Bringing cynics and intellects on board
Every now and again we are approached by companies who, while loving what we do and instinctively knowing it's the answer to many of their challenges, worry that their internal audience might not embrace our methodology because they are 'too intellectual', 'right-brained' and 'cynical'. These are often people from engineering, scientific or IT backgrounds; data and process-driven, highly rational and logical. They often don't see themselves as leaders of people and are certainly challenged when it comes to communicating with and inspiring their teams.
Let me dispel this myth. I do so having just met up with a former client of ours from a well-known law firm, who has been a great advocate of our work and has widely and publicly extolled the virtues of our process. We spent some time discussing the challenges that come with 'intellects' (and lawyers – trained to question everything – can be a pretty challenging audience).
Her comment was that our process had a massive impact on the firm's people. By showing leaders how our process could overcome their challenges, and how to listen (rather than just tell), we were able to turn the cynics of the organisation into their most powerful advocates. She cited one example of a colleague who flatly refused at first to 'tell the story' to his team as we recommended. His colleague did it instead, to rave reviews. The result? An insistence on the aforementioned cynic doing it 'our way' the following year.
Certain leaders may not be natural 'people managers' (indeed a particular HR Director from a major telecomms firm today told me that he differentiates professional managers from people managers. Aren't all leaders responsible for communicating with their teams?) but a storytelling approach to engaging their teams – within a rational and logical framework with which they will feel comfortable – can really help to break down barriers, help them to personalise the message and bring it to life in a human way. As intellectual as they may be, their cynicism is often the result of a lack of confidence in communicating complex messages. Making a message simple, clear and straightforward can make a huge difference. Personalising and authenticating that message, and understanding its relevance, can then create a great appetite for sharing with others. Over-intellectualising merely turns people off. We're human beings, not machines.
Perhaps the work we've undertaken with dozens of IT, telecomms, finanical service, scientific and engineering organisations is testament to the success of our approach. These are companies who return to us year after year, having established dialogue, involvement and storytelling as part of their culture. Intellectuals? Bring 'em on.