand or repositioning of a company and is where Internal Communications is so important.

We have seen from the very first episode that the Night’s Watch are there to protect the realms of men.

The problem is that the majority of the men there believe that means ‘from the threats beyond the Wall’. Jon has seen that there is one major threat from beyond the wall, and it’s not the Wildlings that the Nights Watch had spent their lives fighting up until now.

Understanding your audience

Jon Snow assumes that the rest of the Night’s Watch are with him, and know that it’s the Walkers, not the people who pose the threat, but he misunderstood his men, and failed to judge the mood of his potential audience.

He’s charismatic, but such a huge and specific change of mission requires clear communication, and quickly!

Getting the message across

Admittedly, he tried to tell his men about the threat, but faced with huge pressures on his time he didn’t do this very well.

It’s all very well seeing the greater good, but it’s another thing making your workforce understand that.

Introducing the Wildlings

130517-ep-28-ygritte-snow-300It’s not unlike a takeover or merger, with the Wildlings like new employees coming into Castle Black causing suspicion and rumour. He’s also taken as his confidant one of the Wildling chieftains, Tormund Giantsbane, a man who knows exactly what they’re up against.

This is fairly common, and could be seen in the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, with many Conservatives up in arms at the Lib Dems given such high-ranking jobs.

The issues are the same, but Jon never does enough to convince the men – including young Olly, whose village was destroyed and family killed by Tormund’s raiding party – why it’s so important to have one of ‘the enemy’ at the head of the table?

A voice in the wilderness

While out on important Watch business at Hardhome, he left the follow-up comms to his team, who admittedly didn’t do the best job.

Jon has failed to fully embed his message “It’s men against the white walkers, no matter who those men are” with his team.

Samwell Tarly, Jon’s friend and adviser, does his best to spread the good word, going so far as to explain to Olly why they must do ‘whatever it takes’ to defeat the threat to the Watch.

Here’s the danger of not being clear with your instructions. Olly interprets that ‘threat’ to be his Wildling-loving commander, and indeed, does whatever it takes.

Jon’s experience shows how important it is to embed your message before undertaking major change.

For the Watch

Ultimately Jon Snow is a great leader of men. He leads by example, inspires through his ability and was clear about his mission.

His major failing was the inability to effectively communicate a massive change in objective to the men around him. (Tweet this)

GameofthronesNow, while our rebrands, relaunches and changes of strategic direction won’t end up with the CEO in a pool of blood on an icy floor, taking account of staff opinion is absolutely vital in order to avoid your own “For the Watch” moment.

Embedding major change in the ethos of an organisation early on is absolutely vital in ensuring success, whether you’re fighting the king of winter, or just relaunching your strategy.

Post author: Ross Tarbard.

Thank you Ross. This is a whole new world to me as I (whisper it…) haven’t watched any of Game of Thrones yet.

What do you think? Does this article resonate with you? Do you like reading articles like this?

As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

You can find out more about the character Jon Snow via this short film:

Rachel Miller.

Picture credits: HBO.

First published on All Things IC blog 16 June 2015.

Republished 2 December 2015.

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