Friday, January 16, 2009

Death by viewgraph….NOT (Story-time part II)

It’s 10:38AM and the big conference room is full with the normal crowd. The higher level “important” people sitting at the chairs around the table and the supporting cast in the seats backed up to the walls that proudly display the company product pictures. It’s the weekly divisional review and the first two functional heads have just completed their presentations. Nothing particularly exciting so far, but then Al is next up. He gets out of his chair, steps outside the conference room door and brings into the room a section of the outboard wing spoiler. He hands it to the first person at the table and tells him to pass it around. As this is happening, he tells a story about visiting the shop. By the time the part makes it half way around the table, Al asks “does anyone in this room want to go tell our mechanics why we designed this part so difficult to build?”

As leaders, it is our responsibility to clearly communicate our messages. Al, VP Engineering, was by far the best at using props to help communicate a strong message. While others would present a PowerPoint business case, Al would show you the problem and let you touch it. He always got what he was asking for in terms of investment or resources. Last week in the post, “It’s not an accident”, I compared business communications to the 3-to-5 year old story-time at the public library. One of the key tools Barbara Richardson used was props to keep attention and emphasize. Even the inventors of PowerPoint probably never expected it to become the meeting energy drain it has become. It is important to use caution not to be gimmicky or tacky, but using a physical object as a tool to communicate can have an enduring impact.

What is the most effective use of a prop to communicate have you seen or used?


Anonymous said...

I finally got the chance to check your blog. Truly great stuff!

Loved the Sammy story - I actually think I've seen this guy around Huntington Cliffs checking the surf. Big gimp, damaged wing - but normally in shorts with no shirt. Always positive, no pity party with him. Next time I see him...

Also the story about the 3-5 year olds and the conditioning we require (or think we require) to communicate effectively - not just in the business environment but really with anything we do. The masquerade event also draws inspiration. Reach out a little and quite often the result can change things in your life - normally for the positive.

See you on the court, surf depending.

Steve H said...

Typically our drawing system printed out in half scale by default. That meant that anyone used to only looking at drawings for information got a warped impression of what the actual parts looked like. On one of my first days as a lead engineer I went out into the shop and brought back a panel from a pressure bulkhead and put it in the middle of a table in the group. It immediately attracted a crowd and the most common comment was "Wow! That's a lot bigger than I thought it was." And that's the response I was after. Sometimes people need to be reminded of things, even if they're right under their noses.

Cynder said...

Intriguing idea John and I will look for ways to apply that to a service company. What would I bring to a meeting to demonstrate the dysfunction of the team? what object symbolizes the aggressive behavior of one team mate and the retreating or isolating behaviors of the rest.

One of the things I loved about working for Boeing (the only manufacturing company I worked for) was the focus on product delivery (e.g., timeliness and quality. I'll let you know what I come up with! Please do the same.


John Bishop said...

Dear cyndern,

One idea "a giant hairball". Have you read the book "Orbiting the giant hairball"? It is right on topic.

Anonymous said...

The most important communication props I've used are human - bring in the customers!

Within an organisation, we can blather on to our own people until we're blue in the face, about what our service means to our clients, and what a failure in our service costs them. However many times we do this, only the same proportion of people will ever "get it".

Bringing a customer to an internal meeting (or alternatively, taking supposedly "junior" staff to important client meetings) provides a whole new perspective. Exposing staff to the real flesh and blood people who use their service and pay their salaries gives people a new insight and personal investment in the service they're providing - and does nothing but good for customer relationships.

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