Sisterhood of the Traveling Red-Leather Pants

Note:  This post may end my chances of finding gainful employment for the next several years…

Cranberries --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I’m going a little off the reservation today.  Post after post, I’ve repeated various mantras:

  • This is a team undertaking
  • You’ve got to sell it to management
  • Everybody needs to be on the same page
  • Get everyone into a room

Great.  So I’ve told you what needs to be done.  This raises the question; how do you do it?  Well, someone is going to have to make the ‘sale’, and here’s a good starting point.  The Times Online has an excellent article, “How to give a great presentation“.  It provides a framework of ten useful tips to deliver your message clearly and concisely and helps you keep the attention of your audience.

Tip #7, ‘Throw in surprises’, brought back one of my favorite memories.  In 1994, I was consulting at Hughes Space and Communications.  The group I was working with was outsourced to EDS.  Now, this was an engineering group – jeans and informal shirts were commonplace.  EDS is a Texas firm with a very ‘white collar’ approach.  Needless to say, these philosophies didn’t mix very well.  EDS’ management began implementing formal rules that the Hughes folks weren’t used to; one of which was the “No Denim” policy.  Anywhere else, this probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, but this was Southern California in the 1990s – it had a serious downward effect on morale.

I had an idea.  We had a bi-monthly, mandatory ‘all-hands’ meeting that about 50 people attended.  I waited until everyone was seated and the meeting began.  Then, I strolled into the room – directly in front of the stage so everybody could see me – wearing a pair of bright-red leather pants.  As I passed the stage, I turned to management and said, “Hey, it’s not denim!”  It brought the house down and quickly reduced the tension level from DefCon 1 to DefCon 5.

Note to prospective employers:  I’m mu-u-u-ch better now…

But here’s the background.  There was no malicious intent on my part.  EDS’ management was fully aware of the morale problem and when I approached them prior to the meeting and told them, “I’m going to do something in the all-hands meeting to try to boost morale”, they were all for it!  The bottom line is that it accomplished the goal; it reduced tension between the two groups thereby facilitating a better cooperative relationship.

My office is in El Segundo, not far from the old Hughes offices (it’s Raytheon now).  Fifteen years later, whenever I run into one of my colleagues from that period, the first thing they say to me is, “Remember that meeting where you wore the red leather pants?”.

Never underestimate the power of an effective message…