Hi coach, mind to take a look? Funny to see that even if the coaching we did was years back, and the guy moved on to become a top dog at this big data firm, you are still coach. My old coach, he calls me, always. Coaching people on storytelling and presentations is, by definition, something very personal. They are out there, on their own, on stage, being vulnerable. Coaching in that setting tends to give that personal bond, lasting for years. The deck in the email for me to review was precisely according to the approach we talked about. Approach matching the wording and visuals to match his personality. A combination that allowed him to be just himself on stage. Cool deck, great topic. They did a social media survey for a firm in Germany. Analyzing all posts from the last years, with the main focus on the previous 3 months. What do the customers talk about, what do they like, what do they hate. And what are they very indifferent about. Indifferent because they don’t care, of indifference because they assume the issue will never be fixed.
The outcome was obvious. Lots of issues to take into consideration. Clearly, the customers, in general, like the brand and company. Liked the products, and cared enough to talk about it online and discuss what could be improved. Fabulous what information social media can give you! The presentation explained the approach, gave confidence level for the accuracy, and in general, was very well done for the audience of C levels and board members. The question he asked me to consider was: can I bring a message like this? Would it work, does it lead to the needed action after the know and believe steps of presenting? Considering action typically starts happening after the presentation, after I leave? The data supported his recommendations, supported the proposed change in strategy. The thing with senior managers at that level is they typically have years and years of experience in their vertical. Tons of t-shirts and scars. All that experience has accumulated in a solid, internalized vision of the market, of the customer. Based on that internalized view, they make decisions. Decisions to hire for operations. Decisions to do tactical. And most of all, they decide on the strategy based on that very experience. Experience mostly from an inside out approach typically used in the era they rose up through the ranks. Experience from residing at the top floor of HQ, going over quarterly financial results. The last time they talked to customers is a while back. They have an archetypical idea about customers. And funny enough, they assume customers think much like they think themselves.
His presentation and the conclusions at the end clearly contradicted the general management experience. The findings pointed out a needed change in strategy. Knowing from social media what customers really cared about suggested a change in direction. The tone of his story suggested he fell in the trap of the being right fallacy. The more significant the gap between the current state of mind at the beginning of the presentation and the believes leading to actions at the end, the less you should talk about the facts, and the more you should focus on the process. This is not facts for business to business; in the end, as always it is mindset for human to human. The more significant the gap between the current state and future state, the more to focus on the human. Complement facts with aspects like openness, detachment. Use humility and forgiveness and, most of all, kindness. As Dr. Wayne Dyer famously wrote, “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” The level of facts in your presentation is almost like an inverse function of the gap size.
So the question I gave him back was simple: is the balance between being right and being kind, ok? If you would change the underlying mindset of your story to something like: dear audience, you’re all brilliant, I am amazed by your experience. Would you consider the social media outcome of our work and maybe tweak future directions to become even more glorious? Would that kinder mindset lead to the actions you are looking for, the actions they talk about when you have left the building?