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Written by Piers Wilcox, CloudTalent – published 13 July 2016

Arms crossed, bored faces (or maybe buried in their mobile devices), little enthusiasm, even less engagement and still umpteen slides to go! A workshop nightmare and for an IT consultant, an occupational hazard.

Thankfully, at CloudTalent, it’s something we avoid subjecting our clients to, largely thanks to paper power and the age-old pleasure of scribbling on it. The result: more participation, higher levels of engagement, greater clarity, insight and understanding and certainly less snoring*.

With the ever increasing digitalisation of our personal and professional lives, the fact that I’m employed by a technology company and also, I admit, a bit of a techy geek, it may seem strange that paper is such a fundamental pillar of how we work and communicate with our customers. After all, hasn’t paper been relegated to a lifestyle choice (Moleskin notebooks, physical books, love letters anyone?) rather than a necessity?

Why paper?

At CloudTalent we are trusted IT advisors and as such the communication, socialisation and gaining buy in by our clients is crucial. Any idea or an approach to a problem is only worthwhile if people understand it and it actually happens. So rather than subjecting our stakeholders to endless slides and failing to get invaluable feedback and participation, we use the power of paper to drive engagement and collaboration.

Our advisory process makes extensive use of large A0 infographics to illustrate both the current mode of operation and the desired future mode, alongside costed and actionable activities to make the transition.

Drawing it all up on large pieces of paper with plenty of illustrations and graphics enforces discipline in articulating the information, as although a picture is worth a thousand words it also needs to be simple, understandable and tell a story … the ‘So What!’

Done right, it provides a very effective way of representing the current landscape, articulating the areas of pain and explaining the remediation of those key issues – all in one place. It provides a literal line of site from current issues through to the required initiatives to address them and transform to the desired and defined future state.

I know a number of CIOs who have stuck these posters on their office walls. One CIO insists that if you want a meeting then it has to relate to what’s on the wall!

A different dynamic

However, I’ve found the true power of our big picture approach is to foster engagement. This leads to increased accuracy, a higher quality of dialogue and hence a greater sense of ownership and consensus in any course of action, which in turn leads to more momentum and ultimately increases the chances of success of any transformation initiative.

I still find it amazing how the dynamic of a meeting changes when the posters are on the wall, pens are made available and we ask them to scribble their amendments and annotations all over them. There’s almost a tangible feeling of relief that this meeting will be different and a good use of everyone’s time.

We’re all just so familiar with pens, paper and pictures that handled correctly it takes some of the intimidation away from participation and allows the illustration of knowledge and insight in a more engaging and less threating way.

It’s not all plain sailing of course! Collating the collective scribbles, annotations and updates across a number of posters can be difficult, given the variable quality of handwriting, and supporting remote stakeholders is always a challenge. However, this at least gives me the chance to introduce some technology. With the use of tablets we can engage at the poster with the stakeholders but annotate the digital version on the fly and we’re also having success using Prezi for presentations that allows us to present out posters and fits well with our visual storytelling.

Use paper!

As for the future, well the techy geek in me wants some holographic presentation with some sort of feedback mechanism, think minority report, or maybe we need to kit everyone out with VR headsets, but in reality, if you want to get ideas across, get buy-in and engagement – use paper! It is here to stay, at least at CloudTalent.

*According to research 23% of men and 20% of women have fallen asleep at a meeting at work.

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