The Power of an Inspired Workforce

Friday Night Lights A recurring theme for me over the past several months has to do with internal communications. Specifically, I've been asked by companies of all shapes and sizes spanning various industries, "how should we approach our internal presentations?"

At one end of the spectrum are the organizations that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on high production events to communicate a new message to their teams.  At the other end of the spectrum are companies who invest almost no time or resources to connect to their employees.

The reality is, most companies are somewhere in between, and actually, when it comes down to it, it’s not the investment of money into an internal presentation that makes the difference.  It’s the investment of heart.  At the end of the day, people won’t FEEL any differently about a company or its goals based on how much money was spent on massive screens or expensive PowerPoint design. These things certainly help (don’t get me wrong), but what people want is to be inspired. Moved.  Captivated by a vision. That alone is the job of the leadership when it comes to presenting to an internal audience.  Compromise on that point, and you’ve lost a massive opportunity.

Taking a moment to answer the following questions will tell you a great deal about whether your company is succeeding on this front:

  1. How do people feel after watching the leadership team present?
  2. How well can your colleagues articulate the company’s vision, or even short/mid term goals?
  3. Do people at ALL levels of the organization feel a connection to the leadership team?
  4. How much do people trust each other internally?
  5. After an internal presentation or meeting, how much of the content actually stays with people? How much is forgotten?

If your response to these questions is, “Who cares??” I humbly but URGENTLY suggest you read these articles from the Wharton School of Business and Harvard Business School to see the connection between happy employees and a strong bottom line. (Thanks to Becky Rodskog for sending me these articles).

If your response to these questions is a slouching posture and vague feeling of hopelessness - take heart.  In the spirit of making things simple and digestible, here are some ideas to improve your approach to internal presentations.

  • Remember the end game: As is true for *any* presentation, always ask yourself, “What do I want them to feel, do, and remember?”  That will tell you a mountain of information about the tone and direction of your presentation.
  • Be of service to them, and they will return the favor. This is the irony of most things in life – the more you give, the more you get.  If morale is low, and you’re asking your employees for more hours, more devotion, more revenue, chances are, you’ll get much better results by building people up than by tearing them down.  Sound obvious?  Well, suffice it to say, Glengarry Glen Ross style management is in effect in more organizations than you might think.  (COFFEE IS FOR CLOSERS!) (if you have 2 minutes, this speech is just too priceless to pass up).
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Do they really need to see that detailed revenue information at such a granular level? Just because we can import from excel does not mean we should.  If your tendency is too much detail, force yourself to think about what you want them to remember, and try and do it more visually than numerically.  Or another example:  In this economy, many people are in a state of extended anxiety.  By truly honoring their fears and showing that you care about what they are going through, you establish a deep credibility almost instantly.  John Chambers at Cisco did this beautifully during a presentation he gave to financial analysts at the beginning of the meltdown, offering "...if there is anything we can do in any way to help, we will be there for you."  The exchange was chronicled in this glowing article written by Fast Company last year.
  • Remember who you’re talking to. These people are not just “the sales force” or “all hands on deck.”  These are lives. These are people with dreams, goals, and talents, many of which you will never see or hear about during the work week.  When you get the privilege to talk with them, treat that time together as sacred.  Lift them up. Inspire them. Call them to be bigger as a whole than the sum of the parts.  Appeal to their higher nature.

The best example I’ve ever seen of a leader igniting his people comes from one of my favorite movies – Friday Night Lights.  If you do nothing else before your next internal presentation, watch this. Never forget the power of a group of people united, inspired and moving passionately in the same positive direction.  If that kind of momentum can change the course of history, just think about what it can do for a company.