My corporate client had a tough message that she wanted to get through to a group of her internal stakeholders. The message was-
- Grow up
- Take some responsibility
- Make the most of this amazing opportunity you have working for this world-leading firm.
She hired me to help her make the point and we decided that we’d adopt the strategy of 1950’s film noir cops, and we scripted a speech together for me to deliver as a part of 4-hour session. I played the grizzled ‘bad cop’ and she, the polished, concerned ‘good cop’ of legend.
I did what was asked of me, and gave them a bit of a roughing up- some principles of first impressions, some tough feedback from their senior managers, some stories of bad behaviour from other Companies that hinted at some of the same kinds of immaturity that went unnoticed here. You know the kind of stuff. I wasn’t cruel, I made it sure that this was addressed to a minority of people and finished with an upbeat, and here’s how you can all make much more of the chance you’ve got. It was vastly enjoyable to do this with a crowd of 200 people, and your client’s full permission. I finished to tough questions, some applause and a sense that I’d made the points well.
My client was excellent after me. Where I hard and cold, she started soft and warm. She spoke in a very upbeat way for 5 minutes or so and simply them to do one simple thing to show that they’d got the message. What happened in the aftermath, and in the evaluation and feedback of the event? Well.
- They had strong opinions about me and my message.
- They did what we wanted them to do.
My client was delighted with the result, and the audience has no idea that we were ‘playing’ them.
The lesson? It’s not always about being nice. You can use the hard/soft approach and it can work brilliantly.
How does this sit with me ethically? Well I think that it’s a question of whether we had their best interests at heart, isn’t it? And I’m certain that we did. What do you think?