I had an interesting chat with a prospect yesterday, who told me sometime explicitly that I have felt in my gut for a while but couldn't quite articulate. They've identified the problem with rolling out webinars internally. It's not clueless senior management. It's not the lazy and inattentive attendees. It's the managers in between.
If you stop to think about it, this makes sense. Senior management with an eye to the bottom line are thrilled not to pay for travel or have people lose desk or floor time to meetings and training. Studies show that participants like webinars and short "lunch and learn" formats because they can get useful information without having to get way behind on the other 87 things they're expected to accomplish that day. So what's the problem with managers?
In working with clients around the world, I have discovered three reasons managers don't embrace webinars as much as they could. You might expect me to say "should", but some of these reservations are actually somewhat valid and shouldn't be discounted as simple Ludditism or stale, 20th Century thinking. Yes, some of it is generational (those darned kids really ARE so much more comfortable with these tools than those of us who have reached – um - maturity). Most of it, though, has to do with the way technology has been introduced to managers in the real world.
1. They don't get enough face ( or at least voice) time with their people as it is. One of the unspoken advantages of traditional meetings is the ability for managers to get eyeball to eyeball with their people. Maybe more importantly, they get to see the team interact and pick up on the dynamics that can make or break a team. Does Joe get along with Alice? Why is Rajesh not speaking up when you know he's got strong opinions on this topic?
Many managers view working virtually as a handicap to their working as a team, not as an adjunct. They view using webmeetings and webinars as another sacrifice of their hard work on the altar of cost savings and expediency. Right or wrong, these feelings are real and not enough companies have worked with their managers to address them honestly.
2. The technology is seen as more trouble than it's worth. It's easy for IT or finance to send out a memo saying, "congratulations, you now have a WebEx license, try not to hurt anyone with it". It's something else if you're the one who has to take the time to learn the software on your own, try to run effective meetings using brand new tools and not embarrass yourself or sacrifice the quality of the work in the process.
Very few people make that transition smoothly, and organizations traditionally do a lousy job of rolling out these tools at the project management level.
3. Managers have never seen these tools used well in context. When we work with clients on training webmeetings or virtual presentation skills, the most common comment is, "I never knew it could do all of this".
Most human beings learn about a tool by seeing how it solves a real life problem, watching someone else use it, then trying it themselves. We are in a technology paradigm where tools are available that have never been used before. Most managers came up in a time before the advent of virtual meetings, cheap teleconferencing and sufficient bandwidth. It's one thing to know that product X or service Y has a very good whiteboard feature. It's something else altogether to see someone run a good brainstorm using that tool and think to yourself, "hey, we could really use that".
The same is true of webinars. If they've never seen a good one (and 63% or so of attendees still claim they're unimpressed with most online presentations), how can they be expected to do them themselves. What are you doing to help your managers really understand the tools at their disposal and see the potential?
I believe these are all valid reasons that managers don't use webinars and online presentations as well as they might. You will also recognize that, as with most valid objections, there are also solutions if we take the time to assess what's really going on and look for ways to bring managers into the conversation, instead of imposing technology and restrictions on managers who are simply trying to get the job done in the face of very long odds.
Managers need to see tools used in context, be allowed to learn and practice them without innocent victims on the other end, and be given the tools and training to apply them directly to their work. Otherwise they'll continue to be the main barrier to making virtual work successful.