Rudy Coenen joins the team of Katrien Decroos, An Dewaele and Ludovic Goethals with a communication expertise forged by 20 years of experience in leading companies in various sectors such as banking, insurance, asset management, the public sector, training, energy and associations.
With a career marked by diversity, Rudy has been able to embrace all the finer points of the professions linked to corporate communication. He has held several positions related to communication in a broad sense, up to the final responsibility of a communication department. He puts his know-how at the service of companies wishing to engage in a constructive dialogue with all their stakeholders.
At Square Circle, Rudy will use his talents to help companies facing changes and transformations to develop engaging and human communication with a particular focus on exchange, transparency and relational aspects. He will also actively participate in the communication training programme developed by Square Circle and by himself during his career.
Rudy Coenen: “What attracted me to Square Circle, apart from the solid expertise of the partners, was the integrated approach to Human Resources and Communication issues. Starting with a situation, a project or a need related to the human factor in the company, Square Circle will develop a complete solution that will encompass the typical HR or communication aspects in a totally integrated manner in line with the client’s needs. Such an approach is much more effective than the traditional approach where HR or communication experts or consultants go their separate ways”.
Square Circle, or the house of practical expertise in management, HR and communication, has been working closely with a business world in change for 20 years. From transformation projects, strong leadership and corporate culture, to crisis prevention and crisis management; they help realise the ambitions of tomorrow’s companies, each time using an integrated and practice-oriented approach.
Over the past 20 years, Square Circle has encountered the same needs at many companies: motivating employees to move ahead and convince them to tackle change in a constructive way.
“We often see that communication is only one aspect of the issue. People Management and HR are at least as important in the continuous changes a company faces,” Katrien Decroos points out. She herself has been advising organisations on managing their communication in business developments and transformation processes for more than 25 years, together with Ludo Goethals. Since the very beginning, both have formed the basis of Square Circle.
All too often, management has the idea that communication is simply words you utter top down. That a word creates a mental image is often forgotten. “We help management to speak a language with rational as well as emotional elements, because it is precisely the latter that gets people moving. Communication starts from people’s perception and should always be close to their own context,” says Ludo Goethals.
Square Circle consciously opts for a partnership and coaching approach and strives to provide real practical assistance and relieve the company where necessary.
At the same time, it takes time to get people and consequently whole companies moving. Often, management has been working on a specific change for a long time and employees cannot be expected to be as quick on the uptake. “Daring to show that taking time is really necessary is one of our challenges,” says Katrien Decroos.
A third partner joined in 2021. An Dewaele has been making a career in the HR sector for 30 years. “With An on board, we have an even broader base to help companies with an integrated expertise, where communication and HR come together,” indicates Ludo Goethals.
Companies knock on Square Circle’s door asking for guidance, not only in the event of major changes or when a crisis occurs, but also in positive trajectories.
An Dewaele: “The best way is to participate in a company’s project as a close partner. That way, we are not the consultants that bring the theory and then leave, instead by working hand in hand, the organisation learns and evolves and can then use the gained insights themselves going forward. In the future, we want to be able to remain a true sparring partner for the CEO or management of organisations more often. We already have this relationship with certain companies, but we are sure we can expand our role in this; we feel there is a need for it. More and more, we want to be the house where you can simply come in, where we listen to the issues, and then think and work flexibly with you on the basis of our expertise in HR and in communications. There is a noticeable evolution, a need and urge for a more integrated approach, and that is exactly what we can offer with Square Circle.”
Copyright text: HR Square
Victor has to announce some changes in his department. He has spent hours preparing 58 slides to explain the objectives, the new structure and the rationale for the change. In short, Victor is very satisfied with his presentation and so is his boss. On the announcement day, his employees listened to Victor. In a deafening silence.
Silence is the primary form of resistance
In the weeks that followed Victor continued to ‘defend’ his project. Always with the same words, the same ideas, the same concepts.
Six months later, the project is still not operational. Three employees have left. There are still gaps in the structure. Nothing is going well. The morale of the troops is close to zero. And Victor is seriously thinking of leaving the company too. ‘They don’t want to change’, he told his boss. ‘They don’t want to understand’. ‘They are resisting’.
Words and numbers
The presentation’s 3,400 words, 27 tables and graphs did not convince his employees. Worse still, they sowed doubt in the minds of the employees. Because the story Victor told was about him, the management and the company. Not them. They felt excluded from the project from the start.
On the very day of the presentation, the project took a nosedive. What followed was the chronicle of a predicted failure.
Victor did not know:
- That words create mental images, produced by our brain
- That only strong mental images, which resonate within us, make us ‘move’
- because they appeal to our reason but also to the emotion we feel
- That an emotion that is well experienced by employees opens the door to trust and commitment, a requirement for any change
- That the majority of ‘managerial’ words commonly used in communication during transformations do not succeed in convincing because of their lack of content and human feeling: in short, they do not create the mental images that will have an impact.
Convincing is about making words speak
Victor signed up for a ‘convincing through communication’ training course. He wants to learn how to use the words that will create the right mental images to engage employees in change. In other words, he wants to learn how to communicate for them and not for himself. He is ready to abandon his classic managerial lexicon which does not work, because it is meaningless for most people. Starting from what his employees feel, he will focus on the ‘real’ words, the mental images that speak and that will make his team evolve.
In short, Victor will learn to convince by communicating!
He has made it his mission to succeed in the next change mission. Because he has changed employer. And he has been given a major transformation project.
If you have to communicate in your professional life, wake up the Victor in you… you’ll be surprised by the result!
Antonissen Development Group is a dynamic real estate group that selects urban locations with exceptional potential and has a preference for transforming existing properties into high-quality, modern buildings that are accessible to all.
The company wants to support its growth by standing out in the market with a dynamic vision of its activity. But that is not all. Antonissen wants to involve all its employees in this exercise, namely the development of a motivating reason for existence (the ‘mission’), an inspiring vision and strong corporate values.
At first glance, involving all staff members in such a project seems utopian. Yet the company managed to achieve this with excellent results. After two days of working in small groups, all the objectives had been achieved.
What lessons can be learned from this process?
Does it make sense to involve the staff in creating a vision? Isn’t that the job of management?
Involvement of all staff members is an undeniable asset, as experience has shown time and again. In this case, we were able to get the entire team of 30 staff to work together in one workshop. For larger organisations, we recommend going beyond the strict framework of management by organising mixed working groups that reflect the different layers of the company. Here too, the results are surprisingly rich and insightful. In the end, of course, it is always management that validates the work done.
What do you have to do to get results?
Careful preparation and continuous coaching during the workshop are essential. Each group has a pilot who is well prepared to lead the entire exercise. Square Circle takes care of the focused approach and facilitation during the sessions.
What if staff proposals are not accepted? This can demotivate the staff!
Practice has shown that the results of the group work are highly relevant and rich in strategic insights and proposals. The management was always impressed and pleased with the quality of the work.
What happens when everything is validated? The expectations are high!
Now that Mission, Vision and Values are on paper, we want to take action to really bring them to life and integrate them into our daily operations. Here, the Results Roadmap™ was used to carry out concrete actions in a decentralised but synchronised way.
All this is framed by dynamic and mobilising communication. Since there was broad participation in the creation of the vision, we see great commitment in the teams afterwards to realise the vision.
My department is changing, can such an exercise be done to refocus all employees on our goals?
We strongly recommend this. The raison d’être of a service may remain unchanged, but the vision of its activity may evolve significantly. Knowing that a vision is a set of ambitious but concrete goals to be achieved in a certain period of time, building it together is the best way to motivate employees to achieve it.
Over the last 1,5 year our world has been heavily impacted in many ways by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many things that we took for granted and that are just part of the usual way we do things were all of a sudden not so obvious anymore. For Companies, this disruptive event has put enormous challenges on the table. The Covid-19 pandemic has for many been the Black Swan Event*, that nobody expected to occur, causing a huge mind shift and change in how the world works.
When you are driving on a road with a big bus and a Black Swan suddenly and unexpectedly crosses the road, it is very likely that you will not be able to avoid it. When you are driving that same road with a motor cycle or a bike, you’ll probably start to swivel, trying to stay in the saddle. Whilst many CEO’s and Managers have put great effort in adjusting their business approach and revisit their short and mid-term strategy, taking immediate actions to stay in the saddle while facing the new challenges, the impact of the existing Company Culture has more than ever shown it’s significance.
How has your company culture helped or hindered you in these unprecedented times?
The way people act and interact when there are no rules that tell them what to do, that is what Culture is all about. Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, beliefs, goals and practices that characterize an organization. Company culture refers to the attitudes and behaviours of a company and its employees. We see it in the way the people in the organization interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.
If you’re asking yourself, what is my company culture like, take stock of what you’ve seen during this crisis: how have people reacted on the changes they were facing? Have they put their energy in collectively finding the best way to cope with it or did each department, team or even individual employee worked their own problems, for better or for worse? Have people been creative and open-minded or were they mostly grieving about what could not be done in the usual way anymore?
Did your leaders find ways to keep their teams motivated and engaged when business results were deteriorating and/or even more workload and high pressure was overwhelming the team?
Was there a climate of trust and commitment or did all the mandatory telework make leaders feel they were not in control anymore?
I have seen fantastic examples of company values coming to life even stronger than before:
- Determined to help their customer, sales engineers were setting up demo equipment in their own garage and running virtual demo meetings with the customers from their home
- Production operators together with Health & Safety instructors using all their creativity to find safe ways to keep production going and care for the health of the employees
- IT teams taking ownership and walking the extra mile in equipping the organization and it’s people to work from home every day
- Leaders empowering their team members and together finding the best way to solve problems, cooperate and stay connected as a team
- Organizations reinventing their training approach and installing a new learning culture that is accessible to all employees
And sure, I have also seen other examples, where company values such as accountability or trust remained idle words or instilled practices overtook from the desired cultural values.
In times of crisis the true culture in the company comes to the surface and has a huge impact on how your organization reacts to the situation. It’s worth considering the value of some lessons learned.
Use this experience to do a retrospect with your teams. What can you learn from this? Which company values that you have been writing about on your website and that you have been promoting at every employee event have showed their true face in the past months at all levels in the organization? What behaviors and attitudes have helped you most to face the Black Swan on the road? What practices should you get rid of for the future to stay performant in your business?
Black Swan Events are so rare that they seldom happen. Maybe it is time to revisit this definition. Look ahead and imagine new problems on your road, disruptors like the already occurring shortage in supply, increasing employee absenteeism and turnover, severe weather events or other natural disasters. This is a good time to evolve your business practices and company culture to be adaptive in the face of growing threats. And ask yourself: how comfortable am I being uncomfortable?
* Although the author of “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, argues that epidemiologists have been warning of pandemics for many years and therefore the outbreak of Covid-19 is not a Black Swan, he recognizes that what is a Black Swan for some, might not be a Black Swan for others.
In a company, persuasion is a daily necessity. Changing operating methods, launching new ideas, successfully completing transformation projects, improving quality, ensuring safety at work, selling new products to customers, successful negotiation… This often requires investing a lot of energy for a result that does not always meet expectations. And there’s a reason for that: We do not use the ‘persuasion machine’ present in the form of the three brains that make up any human being.
The 3 brains that govern us
Did you know that the process of persuading a human being involves engaging the three brains that he possesses? Unfortunately, when we want to persuade, most of the time we deploy arguments that use just a small part of the first brain. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the impact of our communication is often unpredictable!
Our first brain is the one everyone knows. It contains 100 billion neurons. It is composed of two hemispheres. Simply put, the left side is essentially rational. It wants to understand everything, analyse everything and make a detailed assessment of the information provided to it, step by step. You should also realise that the left side does not want to take any risks. This is the origin of the resistance to change that one naturally observes in humans.
We all have a right brain hemisphere which is our spatial, creative, visual, relational side. It anticipates constantly. It is ready to take risks, without much calculation about them.
It works through mental images. Concepts, ideas, projects are all mental images, sometimes complex, that our brain has to decode.
A beneficial interaction
It was long thought that the two sides of the brain functioned with one being dominant over the other. At times either basically rational. Or then again, more emotional. But it has recently become clear that this is not the case at all. The two hemispheres are in constant interaction and continuously influence each other. When you communicate, you create a real ‘battle’ of the hemispheres in the hope that the outcome will be favourable to you.
Your communication will therefore be aimed at reassuring the left side of your target audience about the relevance of the arguments in order to control the analytical phase of reasoning. In doing so, your communication will also need to convey the ‘mental images’ that will lead to buy-in by the right side and then to action.
But never forget this: persuading an audience requires not only rational arguments, which is what 99% of managers do most of the time.
Rationality often fails to convince
Our second brain consists of our heart and our digestive system. It is composed of 540 million neurons. This second brain is the centre of our emotions. The most important decisions we make in our lives are initially processed by the two hemispheres of the first brain. But then, quite often it is based on ‘our gut feeling’ that we ultimately decide to go ahead or not, by ‘sensing’ that it’s the right decision.
In your communication you will therefore also have to integrate emotional arguments (the ‘what’s in it for me’) and action-orientated arguments to ‘move people’. By addressing the second brain and its emotional power of persuasion in this way, you double your persuasive impact.
A brain that remains little known
But there is also a third brain. This is made up of 300 billion glial cells that surround our first brain. These cells, whose name is related to the English word for ‘glue’, are specialised in various tasks: supporting neurons, supplying them with nutrients, accelerating neurotransmission, for example. We are only just now discovering the full potential of this veritable third brain.
One of the first applications we can draw from this is that the energy released by the glial cells decreases over time. A wise manager will therefore hold important meetings at the beginning of the week and at the beginning of the day rather than at the end of the week or at the end of the afternoon, because most brains will have difficulty concentrating, as the available energy has been partly exhausted.
If you want to have the energy and interaction to conduct a fruitful discussion, plan your meetings with the glial cells in mind!
Persuade by communicating
Persuasion through communication is within everyone’s reach. There’s no reason why you can’t make your persuasive power even stronger by from now on targeting the 3 brains of anyone you want to persuade. Want to find out how? Click here.