Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The false comfort of attendance

There's a pattern I want to try and put my thumb on.

This pattern, as best as I can see, comes out of a deeply ingrained cultural need to show support. The task of actually being helpful takes a back seat. It doesn't seem to matter what actually happens. It's about smiling and nodding when a stakeholder is talking about their needs, not about addressing them.

The utility of this behaviour is evident. Stakeholders feel understood. You don't have to say no. When you're meeting face to face, everybody is friendly. There's no tension.

However, I have some frustrations:

1) Stakeholders are placated by activity that doesn't do what they actually need.
2) People in positions to make real things happen invest their time and energy in the superficial.

Please don't read that I'm against understanding your public. That's not it. Of course you should understand them. What I`m saying is that after you have that continual process underway, you should get on with responding.

What's happening too often is that people are absovling themselves of the real effort because they're good at relationship building. They can bounce from one warm and fuzzy meeting to the next, leaving a trail of impossible expectations in their wake.

Stakeholders are complicit too. They need to ask questions that go deeper than "Do you feel me?" How about, "What will you do? When will you do it? Are you committing the necessary resources?"

I'd like to think that by naming this behaviour, I can focus a more appropriate amount of my effort behind the scenes for real results. It may mean the meetings are a little less comfortable. I hope I can deliberately choose the long-term outcomes, even if it means a little less immediate gratification.

No comments: