I went to two conventions last week: the IABC Regional Heritage Conference in Columbus, OH and the PHRA Annual Conference in Pittsburgh. At both venues I had the opportunity to hear smart and experienced people talk on trending topics in HR and communications.
Karen Hough’s presentation has stuck me particularly. She was energizing, relevant and insightful – highly recommended for any of you who are looking for speakers. Her book, “The Improvisation Edge,” has some brilliant insights into how to make organizations more innovative and creative. At the root is the implicit trust required for improvisation and the way that professional improvisers structure their interactions to encourage trust and creativity.
I also heard Ruth Milligan talk about TEDx and bringing those amazing storytelling and idea-sharing techniques to bear within companies. Paul Furiga talked about storytelling using archetypes that resonate because they well up from something core to our shared humanity.
I heard speakers on generational differences, leadership, HR trends, recruiting trends and more. Through them all, I started to perceive a pattern among their many varied insights: Our culture is obsessed with beginnings.
Cool businesses are called “start-ups,” even fifteen years after launch. Think of the verbs associated with beginnings: We look for new trends. We launch. We kick off. We create and initiate.
The words associated with endings are not nearly so bright or exciting. The metaphors are grim or grayly utilitarian. We say that we executed a project or that we implemented it. We use words like finish, discontinue, and cancel. Yawn. We terminate or kill programs.
Our aversion to endings carries over into much of our activity. When I speak to groups about change communications I like to ask them about the ratios between corporate kickoffs and celebrations. My question for them is: How many corporate efforts do they initiate in a year compared to the number of concluding events?
It seems that for every major kickoff there ought to be a matching wrap up: Did we achieve our goals? Who stood out for great performance? What comes next?
Yet invariably the audience acknowledges that they have many kickoffs. They rarely if ever wrap up. So let’s talk about endings. Here’s a few quick reasons why they matter and why you should be advocating for a good ending before you ever kick a program off:
- Neverending projects stay permanently on employees’ mental to-do list.Accumulating projects just add to the clutter that make it hard for employees to prioritize. They also tempt leaders to take old programs off the shelf and push them back out to employees – often a confusing and demoralizing approach. Conversely, by bringing projects to closure you give people permission to clear it from their minds. That creates good feelings of resolution and creates mental space for the next major effort.
- Endings define success and shortcomings. They give people specificity and urgency, powerful tools to engage emotions and focus attention on desired outcomes. People tend to pull together when there is a thing to accomplish between them, a defined time to do it and preferably a visible and dramatic change for the better when they achieve it. Projects that do not have end dates are destined to fade without ever ending. You miss all those opportunities to celebrate accomplishments and champions, but also the opportunity to assess and improve.
- Endings make the story. Stories are your best way to appeal to employee emotions in ways that they can recall and apply to their daily behaviors. Consider this when thinking of how best to present a major change effort. Your communications will almost always be more effective if you can present change as an unfolding story. If you don’t have an ending, you don’t have a story. Make sure your significant efforts have endings so that they resonate and energize people for the next big challenge.