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Friday, September 29, 2017

The Audience Was Not Happy


What is not measured is not managed.

I attended a training session a couple of days ago that was sponsored by another office at work.

The subject matter was the Baldridge method of quality control and how we apply it to our organization.

This topic and all related topics is incredibly interesting to me. It should be interesting to anyone running a company. Because no matter what methodology you use - Baldridge, Lean Six Sigma, or even a simple Excel spreadsheet to track actual versus target - you won't get results unless you assess, publicize and discuss exactly how well you're doing.

I remember years ago watching a TV segment about a cruise line. Every single employee on the ship knew how their specific job contributed to the bottom line. On that basis they know how well or badly they're doing. And of course, management knew as well.

And Amazon. They have a number for just about everything (sometimes, perhaps, to a fault). The employees even rank each other (we do this also, albeit in a smaller way, where I work). Things are different when you know you're getting a number.

How fitting to talk about this as we approach the eve of Yom Kippur. God is judging us. He hides His face, though. So many of us use this fact to trick ourselves into believing that He is just a convenient figment of imagination. 

No.

In any case, measurement and management go together and if you don't talk about your numbers, then you aren't doing a good job.

So we talked about assessment. And you know me, the obvious question comes up, and I can't stop asking it all day: If we're actually studying ourselves so much, why isn't everything running perfect?

The whole time we were doing that I remembered back to a prior job where I did the exact same thing in order to improve our newsletter. No ratings on the articles means the articles are boring. 

That time, I rolled out the system and it died on the vine because my supervisor didn't want to offend anyone who wrote articles.

This is the same supervisor who let me redesign the newsletter so that it mostly featured photos. That one we rolled out in the middle of the night because we knew feedback would kill it in favor of many words and techno-speak.

The next time I tried rolling out a transparency and free collaboration effort on a large scale was at another government agency and as it happened the tool was Yammer. The thing was so easy to use and so fun that even the head of the agency signed up. 

But I made the mistake of telling my boss's boss, and I will never forget her words:

"Kill it."

I asked one of my employees for feedback and she said in a nice way that I should vet my ideas more before getting carried away with them.

But the truth is, in a large bureaucracy, if you constantly vet your ideas you can be sure that they will be thrown in a dark hole where nobody can ever see them.

So now I am trying to work with people I know and trust to give me good feedback, who also want good things for the organization. 

I also partner with people who have more clout than I do, who are better-spoken, higher-level, and who are in a position to incorporate the ideas I suggest.

But you have to live your credo.

So the other day I followed up on a training session in branding that I gave about six months ago.

Every session has reviews and I had not received mine.

They arrived and it seemed that the audience was very not happy.

About 20% said that my session was "very valuable," while 40% said that it was "not at all." On the positive side people said that they liked the emphasis on personal branding. On the negative side they disliked that the session departed from what was printed on the agenda.

This was the comment that stuck with me the most--it stung!:
"Branding session was a complete disappointment. Went into it with high expectations. The speaker was rude, judgmental and was all over the place. Her style made people not want to talk for fear they'd be criticized. I would never recommend her for another conference."
What do you do when you get a comment like that? Several of them?

You pick up the phone and you call the organizer.

In the end, I understood exactly what had happened.

As I told her, when my audience walks into the room I gauge their level of expertise in the material as versus what is on the paper. Normally it is at that point that I decide to break from the agenda somewhat, so as to make the material relevant for them.

There has never been a session where this did not happen.

We agreed that this was a group with a very basic understanding of branding and so my assessment was right.

Where I went wrong, and why I offered to come back and do a follow-up session, was to fail to create a bridge between where they were and the material we needed to cover.

Even though we only had a limited amount of time, I should have cut the introductory discussion off and moved toward the more advanced material, whether or not they were ready for it.

It was my determination as an instructor that I should trust my judgment and leave them with a very good understanding of the basics of branding. In a world where everyone and their brother seems to think they wake up and are experts.

That, I think, is why 20% said they really got a lot from the session. And why 40% really didn't want to hear what was said.

Once I was a consultant and a client did not want to pay for the branding assessment that was done because the gap between their image of themselves, and the clients perception of them, was just too vast.

"You must have gotten it wrong!"

The truth is that branding is a painful exercise. It has to be. If it isn't, you just aren't doing it the right way.

I make these assessments public as a way of being honest with you about my successes and my failures in life.

And yes, I did offer to do the session again, at no charge, as "Part II". And was roundly--if politely--rejected.

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Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by Robin Higgins via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).