Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

About Face

In Isaac Asimov's sci-fi novel Second Foundation, the long-dead psychohistory master Hari Seldon reappears as a super-hologram to give inspirational strategic guidance to his followers. Sure beats air travel, doesn't it?

Too bad you can't do that with your remote colleagues and staff. Air travel is tiresome and hard to justify these days, so instead of traveling you: call, email, conference, and video conference. How's that workin' for ya?

When all you need to do is share content, those communication channels might be good enough. But when culture change is on your agenda, you'll see how bad they really are! The fact is that we're in-your-face social animals – and we've got the wiring to prove it.

According to a recent whitepaper from Cornell University's Maritz Institute "The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face”, there are five "intangible" qualities that face-to-face meetings enhance because of our neurobiology:
  • Attention
  • Mirroring
  • Emotional contagion
  • Empathy and trust
  • Social networks
Mirroring is a listener's sympathetic neurological response to visual cues — for example, in a conversation, the speaker’s body language causes a reaction in those neuron's of the listener that would create the same action.

Emotional contagion, documented in recent research, is the effect one's emotions have on others as they “ripple out from individuals and influence not only other individuals’ emotions … and behaviors, but also the dynamics of the entire group.”

Based on this research, the whitepaper defines three business goals that are best met through face-to-face gatherings:
  1. Capturing attention
  2. Inspiring a positive emotional climate
  3. Building personal networks and relationships
My question: do you ever not have these goals? You may overlook them most of the time, but you just can't do culture change without them. So if change is your portfolio, you're going to need a lot of face-time, and probably a lot more than you're currently spending. This means you'll have less time to handle the other two hundred things on your to-do list.

Less time to handle your to-do list.

Did you get the full impact of that statement? If you did, I'll bet you fighting it already! That's the tip-off that you're entering your grief process for all those lost tasks. The good news is that you're about to develop empathy for those whose work lives you're proposing to change – because you're now in the same boat as they will be: change is going to happen, you'll have to give up some things you've become attached to, and you don't think you're going to like it.

It may reassure you to know that most tasks on your to-do list aren't urgent. If you're like most managers, executives, and entrepreneurs, many of those tasks aren't even necessary, and some are probably counter-productive. It won't hurt much to say goodbye.

whitepaper link