As we enter the final six weeks of the national election cycle, the presidential debates fresh in mind, one thing seems perfectly clear to me. And I am not talking about which candidate would make a better choice, or be more likely to assemble the best support team to lead the country through its many challenges.
Rather, the debates, all pervasive news sound bites and campaign ads remind me of how important it is to be able to prepare and deliver effective public presentations to explain and communicate one's ideas, projects and plans.
Certainly, raw intelligence plays an important role in such abilities, and so does the need to actually have an idea or plan that one can discuss and defend if need be. But basic rhetoric and elocution skills, viewed as critical by the ancient Greeks if one was to participate in public discourse, are just as critical to any one of us who aspires to a successful business or professional career.
In foodservice, we devote much thought and effort to ways food can be more effectively menued, presented and displayed. One's ideas and plans — whether they are for a renovation project, an FTE request or an organizational restructuring — deserve the same attention.
Many young people, even very talented ones, don't realize that it usually isn't enough to just do the work, have the good idea, complete the research. How ideas are presented has a great deal to do with how much value they seem to offer.
It is just as important — sometimes more important — to be able to persuasively communicate one's ideas, findings or results effectively to one's superiors and peer groups. Indeed, this ability can be the most significant difference between the average team member and the outstanding team leader.
At a time when many foodservice directors I know are giving more thought to issues like succession planning, mentoring and leadership development, it is worth considering whether one's department and work environment encourages team members to use and develop these skills.
For example: if you cut to the quick of all the talk about participative management, team brain-storming, continuous quality improvement and similar topics that has gone on in recent years, the essence of such management philosophies still comes down to getting employees to take ownershp of their jobs and job responsibilities. To come up with ideas to get a job done better or more effectively. To feel comfortable with recommending changes to improve the organization. To deal with customer problems directly, via “empowerment.”
Yet it seems to me that one of the real hurdles many employees face in all of these areas is having the self confidence to communicate their opinions and ideas “to the group” in a constructive way. All too often, an employee's feeling about inefficient procedures get expressed as workplace gripes, sarcasm or other expressions of “poor attitude,” instead of becoming the basis for more constructive group problem-solving.
You, as the director, have a lot to do with which type of behavior goes on in your department. Do you hold the kinds of staff meetings that encourage team members to present problem-solving ideas effectively?
When complaints and criticisms arise, do you ask your people to come back with a proposed solution that they present to the group? Do you encourage the use of formal presentations, with handouts and slides that emphasize key points, as a way of teaching staff how to more effectively bring an idea to an administration or management? When a member of your staff has a good idea, do you encourage that individual to develop it “on paper” as a way of documenting it and its potential benefits?
Sure, most people will consider this “extra work” at first. You don't want to overdo it, or you'll be seen as just another bureaucrat. But with a bit of explanation, encouraging such skills among your staff can give them self confidence and make them better able to deal with customers and others in the organization. You will also have given them the kind of “on the job” training that will help them progress in their careers, one of the greatest benefits you can offer.
I'd be interested to hear what you think about the importance of presentation skills in your own job and for your staff. Drop me a note or e-mail with your thoughts.