Blake was caught red-handed trying to sneak a can of tomatoes across the ballroom. It was, to be sure, a dumb move, but in the moment, it made all sorts of sense.
His team was not doing well in the competition to build a miniature golf course out of soon-to-be-donated food bank items. Blake had just blown a chance to win a coveted windmill for his team by failing to spit a marshmallow into a teacup. So, in the true spirit of executive team-building activities, he swiped a can of tomatoes off the CFO’s table and casually strolled away.
The CFO saw the whole thing go down from her vantage point on the terrace, where she had retreated for a smoke and some quality phone time, but it was the HR VP who blew the whistle, only because he was hoping the whole thing would end so he could slip away to do some budgets.
Why, you might ask, is a team of accomplished, educated, busy, expensive executives trying to make jars of applesauce into a challenging swale? The flippant answer is because they already did the drumming circle, the colouring book, the cooking class, the safe room escape, the murder mystery, table tennis and the ceramic painting. The sadly realistic answer is that the Bullshit Industrial Complex (BIC) couldn’t come up with anything better that met their budget.
The BIC doesn’t just prey on executives: they go after entrepreneurs, students, sick people, new graduates, freelancers, home brewers and just about anyone else. Between the 14 things successful people do before 5am, and the seminars that are guaranteed to fix your procrastination problem, we should by now be a society of axe-throwing yoga mavens whose bullet journals are simply bursting with minimum viable products.
But that wouldn’t be any fun anyway because leadership teams will still want to go have offsite meetings and they have to do something other than stare at slide decks all day in poorly-ventilated hotels. Which brings me to my point: how about we go back to teaching people stuff that is useful at work.
Let’s Teach Powerpoint
Have you ever seriously considered faking a seizure to get out of a presentation so bad you were embarrassed for the projector? Me too. And I’m actually getting a little sick of making jokes about terrible executive presentations. I think if someone is going to pay six figures for an MBA, they ought to expect to go back out into the world knowing how to do a non-lethal presentation. But just in case, let’s throw some supplementary training in there. Your local community college can supply a design instructor, or you can probably get someone from your agency to teach a few basics.
How About Some Speaker Training?
On a related topic, perhaps we could do something about the generally deplorable speaking skills so many of our managers show up with each day. That pretty Powerpoint isn’t going to bore people all by itself; it needs someone to help it along by reading every blessed word out loud with their back to the audience. This is another eminently teachable skill, and there are plenty of folks out there who know how to teach it. I think it should be one of those required things you have to learn every few years, like how to use the defibrillator.
Your Meetings Suck: Go Fix Them
One of the most stunning things about your average executive retreat, is how quickly the whole agenda unravels, and how much stuff never actually gets discussed. As much as that’s probably a good thing in terms of not having to endure terrible presentations delivered by numbingly bad speakers, it underscores a particularly dreadful habit of the modern workplace, which is that our meetings are unfocused, soul-sucking wastes of time. Let’s stop sending folks to the Effective Meetings webinar from 2006, and let’s train the people at the top of the house to set a great example.
Email Starts (and Stops) at the Top
I know, I know, we taught etiquette stuff back in the 1990s when we first got the gift of email, but guess what: it’s not working. The average worker spends about a third of their time processing email. I’m betting executives spend more than that, if the amount of email they send is any indication. And most of it is unnecessary, irrelevant and sometimes terrifying. Sadly, it’s setting the tone for the entire organization. I’ve been quietly training executives for the past few years about email and when we should use it (or not), and I’m betting your executives could use some guidance too.
Solving Social Media Anxiety
For every charismatic CEO tweeting four times a day, there are a dozen wondering how to login to Twitter and not sure why they’d want to anyway. A dirty little secret of executive communications is that most execs are, at best, deeply wary of social media, and more than a little sick of being shamed into using it, and then publicly flogged when they get it wrong. Now that we can be sure this social thing is for real, it’s time we taught our executives what it’s about and how to do it, or at least how to explain why they don’t want to. And for goodness’ sake send them to a photographer for a decent head shot
Teach the Boss the Boss Stuff
Ask any HR person who they have to chase the most to do performance reviews, team meetings, one-on-ones, goal-setting and coaching, and they will mostly tell you it’s the most senior folks in the organization. Yes, those self-same people sending almost daily reminders to managers to give actionable feedback, fill in the review forms, stay on top of the team’s goals and, all that, are the worst offenders when it comes to their own teams. They’ll tell you it’s a lack of time, but I’m betting it’s a lack of skill. Isn’t it great news that this stuff can be taught? I thought so too.
So if you’ve done one Bullshit Industrial Complex egg-and-spoon race too many with your leadership teams lately, may I suggest you get back to some communications basics and fill in those yawning gaps the MBA programs are leaving in the executive toolkit.
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BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams
I help companies have better conversations
Drop me a line at email@example.com