Organizational Change By The Bullet

It has been a long time since I checked my RSS reader, so as you can imagine I had a few thousand entries to pick through. Thankfully, the vast majority of the items were news briefs I already reviewed elsewhere (or could live without apparently), or some spam poorly disguised as content.FYI:  For those of your producing marketing messages with zero original contributions, we can tell and are NOT amused.

Aside from making me ironically grateful for tons of spam (I didn’t have to read it), this quick review allowed me to notice a bit of a trend the bothered me enough to burden my readers about it. Increasing numbers of bloggers seem to be adopting the bullet approach to their posts. Whether we are talking about Employee Engagement, Leadership Development, Performance Management, Organizational Culture/Climate, or any of the other complex determinants of organizational success, we bloggers are attempting to influence and educate others about important organizational phenomena (and yes, sneak a marketing message in there somewhere). We aren’t going to win a single heart or mind with a few bullet points and a generic (if striking) image from istockphoto. I suppose this is fine for discussions amongst ourselves (other experts in these areas, yes I am including myself in this group), but are frequent, content-light entries really the way to accomplish our professional advocacy, thought leadership and marketing outreach goals?

My bias is towards less frequent, but richer posts. A few of my previous colleagues might attribute this preference to my academic leanings. In the “real world,” what isn’t bulleted goes unread. This is a pretty big assumptions and I have only a few bits of anecdotal evidence to help me decide one way or the other.

My stint in this “real world” I apparently just discovered  was littered with suggestions to abbreviate and simplify everything I ever wrote, be they blog posts, professional emails, training presentations, or technical reports, word were treated a bit like radiation. Once a victim was exposed to a certain amount, they could not be around anymore for fear of causing some type of horribly painful cancer. There was no paragraph ever written that could not be magically condensed into a five word bullet point.

So were we on track with this? Are organizational decision makers really allergic to paragraphs? Must we really adopt a sixth-grade vocabulary or risk a round of head-scratching of calamitous proportions? My gut reaction is that we were wrong. We in the consulting business were so afraid of losing a client that we sometimes forgot they were paying us to deliver value, not comfort. If we don’t compete on our demonstrable knowledge, experience and dare I say collective wisdom, then how are we distinguishing ourselves from each other? Everyone has access to the same few bullet styles, so I guess that just leaves competing on the basis of price; that’s not a business I care to be in.

Certainly, I ran across a few organizations where this was the case (at least that was the impression I came away with after working with some of its decision-makers). Ultimately, I believed that each of my client organizations and their agents deserved the benefit of the doubt. I assumed they were interested in obtaining the tools for positive organizational change and that they were literate enough to have earned at least a high-school diploma (or had access to a couple, at any rate).I figured that if I was wrong about this, the bankruptcy proceedings that must surly follow would save us the trouble of retaining them as long-term clients. However, in the all-too likely scenario that these individuals were more competent than we gave them credit for, we risked demonstrating just how incompetent we believed them to be (or worse yet, how incompetent we were).

So I have two messages to offer. First off, we must be acutely aware of not just the audience for our communications, but also their objectives. Complicated procedures, business critical concepts and valuable recommendations are seldom suited for comprehension via a few bullet points. If our interventions or analyses were really that simple, then our clients didn’t really need us in the first place and we have robbed them of value.

The second message goes out to the few organizational agents that insist on basing their decisions on the basis of a few bullet points. If you can’t be bothered to read a report, please don’t commission it in the first place. Save your organization a lot of time, money and effort. Organizational outcomes are the same whether you waste our time on a report you won’t read, or you don’t ask for it in the first place. In either case you are making decisions through the fog of ignorance. In neither case will you benefit from the years of training and experience that have yielded organizational insights you lack. I understand managers and executives are busy. I get it and sympathize with your crowded calendar, I really do. But you are charged with making informed decisions, not simply decisions. Your shareholders expect you to create a healthy, profitable organization, not random organizational interventions.

By the way bloggers, keep buying stock photos. I have a very talented friend you should patronize =)

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~ by George Guajardo on February 10, 2010.

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