Presentation tip: Don’t rely on the presentation

conference room presentationA few weeks back, Karen Martin authored a post for her blog entitled, “How to capture an audiences attention” in which she gave several good tips for remembering your audience and delivering a strong presentation.

Inspired by Karen’s post and a recent chance to address the MassBay PMI chapter (a presentation for which I give myself a B+) I’d like to add another, useful tip to all those would-be speakers out there:

Don’t rely on your presentation to capture the audience, rely on your ability to present.

By presentation, of course I mean PowerPoint decks or other visual aids.  Quite frankly, unless you have something technically complex that can only be understood with a graphical depiction, or you have something uproariously hilarious that can only project its humor when seen, then you really don’t need slides at all.

Yes, perhaps decorum necessitates that you have them, but you really shouldn’t need them.  You really ought to be so utterly devoted to your topic that you can carry the audience without relying upon the screen.  Take a look at many of the TED talks – there’s just a passionate person talking, not a smart instructor elaborating on words most of the audience can already read.

My short speaking experience is already telling me – don’t even think about opening that PowerPoint file until after you have perfected what you will say and how you will say it.  Else, the slides will guide you.  You need to develop that perfect ability to deliver your topic to the room first.  Then, if you must,  craft a few slides around it.

But only if you have to.

Leadership, Culture and the Situation of Marissa Mayer

marissa_new4Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, sent a shock wave across the internet and the blogosphere last weekend when she announced that Yahoo’s policy of allowing people to work remotely would be ended, and that remote-working employees would need to begin reporting to the office by June 2013.

The debate has raged over the wisdom of the move, with a heaping ton of criticism coming from culture-change advocates who point to research indicating that remote work programs are beneficial, while the other side of the coin points to lost engagement and productivity.  A short, quick summary of the debate can be found over on the Huffington Post:

What I find interesting is that, in an era when so many are advocating culture as the basis for an organization’s effectiveness, as well as the need for leadership to take charge of establishing that culture, that so much criticism is being thrown at Mayer for her decision.  All this even as some insiders report that the move was utterly necessary because the work-from-home policy had created more problems than it solved, and the abuses of the policy were significant.

All of the admonitions and warnings and tirades thrown at Mayer, or in support of her, all seem to be coming from outside the company – by folks who have a voice, but who are not, necessarily, informed.  Like them, I do not know Marissa Mayer.  Unlike them, however, I won’t assume that she’s a short-sighted crazy person or an idiot.  Her ideas do have some merit, even if we disagree with them.

What’s daunting, however, is what we are seeing is a high-profile CEO doing what everyone is demanding of high-profile CEOs – to take bold steps and to lead an organization through the establishment of a company culture.  If Mayer believes that her organization will perform best when people are interacting face-to-face, then she must act with integrity and follow her beliefs by bringing that dynamic into her organization.  It has become the stuff of many an article and business school essay at places like Facebook and Google.

Of course, that’s also exactly where the problem lies.  Mayer is attempting to benchmark against other organizations and believes that worked over there will also work at Yahoo.  That’s a bit short-sighted, however, it’s also the exact same dynamic being offered by her critics – finding the best case example of a situation just like your preferred alternative, and then using that as evidence that the alternative is the right one.  For example, the creators of ROWE responded to Yahoo’s policy decision with an Open Letter to Marissa Mayer, citing The Gap as an organization that has done well by implementing ROWE.  Unfortunately, you can’t claim the Gap’s implementation of ROWE was a success and ignore the fact that performance at Best Buy, where ROWE was created, just sucks.

Likewise, you can’t say this was the right move and not wonder why there was not a declaration of the need to identify the root cause of these behaviors.  If people are abusing the system and failing to collaborate – face time might not be the root cause.  There is likely something else going on.  Perhaps that something else can be attended to by having people co-located, or maybe not.  Fact of the matter is, none of us knows for sure, and all anyone is contributing is an opinion, if not an agenda.

There is clearly a clash of cultures occurring as well, as most of the criticism is coming from tech/software/internet company founders and their employees who have embraced remote work.  Others outside of the tech community are much more supportive of the move.  If we believe the insider’s view, then this was the right move for Yahoo at this time – and maybe it is, or maybe it is not.  What the critics themselves should be chastised for is campaigning for executives to lead and set the tone within their organizations and then criticize those same leaders for not setting the tone the critics preferred.

The truth is that no one knows if this will be the right move.  It is, quite clearly, going to be something of an experiment.  Those who believe remote work, in general, is a good thing based on their experience or beliefs and, therefore, a good thing for Yahoo are about to have that hypothesis tested.  On the other side of the debate, those who advocate face-to-face interaction as the core that fuels innovation, will also have their theory tested.  What all must do now is what everyone who has conducted an experiment must always do – establish the parameters of the experiment and observe the results.

If Yahoo’s performance improves over time then we will have evidence over which to debate this decision, and not just relentless opinion.  If, however, it turns out that the performance of the company declines, then we’ll know that the performance problem was not due to attendance, but to other, deeper flaws in the management of the company.  Either way, some years from now when the evidence is available, I suspect no measure will be given to the dynamics of the system and I’m certain Marissa Mayer will either be celebrated or blamed.

The height of disrespect for people: A UK Healthcare nightmare

The_Doctor_will_SEE_you_now_by_DaYDid
The_Doctor_will_SEE_you_now_by_DaYDid

The Doctor will SEE you now by DaYDid

I came across this lengthy article from The UK’s Daily Mail detailing the nightmarish conditions at Staffordshire Hospital, where it is reported that between 2005 and 2008 as many as 1,200 patients died needlessly due to appalling conditions and neglect.

Keep those dates in mind – this is current.  The events described in the article did not happen in some long-forgotten past or in a third-world hell hole.  This scandal is unfolding, right now, in one of the most developed nations on earth.  If you want to know just how far an organization can stray from the Respect for People ideal that lies at the root of Lean and Operational Excellence, forget Foxconn and look at the UK’s NHS.

There are a host of other articles on the Daily Mail site.  This article shares stories from the families of victims of the hospital’s abuses, where people were so thirsty they drank water from dirty vases and patients were often left to soak in their own urine for days.

Of course, the man at the head of it all refuses to accept responsibility, blaming ‘the system’ for the problem.  I know Lean typically advocates looking at the system for the root of the problem and not blaming the individual, but this seems like a bit of a bastardization of that concept.

The scandal runs wide and deep, and would be shocking if it wasn’t so utterly disgusting.  The Guardian has published a guide to the scandal, demonstrating just how far-reaching this is that it requires a guide.

Amazing that, in an era where Lean Healthcare is gaining more and more momentum, a situation like this exists.

The value of delayed decisions

decisions by mihaibrrr

decisions by mihaibrrr

Most conversations about improvement revolve around finding ways to speed things up.  Whether by focusing on the elimination of unnecessary activities, doing less more often, reducing clutter, training the mind to avoid multitasking, or any other approach to speeding up decision making the prevailing message is clear:  do things faster.

The desire to do things faster necessitates making decisions faster, of course.  Process improvement schools of thought are, essentially, designed to speed up decision making to one degree or another.  Last year, I came across Frank Partnoy’s Wait, however, which advocated something different – slowing things down.

Partnoy investigates the cognitive science of decision making across multiple situations, from athletes making decisions in milliseconds to investors like Warren Buffet who delay decisions for weeks, months or years.  In his investigations, he discovers a seemingly simply truth:  That the longer you can delay a decision, the better decision you will make.

Partnoy’s take seems to be out of synch with improvement methods that look to speed up our ability to make decisions. Nonetheless, I think there’s more in common than might meet the eye.  What I see in Partnoy’s book  is that decision making needs to be slowed down in order for genuine improvement to occur.  Adopting continuous improvement methods allows  for as much information gathering as possible prior to making the final decision.

The iterations surrounding any approach that looks to fail fast and learn constantly are all doing 1 thing – allowing for as much learning as possible prior to making a decision that can’t be undone.  Partnoy’s work reinforces the wisdom of this approach and makes it clear:  slowing down your thought processes, rather than speeding them up, results in the best possible outcomes.

 

Every customer trusts you. But what do they trust in?

Trust by alireza1

Thanks to the wonders of LinkedIn Today, I was introduced to a 2010 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.”

I gave a mental nod to the authors,  Matthew DixonKaren Freeman, and Nicholas Toman for the title that caused a little adrenaline to rise in my bloodstream, and clicked the link to read the article.

Their point is a good one – that “delight” is overshooting things a bit.  What customers really want is follow-through.  You don’t need to heap tons of service onto customers, they say, you just need to deliver consistently.  Since so many companies are quite poor at doing that, just being consistent and following through on what is promised is enough to sustain loyalty.

Which makes me think that the number one thing companies need to focus on is trust.

Trust will be established no matter what.  Customers will trust in something when it comes to your company – but what will they trust in?  Will they trust in your ability to deliver a really good western omelet, even if it is by a grump waiter?  Will they trust that your product never fails, justifying the price tag, or will they trust that they can save a few bucks if they are willing to sacrifice what they perceive as frills?  Do they trust that your people will arrive on time for service appointments, or do they trust in the fact that they will need to idly wait during a long appointment window?

All of which is about establishing operations that deliver on a business plan.  A plan that guides the business into servicing a particular niche.  If you want customers to trust in your products and/or services, you need to know what it is you are delivering, and what the expectations are within that niche.  If you want to be a first mover, customers have to trust that your higher-priced products will be particularly innovative or stylish.  If you want to be known as a high-quality, low-cost provider – target budget-minded customers who place a premium on practicality. 

When it comes to customer service, there is a lot of discussion and advice on creating trust.  Trust, however, occurs naturally.  Dictionary.com offers a definition of trust  as the “confident expectation of something.”  People will, quite quickly, develop an expectation of what they are likely to get from you – good service or bad, high quality or low, good price or not.  What you want to establish is a positive trust, one that is based on customers consistently getting what they value.  This is why establishments with grumpy waitresses but good omelets, low quality products but good prices, and innovative products with big price tags are the foundations of so many successful companies – they consistently deliver what is expected to a particular niche that values it.

It is also why businesses that consistently fail to live up to expectations ultimately fail.  That much is intuitive, of course.  When people come to trust that your products are not worth the price tag or that your service doesn’t adequately measure up to the experience people desire, you will fail.  There are many suggested countermeasures, but they all boil down to two simple approaches  – improving quality and service, or marketing your way into a different image so that you can occupy a different niche.  Improving quality is about creating greater positive trust.  Finding a different niche is about raising awareness among a new audience that is predisposed to trusting you in the first place.  Either approach creates that sense of delight – an audience that believes it knows what to expect from you is provided with more than they anticipated. 

Fortunately, according to the 2010 article, people have come to trust in poor service.  That makes it fairly easy to raise the bar and establish trust – consistently deliver good service within your niche and you will exceed expectations.  Consistency, no matter what else you bring to the market, is how trust is established.  When people believe they know what they are going to get, that expectation will either lead to sustainable business performance, or inevitable decline.