Let’s for a wild moment assume that your executives aren’t total morons – yes, I know you may think this an absolutely laughable stretch of the imagination, but work with me here.
Lets presume your execs have valuable information to impart when they hold those roving all-hands meetings that you assiduously avoid and which others dial-in to but during which they actually read Cosmo or Sports Illustrated.
Again, work with me here and pretend there was vital information on strategy, direction, and policy buried in those speeches, and in rare occasions where it was a head of some technical department – actual product or technology information.
There are three problems inherent in these meetings regarding what the speaker seldom knows:
- Who attended, and what proportion of desired people this represents.
- The degree to which the desired messages were transferred intact and understood correctly.
- The degree to which people remember the core messages.
A further and related issue is that the speaker seldom gets a chance to correct any misunderstandings or confusion. Typically the dial-in folks promptly disconnect and the speaker only gets to sample a tiny number of people afterward with a “so, what did you think” kind of question which people answer politely and often fictitiously.
Since a lot of effort goes into hosting these presentations by executives and we are assuming that they have important things to say, maybe we should, you know, try to make a bit of an effort into figuring out who actually gets the information and whether what they got was what was intended, and whether they actually absorbed it and retained some.
If you have a knowledge management person, you might be able to do something interesting about this, and turn hit & miss presentations into a source of intellectual capital and a lever to drive a cultural shift towards being a learning organization.
Cooking up Executive Pie
So here’s the basic recipe:
- A usable Content-Management system like Alfresco, Sharepoint, etc.
- A working Learning Management system such as Moodle, WebCT, etc.
- Basic recording and editing tools – something like Adobe Captivate would be grand if you have money, but ExE etc. are fine and free.
- One or more Executives
First and foremost you need raw material, so record the presentations – Don’t try to get all Hollywood at this point, you need to prioritize content collection over glossy presentation.
Sit down with the Executive in question or somebody who knows what the presentation was meant to convey and draw up an assessment questionnaire that probes for knowledge of the core points of the presentation. This also allows you to know how to edit and what to trim off.
(This is a crucial step and if you leave it out or mess it up you might as well give it all up and go play marbles.)
The point is that the questionnaire will sit inside the Learning Management system (LMS), and contrary to popular belief, is not a way to catch people out or be a pest, but to reinforce learning and secondarily to measure retention and message fidelity.
The questionnaire should be short and only ask questions that represent points that were the core message components – if it isn’t important to remember, don’t ask a question about it.
The act of asking a question highlights what is important and informs the respondent as to what you think the core messages and salient points are – so don’t ask irrelevant questions, they are there to highlight and drive home the points that are relevant and important.
Typically if you get past ten questions you are probably wandering off the farm, so crimp it and toss out anything that isn’t vital, or consider breaking the presentation into several units each with its own focus.
The most important part of a questionnaire of this kind is still to come however – the selection of answer options in the multiple choice selection. Never offer irrelevant junk as options because this is your last chance to drive home what is important and what is correct, so don’t blow it by offering answers that either distract people because they are meant to be funny, or which aren’t likely to be a misconception or common mistake.
Offer only incorrect alternatives that you think are beliefs that people may actually have and which need to be changed. The incorrect alternatives should be things that people are actually likely to get wrong and which you now have an opportunity to fix.
At this point a good Learning Management system delivers up gold because it can offer several levels of interaction that deliver context and meaning.
A good LMS will provide feedback to the respondent based on what they selected and you can include explanation and links in response to both correct and incorrect selections.
A correct answer should result in feedback that confirms and cements the person’s understanding in a “Yes, because …” format – So provide additional confirming information in response to a correct answer to cement that understanding.
An incorrect answer should result in an appropriate “No, because …” explanation that provides correction and context so that the person can either see why the response was incorrect or be guided to somewhere (or someone) that will provide additional information.
Constructing the questionnaire and all these responses will probably take longer and be more effort than the presentation or its editing, but is well worth the time and trouble because it drives understanding and also allows you to sample how well the message went across and whether corrective information in the feedback led to better understanding/
As feedback, it also allows the presenters to modify their messaging based on what people remembered, and more importantly, what they got wrong – and wouldn’t it be a good idea to find out quickly if a presentation was interpreted incorrectly by the audience rather than be mystified as to why people started spending wildly instead of cutting budgets as a result of the CFO’s presentation?
So what does this do?
- Firstly it provides tracking through the LMS of who viewed the material, what they understood well and what went missing or got corrupted in transmission. This is vital information that the execs are going use to shape their presentations in future so that messages get across properly, and gives them feedback fast enough to recover from audience misunderstanding.
- Secondly it starts building a repository of re-usable and mashable material that can be put to use in all kinds of ways, from new-hire Induction material, to Sales training, to Management training and development, and can also be used to augment process and quality information.
- Thirdly , it starts to identify who has the brains and the knowledge amongst your leaders and allows you to mine them for even more. A primary goal of Knowledge Management is to identify who knows stuff and can contribute it in a usable manner.
- Finally, it drives the culture towards that of a Learning Organization, which research has shown is vital to long-term corporate survival.
Executives get paid a lot and this is partly (mostly?) because they are assumed to have knowledge and insight that is a corporate asset. Leaving it to chance that their presentations are delivering knowledge to staff is not a prudent option and it is wise to make as much use of the material they produce as possible and to closely monitor message transference and survival – so when they give presentations these should be mined to the greatest extent possible and the survival and integrity of the transferred information should be checked.
The output of Executives should be considered to be Intellectual Capital and should not be allowed to simply evaporate as most presentations do, it is the Intellectual Property of the shareholders, and should be treated as such.
It is also a competitive advantage, and should be used as such.
That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.
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Matthew Loxton is the former Director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management. Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and has an aggregation website at www.matthewloxton.com
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by any previous employer, but they should be.