Clean Case Studies


Some ways to use Clean Language to make a difference in business

“In the current economic environment, the pressure is on to deliver, quicker, better and cheaper. Clean is a quick win that will deliver speed, quality and lower cost/increased revenues. The emphasis between each of these 3 drivers will vary.

“In addition, organisations need to work more effectively together taking account of all stakeholder’s needs and wants. Clean communicating skills combined with the insightful use of metaphor, can transform this process.” Maurice O’Shea, management consultant and Certified Clean Facilitator


Analyst’s Clean questions save 34-million Euro project

Situation

Roland Hill*, a business analyst for Dutch IT specialists IPROFS, used Clean Language to reveal a number of misunderstandings which could have caused the collapse of an 34.9 million-Euro project involving financial institutions across Europe.

He joined the project after the functionality of the new computer system had apparently been agreed. But when he used Clean Language to check through the specified requirements with representatives from the two sponsoring institutions, he discovered that each had a different understanding of key sections of the document.

Intervention

“They had agreed the words on the page – but there was a difference in what those words meant to them,” said Roland. “If I hadn’t used Clean Language there is a good chance this misunderstanding might not have come out until a year or more down the line, once the system had been built.

“Then one side would have been very unhappy that things weren’t going to work as they’d expected, and as they’d told their customers they would work. Either the project would have been delayed while it was sorted out – which would have been very expensive and damaged the credibility of the project – or, at worst, cancelled.

“There are lots of statistics about something which costs one Euro to fix at the requirements stage costs 600 Euros to fix once the system has been built. There’s an extrapolation of costs the further you get down the lifecycle of the project, so it’s worth getting things right at the very beginning.”

Outcome

Roland said: “As a result of what came out in my workshop the sponsors recognised where they didn’t agree, and were able to make a plan to get things sorted out between them.”

*Roland Hill is a Business Analyst with IPROFS. He is very experienced in complex transactional web application projects in commercial and governmental markets. In the past, he has been a product manager for a content management system for the UK legal market, and an application and process consultant for a market-leading ERP firm.


Case study: Analysing effective project leadership

Situation

A key player in the pharmaceutical industry was concerned about the performance of some of their project leaders – the individuals charged with bringing new drugs through testing and to market. The process itself was highly regulated, so they could be sure it was being followed. But there was an extraordinary level of variation in the results delivered by different individuals. What was happening?

Clean intervention

A team of Clean consultants conducted a research project to assess the differences between the top performers in the role and their less-effective colleagues. By interviewing project leaders, their managers and members of their teams, they were able to pinpoint specific points on which the company could act.

Consultant Louise Oram explained: “It turned out that the people who were most successful and highly regarded had at least 15 years’ experience in this kind of role, or were programme managers who had come up through the ranks.

“We discovered that there were important differences between the thinking patterns of those who were good at the job and those who were not. Those who were good at the job knew what to look out for and had mental strategies about things that could go wrong.

“The standard way of addressing this situation would have been a process review – but it was already clear they were following the process. By using Clean techniques we got a different class of information, information that the people we were interviewing weren’t already consciously aware of.

“People were saying to us: ‘I didn’t know I did that! Now I do know, I’ll pay more attention to it.’

“Individual project leaders found that they now had what it took to improve performance by changing their thinking strategies, and their approach to decision-making in the face of a mass of information.”

Outcome

The company made specific changes to its selection procedure for the programme leader role, giving increased weight to the kinds of experience which had been found to be relevant. They also developed new career paths which encouraged experienced programme leaders to stay within the role.


Case study: Fast team building

Situation

A ‘virtual team’ of contact centre managers was experiencing problems. Their centres were widely spread geographically, but the company needed them to co-ordinate their efforts closely. Instead the differences between centres were becoming more and more apparent, and friction was increasing.

Intervention

The team came together for a day-long session facilitated by Clean Change consultant Wendy Sullivan. First, the individual members of the team explored their own ideas about what their perfect working team would be like.

One man wanted the group to be like a formula one pit crew team. Someone else wanted it to be like setting sail for distant shores. Interestingly, these two people had been having a hard time working together. All the team members’ symbols were all different and equally revealing.

Wendy said: “As each team member was asked about their symbol, there were nods and smiles as the team realised they had seen individuals ‘living’ their symbols from day to day.

“For example, the ‘Formula One’ person’s meetings had no breaks for lunch or tea. People were expected to keep working and concentrating as long as there was work to do. He spoke fast, frequently losing team members who couldn’t grasp the concepts flashing past at high speed.”

The group then learned new ways of using language to fit the different thinking styles of other team members, and began to try them out from day to day. They also constructed a shared model for how they would like the team to be: a head with big ears for listening, lots of curly hair representing a zest for life, big eyes for taking in visual information and big dangly earrings for an element of fun. As a reminder of the event, it went ‘on tour’ around the team’s different offices over the next year!

Outcome

Communication within the team improved immediately, even before the day was over. As team members understood more about the thinking that generated a colleague’s actions, it was simple for them to incorporate this into their communication and therefore to influence their colleagues’ behaviour. The regular conflicts and misunderstandings eased, resulting in improved communication across the contact centres and leading to improved customer service.


Case study: Successful door-to-door sales and fundraising

Situation

Greenmann is a commercial company employing a UK-wide force of fundraisers on behalf of a number of wildlife and conservation charities, selling memberships door-to-door. After winning a major new contract, the company wanted to improve the results achieved by their new recruits so as to maximise revenue and reduce staff turnover.

Intervention

A group of Clean Change consultants spent two days studying the sales approach taken by the company’s top fundraisers. Using Clean principles in a combination of one-to-one interviews and group work, they distilled out ten factors which seemed to be crucial to success in this particular role, and reviewed the model with the top fundraisers and their managers. As the discussion continued, the idea of ‘Wildlife Man’ began to emerge – a friendly figure in a fleece and stout walking shoes!

Consultant Judy Rees said: “The company’s entire sales force had been trained to use a short and highly-effective script on the doorstep. Given that the words said by each salesperson were almost identical, we needed to uncover what the top performers did as they said those words.

“For this, Clean was ideal. Of course, as consultants we had our own hunches about what might be happening, but in each Clean interview we set these aside and started with a blank sheet. The salespeople relaxed, felt they were being listened to, and opened up to reveal unexpected details about the process they each used.

“At the same time they discovered aspects of their performance that they had not noticed before, which they could choose to explore further on their own. ‘I didn’t know I did that!’ was a comment we heard frequently.

“The top performers were also able to compare and contrast their different approaches and to pick up hints and tips from each other during the process.”

Outcome

The company gained a new, very detailed understanding of the factors involved in the success of their top performers, in a form that could be used to develop new training procedures. As a bonus, they were able to update their recruitment criteria to improve the chances of long-term success.


Case study: Senior executive search and recruitment

Situation

When recruiting for very senior roles (£400k+) in the pharmaceutical industry, as in any business, you can’t afford mistakes. Tightly defined frameworks allow detailed assessment of competencies, and standard interview and meeting protocols gather the views of prospective colleagues. And still something extra was wanted – another kind of information to enrich the decision-making process.

Clean Intervention

Consultant Louise Oram, from Berkshire, UK, has been able to find that extra ingredient using Clean techniques. “I always use Clean in addition to the standard process. And the interview can start in the same way, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ But it gives you a different class of information, because the interviewee starts thinking at a different level.”

In the process, interviewees can discover more about themselves. Once, when Louise was working as a recruitment consultant, a senior executive blustered into her office having just been made redundant at 55, saying that that no interview she could put him through would be worthwhile. “It’s obvious!” he declared. She interviewed him using Clean questions, directing his attention precisely to make sure he explored key issues. Ten minutes in, he admitted: “You know, it’s not that obvious, is it?” And when his time was up, an hour of Clean questions later, he said: “I’ve never been through such a tough interview.”

He now has a new senior executive role in the industry and has stayed in touch with Louise, frequently asking her to conduct supplementary interviews of potential senior recruits. She explained: “I’ll often be working with metaphor: ‘When you are in a team working at your best, you are like what?’ The metaphor brings out real preferences, rather than statements like: ‘I am a good team player’, and you can take the metaphor data and compare and contrast with the competency ratings and prospective colleagues’ impressions going to work in the environment we are recruiting for. A Clean interview makes the whole thing more rounded than the standard recruiting process.”

Outcome

There’s more to a successful hire than an excellent standard interview. And, at the same time, the benefits of filling key roles with effective executives extend beyond the benefits to the individual and their team. The entire company can benefit from a great person doing exactly the right job for them.


Case Study: Using Clean for faster meetings

Situation

A large, publicly-funded civil engineering project, which had lasted four years and involved partner organisations from five different countries, was drawing to a close. In order to extract maximum benefit from the experience, a one-day evaluation meeting was arranged, involving around three dozen participants. They came from various organisations, ranged from administrators to professors, and had a variety of home languages. The challenge was to quickly and efficiently look back at the results of the project, and draw out relevant lessons.

Intervention

Several facilitators were involved in the event, only some of whom were trained in Clean. This provided lead facilitator Annemiek van Helsdingen with an ideal opportunity to compare Clean- and less-Clean facilitation styles.

She explained: “We had split the meeting into smaller groups and facilitators were logging key points on flip charts in each group. What I noticed was that my Clean colleague, Lizet van den Berg, was working so much more quickly – about 50% faster.

“She would remember the person’s actual words and write those on the flip chart. Sometimes she would ask a Clean question to clarify something. When group members added remarks, she would check if the remark also needed to be added on the flip-chart (again in exact words). This quickly filters out important and less important contributions.

“In another group they were having a very muddled discussion. The person at the flip chart would try and translate things into his own words and in many cases, the main message of what had been said was then lost. A discussion would go on but things didn’t get any clearer – and so much time was wasted. Being Clean makes life so much easier. It’s the most effective way to ask about what you want to know. You have much higher-quality meetings. They are often quicker, and there’s no way people can escape responsibility – everyone has their share. And when things get tough or challenging, you have a far better chance of sorting it out quickly without any emotional outbursts.”

Outcome

Compared with the group which experienced ‘ordinary’ facilitation, the group which had been facilitated Cleanly felt they had been listened to more carefully, and that their views had been faithfully recorded. A larger number of people were able to make a considered contribution in the allotted time.


Case study: Building trust

Situation

A department within the Dutch police force was obliged to act when a survey revealed that staff had a very low level of trust in their managers. After a round of meetings, poor communication was identified as a major issue.

Clean intervention

How could the managers and team leaders change their communication style to help them build trust again? Over five half-day sessions, they were introduced to the principles of Clean and trained in Clean questioning and listening skills.  As the impact of this work became clear, the project was extended and a group of staff received similar training.

Consultant Annemiek van Helsdingen (of consultancy ‘Gewoon aan de slag’ based in Amersfoort, Holland) explained that she and Wendy Nieuwland chose to use Clean techniques because a lack of ‘being heard seemed to be at the core of the problem. People were not being treated as individuals – managers and staff believed that everyone thought in the same way, and that whatever was true for one was true for all.

She said: “With Clean you can’t help but get to the specifics of a person’s experience thereby pinpointing what needs to change for that person. It’s not the only tool for the situation, but it is a very effective one. The participants on the training were surprised to find out how hard it was to really listen, and how much energy was involved.”

Outcome

Afterwards, a further staff survey showed a clear shift in the right direction. Annemiek said: “The most senior manager has made a dramatic improvement in his communication style and skills, and it’s recognised by people. The same is true of a number of other managers, though not all.

“There are still some people saying things have not changed and never will. But a larger number of people are saying things are heading in the right direction, but mustn’t be allowed to slip.

“The chief of the service said they had grown considerably as a management team. They communicate with each other very differently. They also have a much better eye for nuance, which is the difference that makes the difference, and they are much better equipped to deal with signals they get from within the organisation.”


Case study: Reviewing a key project

Situation

The Dutch government had undertaken a huge, five-year research programme, involving 80 projects and 200 different stakeholder organisations – scientists, contractors, government, non­governmental organisations, utilities, farmers, nature reserves etc. Clean consultancy NOK-N was asked to conduct a stakeholder perception survey for a mid-term review.

Clean intervention

A team including Annemiek van Hesldingen, Lizet van den Berg and Stefan Ouboter conducted 26 stakeholder interviews using Clean principles, with a number of follow-up workshops.

Annemiek explained: “We reported the results in a specific way, ensuring that each of our conclusions were backed up with specific quotes from named individuals. Using Clean in the interviews enabled us to use people’s specific words, and so to get the nuance of what they were saying. You don’t lose the raw material. It’s a different type of information, that isn’t tainted by the questions.”

The team used mind mapping alongside Clean techniques to distil their findings down to ten key conclusions, which formed the basis of an action plan.

Outcome

The survey was well-received by the sponsoring board. It covered the key aspects and offered a clear set of proposals for next steps, without overwhelming levels of detail. These ideas will now be implemented during the remaining two years of the programme


New energy for IT man from Clean Language coaching

Situation

IT consultant Matthew Dodwell was unhappy with the way his career was going: so unhappy that he was hoping to escape from the industry and do something completely different.

Intervention

A series of Clean Language coaching sessions with Judy Rees helped him to find new optimism, new energy and a new direction.

He explained, “I’d got myself stuck, working from home in an isolated,   solo programming role. It was boring, and it was only serving me – there was no bigger picture. All the energy was burned out, like a small, dark dwarf star.

“Now there’s just so much happening! As a result of the coaching I’m now moving into a larger, more expansive role with more interaction with people.

“I’m more active, talking to people like IT project managers, and finding that they’re interested in what I have to say. I can engage other people with my passion.

“I’ve got a very sure feeling about my future. There’s a warm energy, a warm glow, like a star in its active phase.

“Heading back into IT was not what I expected from the coaching. In the beginning I was thinking about anything apart from that! But I now value my existing skills more than I did, as well as valuing the people working in this area.”

Outcome

42-year-old Matthew, who is based in Bath, UK, is now combining his technical skill with ‘people oriented’ tasks, working directly with development teams, customers, and end users.

He said: “Most ways of coaching seem to be more about the coach’s process, and about finding ‘the right answer’. Which is all very well, but it didn’t help me.

“In contrast, this process has really changed things inside. Things are very, very different. It’s about activating the knowledge inside yourself and using that to make things change.”

Find out more

Please visit www.cleanchange.co.uk to:

  • Read more stories of how Clean Language has been used in business
    • Buy the book Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees
    • Order Clean Change Cards and other learning materials
    • Book a place on our open, public training
    • Find out about taster events such as the annual Clean Conference
    • Enquire about advanced communications skills training for your company.

We look forward to hearing from you!

In publishing this booklet, Clean Change Company would like to thank:

  • David Grove, the creator of Clean Language
  • Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, co-creators of symbolic modeling
  • The people whose stories have been included in this compilation.