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Keep People Up-to-Date to Gain the Most Help from Stakeholders

Jun 20, 2008
Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.

-Niels Bohr

The only thing better than having perfect self-discipline is having a responsibility to continually communicate your progress to lots of people you respect. I learned about the importance of continuing communications while directing the early days of a program designed to demonstrate how improvements could be made 20 times faster with the same time, money, and effort.

Hoping to get timely advice from executives, I asked a lot of top business leaders to join a steering community. I learned a lot from communicating with these executives and experts who were interested in the work.

The semiannual steering committee meetings provided a helpful discipline for the project in the early days. I was always thinking about how to produce something new and improved that could be shared in six months or less.

We developed a habit of making the fall meeting a little more formal than the spring one and holding it at a special location. Steering committee members were encouraged to bring spouses and children to the fall events, and there was a festive atmosphere as we pondered ways to make more progress and to share our messages.

Following the kick-off meeting, I learned my lesson about how difficult it is to create a useful meeting video. Instead of the hand-held video camera we used in 1995, the video producer would set the stage, put up lights, add microphones, do endless lighting and sound checks, and direct the action.

As a result, we have an excellent video report lasting nine minutes from the 1996 fall meeting. Why only nine minutes? People have short attention spans. The cover of the VHS box displays the four Tobi Kahn paintings from the second commission, the BYRKA series representing health, happiness, peace, and prosperity that were unveiled at the one year anniversary of the project. People could take the recordings home and play them. We could also send copies to steering committee members and clients who could not attend the session.

After two years, I found that the video production was driving the meeting rather than the other way around. Also, our producer took a job where he could no longer be available to create the videos for us, and we were never able to find an acceptable replacement. In fact, we didn't turn our last shoot into a finished video.

As had been my habit for all of our learning organizations, I also wrote reports for those who simply wanted to read about the key elements of what we had covered. What impact those reports had I'm not sure, but it made me feel more virtuous to write them.

Despite the excitement Carol Coles and I felt for the project, it was soon clear that the steering committee's interest was waning. Attendance kept dropping from progress meeting to progress meeting. An unexpected benefit came from this fall-off in interest: Our steering committee became more candid with us about what they perceived to be the limitations of the project.

Through these years, our most devoted steering committee members were Robert L. Guyett, Robert P. Kanee, Richard E. Koch, and Michael A. Sharp. We cannot thank them enough for the support, encouragement, and suggestions they provided. We also appreciate all of the help everyone who ever joined the steering committee gave us.

Peter Drucker was a tougher critic of our efforts. While our steering committee would be pleased that we were still plugging away on what they felt were the most important areas, Peter expected us to be making breakthrough progress. To him, the process for advancement was pretty clear: We needed a major company to begin using the project's insights as a laboratory to develop the model for future performance. With each visit, we reported no progress on that front. Peter was encouraging, however, by reminding us that every major company in the United States turned him down originally when he wanted to study management before General Motors finally agreed to let him in the door.

How can you use the need to report to others to keep your activities better focused?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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