You Can Assess Competency by Starting at the Backs of an Audience’s Heads

I recently attended a seminar sponsored by a potential alliance partner for our firm.  The objective was to hear their   “thought leader” present their enterprise point of view on “The Implications of the Aging Workforce on Employee Engagement”.

As is the wont of air travel these days I arrived at the session late and to avoid being rude or conspicuous I slipped into the back of the room.

The presenter although polished in style, and aggressive in expressing “my point of view”, was bereft of any recent data to support their conclusions.

In point of fact their data would have been more aligned with the times if their attire had been a lime green leisure suit.

As I was settling in thinking, “well this was a brilliant idea” and wondering “can I get an earlier return flight”, I had an epiphany.

I realized many in the audience were entranced with the “facts” being put forward…..they were lacking in context and how no clue that the data was no longer even useful in the context of a) a global workforce, b) engagement levels that were declining even before the recession, c) the challenges of managing a workforce with four cohorts all of which desire different levels of support from an employer, and d) the emerging complexities of managing the digital tribes promoted by the emergence of social media.

How did I know, psychic that I am not, it was the “tell” from watching people nodding their level of interest and agreement.  MANY of the HR professionals in this particular audience were learning of the aforementioned human capital challenges for what appeared to be the first time(look for the nodding of yes and neck leaning forward)

Be reassured that there were those like me who had the glaze of boredom and were also unobtrusively looking at their watches (look for the head dropping straight down or to the left to look at the wrist).

The torture ended eventually and insincere as I am I was gracious in my thanks and compliments…..yet I was struck by a line from Michael Douglas in the American President (don’t go there), “serious problems require serious people to create serious solutions”.

Like a lot of Consultants I have been on the platform and candidly live in dread fear that my audience is in possession of more relevant or timely data than I therefore making my effort pedestrian.  It is the intellectual curiosity of the audience I rely upon to keep me honest.

My conclusion from this unscientific polling technique is that those of us in leadership positions, particularly in Human Resources have to have higher standards for what constitutes “thought leadership”.   The alternative is we will be treated to a steady stream of presentations by those who really have nothing to contribute in pushing us to address some very serious issues.

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