“What this means is that we shouldn’t abbreviate the truth but rather get a new method of presentation.”
–Edward Tufte





A few days ago I met with a member of my extended team who is disagreeing with my team’s proposed strategy.  Although I declared the meeting with the hold-out a success (see A Measure of Success), I noted his continuing resistance.  Sure, some people are close-minded; yet I wondered if it was my approach and messaging – basically, the packaging – that was causing the barriers in his case.  As I reflected on that over the last few days, I came to a realization: I’m missing something, and it’s something important.

When I began constructing my presentation, I started with the results of my team’s work.  I defaulted to what I’ll call “marketing speak”: I described the major parts of my team’s approach in terms of the “features” and “benefits” of each part of our strategy.  The feedback I got from my hold-out was that he saw our approach as compromising safety for the sake of reducing cost.  It was that statement that afterwards led me to the realization that I failed to state up front the key objective that my team is trying to reach: to find a way to reduce our costs while maintaining safety and technical performance at the levels to which we expect and require, and to show how we accomplish this through our approach.  Because I didn’t do that, my holdout wasn’t buying my message in its current state.  Perhaps that is a sign that someone else won’t be buying it when I take this presentation to the next level. All of this crystallized for me in a moment of insight on Friday.

So on Friday afternoon, my deputy, another team member and I conversed on this point and started sharing ideas on various approaches for starting with the objective and tying into the proposed strategy.  We made some progress – enough to give us confidence that the repackaging has promise – and agreed to hit it fresh on Monday.  Over the weekend I also sought the advice of Noeleen McGrath (@McGrathComm on Twitter) of McGrath Communications, who has helped me on other previous communications topics, to affirm the basics of the new ideas.

Here is what I see as the repackaging approach.  First, I envision reassembling and tweaking the central tenet of the message.  Instead of jumping straight to the result, I see starting with the objective of reducing cost while maintaining safety and technical performance, and following that up with a story of how we arrived at an approach that builds upon the research, benchmarking, and interviews we conducted.  From this follows the hard evidence that substantiates my team’s proposed strategy and the associated features and benefits I already have in the presentation.

I view the above – repackaging – as part leadership challenge, part presentation challenge.  Both share the need to start with the key objectives. Presentation is about communicating that point clearly; leadership is about inspiring around and obtaining buy-in around that point.  I’m convinced that through this repackaging, I will be better representing my team’s strategic approach and will show how it results in the best overall value to the government while achieving our goals of safe and effective operations.