Large meetings seem productive, but if you really want to get things done, you need to have a one-on-one conversation.
In our strategy consulting we are finding that workshops and brainstorming sessions can only get you so far. I’ve been noticing that to get to the heart of something, you need to have a one-on-one conversation with the key players. A frank and fearless conversation with the CEO can be the best way to quickly understand what’s really going on with a project.
I’m calling these fireside chats “strategic conversations” and we’re using them more and more as a formal part of our digital brand consultancy. It seems like a small thing, but early on in a project it can make a real difference to sit down and have a truly honest conversation. Talking one-on-one can make all the difference.
From workshops to conversations
The corporate world has been captivated by postit notes and whiteboards. Having a large group brainstorm is a bit like peeing in your wetsuit – it feels good at the time, but the long term consequences are dubious (at best). Unfortunately, strategic listening and strategic questioning are lost arts in brand strategy and innovation consulting.
People are gradually rediscovering the lost art of real conversations in business – being clear about the purpose of the conversation and setting the right tone. There are two new books about strategic conversations, Designing Strategic Conversations and Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversations. It seems that having a quiet coffee instead of a group brainstorm might be coming back into fashion.
Insightful, strategic conversations are all about listening and asking questions. I used to think that I was a good listener, but I didn’t realise how much I pre-judged a person (based on prior experience) and then filtered everything that they said through what I already knew. During a recent Landmark Education communications course I rediscovered my curiosity for really listening to someone, without just waiting for my turn to talk.
Listening and questioning in business are normally the domain of leadership coaching, business psychology and human resources. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to learn from some great mentors about how to apply strategic conversations to brand strategy and business strategy.
The role of strategic conversations in the design process
You can incorporate strategic conversations into lots of change projects. User interface design, service design, social media, innovation consulting and brand strategy can all benefit from a deep understanding of the management team’s motivations. Good conversations provide input into a change process and great conversations can actually be the tool that creates the change.
If you’ve ever sat with a friend who really listened to you, you know how important a great conversation can be to getting clarity on a problem. Conversations create clarity, and clarity gets things done.