Many years ago my mentors and advisers introduced me to the principal of assessing my feelings with people and their actions. I was told that if it felt good in my gut I should proceed to follow that path in my decision making. This is something I have followed with great effect and has mostly not let me down in my career but there have been occasions that I have read the situation completely wrong.

Most of my business life has been involved in troubleshooting, problem solving, and teaching in a variety of organisations, this may I add has given me enormous satisfaction and pleasure. One of my favourite activities has been to stand before an audience and present topics on people matters.

Approximately about five years ago I took a great interest around the impending changes likely to occur through generational change. I had passionate feelings that the direction we were heading was wrong, much discussion revolved around negative aspects of them integrating into the workforce. The rhetoric around this subject reached almost hysterical proportions and my aim was to try and bring some counter balance to the arguments.

I joined a number of lecture circuits having completed further research adding to my already derived experience through talking to people, what they might for see in the future.

The reaction from groups of younger audiences was being well received and felt the feedback was confirmation I was on the right track and my message and material would lead me greater levels of success. My mind started straying to thoughts of being considered an expert in my field and surely further recognition would follow I was really getting ahead of myself.

I was to receive a very painful lesson in the coming weeks and months as I embarked on a series of speaking engagements with senior leaders, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. It became clear as the late Mrs Margaret Thatcher once similarly uttered, “they were not for turning”, a majority were to say the least hostile to the notion that their lives were about to change along with their organisations. Many repeated the mantra that they had been operating their businesses for ten, twenty or thirty years and there was no conceivable way they were prepared to adopt such changes and practices.

I finally worked out the major errors I had been guilty of was that I had not understood my audience and was not prepared to find such opposition; to what I thought were cast iron indications which in my mind were going to happen regardless of the opposition being mounted. I  would be lying if I said I wasn’t crestfallen and my confidence took a big whack forcing me to withdraw from speaking for quite some time, in the majority of my business career I believed I had the personal fortitude to handle such situations, I was wrong.

Five years later I  decided to put my setback behind me and once more going back “to the well” I re -embarked on my speaking activities, after all as I mentioned earlier it was part of who I believed I was. I contented myself knowing I would perhaps not have a medal struck in my honour or have a plague placed on a wall but could still make a difference, I am pleased to report those results are markedly better.

Today I find myself doing much more research on what my perspective audience wants and needs not what I want to teach and change, it is for them to decide if they see value from a session.

It is rather ironic looking at the likely changes I predicted five or six years ago all the main elements have proved to be correct and for seniors leaders” the penny has dropped” causing many of them to review their once tightly held attitudes to the future.

In 2016 a new journey has begun  for my part taking in another challenge being the Engagement of Australian workforces, we having just recorded the third worst levels in the world, I know I will adopt a more balanced approach to the task that lies before me.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Ken Wood

Engagement Specialist

Banyan Management Services Pty Ltd