By Peter Watts
Successful presenting requires empowerment. Because no two audiences are alike, every presentation must be crafted for its unique audience and the presenter must feel assured of having the freedom to do so.
If a presenter doesn’t feel empowered then taking that creative chance can be unnerving, and robotic default to PowerPoint becomes the safest route. If you’re looking for a yahoo moment, robotic delivery doesn’t deliver.
This brings me to Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!. Ms. Mayer’s decision to cancel flexible working and recall everybody back to their cubicles has exercised a lot of space on the leadership blogs, and also deserves some attention in the sphere of communications.
Flexible working requires management to trust their staff and manage by results, not by physical presence at a desk. Ms. Mayer’s decision might have been styled as driving collaboration in the workplace, but the Internet when used with the right tools can deliver that, and without requiring users to be corralled into pens.
Instead, the message sent is that Yahoo! doesn’t trust employees to do their jobs when not directly policed via physical presence.
Presenters need the trust to take presentations and customise them to their audiences. Command and control undermines trust. Ordering everybody back to the mother-ship is the first sign of command and control.
Another factor to consider is the message this decision sends about how managers are to manage their teams. Managing by presence means managing by check-box. Is somebody at their desk? Check. Were they there on time? Check. Before long, more check-boxes appear and these spread into how corporate presentations are to be delivered. Enforced corporate standards take hold and the men in blue suits take over. Audiences however, crave personalities. They warm most readily to presenters who bring their own ambassadorial flavour to the presentation. Approved corporate PowerPoint decks when delivered rote are as flavoursome as airline catering and congeal on the plate twice as quickly.
Empowered presenters need the confidence to add spice and seasoning uniquely to that customer’s taste. They need the empowerment to adapt in the moment. There’s no time to call back to the kitchen and check that variation is acceptable to chef. By that time, the customer has tuned out and is dining elsewhere.
Enterprises fit for the 21st century win competitive advantage through the passionate, flexible, and empowered intellects of their employees. This is especially true of those many employees who use their words to crystallise the brand in front of customers. These employees need, above all, to feel empowered.
If a few individuals choose to abuse flexible working as an opportunity to under-perform, then failure to police that specific issue should not become an excuse to take the easy measure and set employee empowerment back by a decade.
The challenge is how to police a culture of empowerment, not to empower a culture of police.