Making It Stick
Your PowerPoint is a snooze. Your ideas are lame. But all is not lost. Use these tips to glue your ideas (and products) to the public
The old saw about the importance of telling a joke before starting a speech has some truth to it. Surprise works. It puts listeners at ease and makes them more receptive to ideas. Eventually, though, workers go back to their jobs and presentations are forgotten.
So how can managers make their ideasand not just their jokeslast? The best companies, the Heaths say, find ways to maintain surprise even after meetings are over. Take Nordstrom, the upscale department storean organization, as Chip puts it, "that's going to charge you a lot of money but that's really going to blow your mind with customer service." To get employees to buy into the Nordstrom model, the company doesn't just hold meetings telling floor workers to smile, or use abstract phrases like "world-class customer service."
What Nordstrom does, instead, is spread motivational stories about "Nordies," floor employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in serving customers. Tales like the Nordie who ironed a shirt so a customer could use it in a meeting; the Nordie who warmed up customers' cars while they shopped; or the Nordie who wrapped gifts customers had purchased at Macy's. PowerPoints end, says Dan: "An unexpected story has a chance of living on."
There is a reason so many managers can be so hard to understand. "We've just had it pounded into our heads that the way you seem smart is by using numbers and being abstract," says Dan. Before developing a new product, managers tend to err on the side of vagueness, keeping their options open and hoping for the best. This is not wise, the Heaths argue. When they speak in abstractions, workers may seem like they understand each other, but, ultimately, the truth comes out. If employees don't get the concept, the product won't launch on time. Managers who choose to embrace every idea end up with none.
Coming up with big, hairy, audacious goals isn't easy, but done right, the Heaths say, it can lead to productsand ideasthat last. When executives at Boeing began working on the 727, their next-generation passenger plane, in the 1960s, they faced the ultimate business challenge: how to get thousands of far-flung engineers moving in the same direction? "A typical business organization would have said, 'We're going to dominate the short-haul passenger market for jets,'" says Chip. Boeing execs, though, were far more specific: Their new plane, they said, not only would seat 131 passengersa large number at the timebut it would be able to fly nonstop from Miami to New York City and, most important, land on runway 4-22 at LaGuardia, which, at less than a mile long, was too short for large planes. The concrete goal gave engineers the flexibility to be creative, while keeping everyone in the sprawling organization on the same page. The Boeing 727 went on to become the bestselling airliner of its time.
When the surgeon general talks about smoking or a Supreme Court justice weighs in on the law, people listen. The experts never worry about their ideas being ignored. But what about the rest of us? Most people don't have a bully pulpit. And while many businesses seek out the obvious solutiongetting someone famous to endorse a productthere are only so many shoes and shampoos Michael Jordan and Oprah can't live without.