Metaphors pepper every workplace’s internal communications, whether picking the low hanging fruit, riding out the storm or rallying the troops. They tap into a person’s ‘prior knowledge’ and the right ones can spark activity in regions of the brain making messages more memorable or inspiring. It can also be used by CIOs to draw information from staff they wouldn’t otherwise reveal.
Although we often use them without thinking, they should be used with care. As per studies, managers can change team members’ perspectives and have a negative effect on project outcomes when they use metaphors from certain themes.
As per Gartner’s recommendation, chief information officers use and invoke metaphors when they are questioning colleagues about what is and isn’t working during a change initiative or major project. The seniority of CIOs often means they are “too remote from problems or issues occurring at the front line” and suffer from the ‘authority filter’ present in a large organisation that keeps them unaware of bad news.
The higher the leader ranks on the organisation chart, the less likely it is that people will come to him or her with problems. Asking them directly about the health of the change can be intimidating for many, as many behave evasively, especially if the CIO and IT leaders have not built a sharing group across the enterprise.
It’s here that using metaphors can prove invaluable.
Select different metaphor themes for different types of question, suggests Daniel Sanchez Reina – Gartner research director and a former CIO of Sony Europe. While taste should be used when questioning about motivation and forward motion metaphors for gauging progress, texture-based metaphors should be used when delivering calls to action.
Taste metaphors are known to recruit areas of the brain associated with emotion, making them a useful tool in gauging motivation. Questions like; what are the sweetest benefits of this change? Is there anything about this project that makes you bitter? Tell me something that is making you bitter etc. comprise of taste-based questions around motivation.
Meanwhile, forward-motion-related metaphors have been found to subconsciously activate a sense of achievement in the brain. CIOs can use this to their advantage as using such metaphor laden questions to not only assess the difficulties teams might be encountering but also “awaken their desire to succeed”. Such questions might include: How far down the track are we? Are you swimming against the tide? What potholes are we running into?