K Street Newsletter :: Directions

February 2020    |    VOLUME 18, ISSUE 2

Storytelling in 2020

Storytelling has been recognized as a key component of Knowledge Management for years and years. Steve Denning published the first edition of The Springboard way back in 2000, explaining how a good story was able to push past audience preconceptions and help people understand something new. It's largely based on his own experiences at The World Bank, but he broadens that experience and applies it to other sectors.

These days, companies are recognizing the marketing value of storytelling. Consumers are looking for authenticity in the services they use and the products they buy, and Innova Market Insights has ranked storytelling among its top 10 trends for 2020. It goes beyond the undeniable appeal of Google's unofficial "don't be evil" slogan. Companies may still make claims about their offerings, but customers are looking more closely for the story that backs them up. In the food and beverage industry, companies aren't just bragging about taste. They're talking about culture, tradition, where ingredients are sourced and how they're processed. They may be selling you a container of yogurt, but they're doing it by telling you a story.

 

Don’t Blame the Technology

Collaboration technology is a double-edged sword. It's empowering because it lets people be productive from virtually anywhere. But it's also exhausting, since it encourages an always-on lifestyle. The value lies in how people use the technology, not in the technology itself. There's an old communications principle that says you should never conceal context. If there's a point you want to make in a presentation, give the audience the background they need to fully understand it. Virtual collaboration tools can deliver a great deal of context, but only if users decide to go that way.

We spend a lot of time on conference calls, and most of today's conferencing tools support desktop sharing and video. But the folks in Knowledge Street's virtual universe opt for voice-only calls 95% of the time. If there's a document or application to be shared, people share it. But most don't seem ready to embrace the richness that such tools can offer. Even on calls where most of the participants have camera-equipped devices, no one is ready for a close-up. This article at the Harvard Business Review considers that problem. It makes the point that even if you agree to use a video link, letting both parties pick up on non-verbal cues, you don't have the same experience you would in the room. And the conference call experience can be maddening. Imagine it in real life. (The video behind that link is pretty funny -- over 16,000,000 views!)

You can get the full value from collaboration tools with a little thought and creativity. Like anything else, though, you have to work at it.
 

 

Street Smarts 196: Spin that feedback flywheel.

We've written often about the importance of culture in establishing an effective environment for knowledge sharing. Writing at the Harvard Business Review, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst observes that in his consulting days, he often recognized that practically every employee had strong ideas about what a given company was doing wrong, but would never say anything publically that might be seen as negative. And the company managers were more open to criticisms from the outside consultants than from their own colleagues.

However, he learned that once you establish a practice of honest, genuine feedback, it tends to be self-sustaining. Like a mechanical flywheel, it's hard to get it moving, but once it is moving, its own momentum tends to keep it spinning. Getting it started requires three things: Show appreciation by starting with positive recognition, rather than criticism. Be sure leaders are open to accepting criticism when it comes. And be inclusive, to be sure the company doesn't break down into us-vs-them silos.
 

 

Why Steve Jobs Hated PowerPoint 

It's well known that Steve Jobs was no fan of PowerPoint. He famously said that "people who know what they're talking about don't need PowerPoint." Since his own keynote speeches were always supported by presentation graphics (presumably developed with Apple's Keynote), some think Jobs was just bashing a competitor's product. But the full text of Jobs's PowerPoint quote casts a different light on things. What he hated was the tendency to substitute a presentation for thought and discussion. He wasn't against the use of presentation graphics for big televised events, but he hated the way they'd become the norm for running internal meetings. To be effective, meetings like that need everyone to be engaged. Once you fall back on the slide deck. everyone but the presenter switches to passive mode.

Another famous quote in this area comes from former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said "PowerPoint makes us stupid."  Thankfully, there are alternatives. Instead of a deck, you can distribute a briefing document. Condense your thoughts into a short, hard-copy document. Ideally, it would be one page. Distribute copies at the beginning of the meeting, give everyone time to read it, then open things up for discussion. You can also try designing an interactive experience that may use presentation decks to display exhibits, but where the audience is expected to get involved. That kind of meeting makes the most of workbooks, easels and (our personal favorite) white boards. You want to force both presenters and participants to pay attention.
 

Fighting Change Fatigue

We live in an age when things change so quickly and completely that many people have a hard time keeping up. In just the last few years, our lives have become the stuff of science fiction. Intelligent devices live in our homes (and in our pockets) and can respond to spoken commands. Smart bots recommend things we might enjoy, something that used to be the province of family and friends. Our appliances remind us when its time to buy milk, drones are delivering our groceries and it won't be long before the family car can get us to grandma's on its own. It's a lot to take in.

It should be no surprise, then, that many companies recognize their employees are exhausted by change fatigue. Some surveys say only 25% of workers feel they're in the loop about what's going on. They're facing continuous change, with new leadership, unpredictable budgets and shifting business priorities. Communication is the key here, and if not done well it will reduce employee engagement, increase turnover and lead to active resistance against whatever change may be coming. This article gives you some guidelines for better change communications. Rule #1 is to communicate as early as possible. Some managers may feel they need a fully baked story. That's a mistake. Going public with an honest preliminary announcement will build trust and help you get ahead of the rumor mill.

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