The Man Who Wouldn’t Leave His Phone Alone

I have just completed an enjoyable three day franchise leadership program in Malaysia with a group of franchisors. At the beginning most participants were staring into their smart phones so I delivered my usual sermon. I explained, according to brain science, the moment they read or send a message on their smart device, their mind virtually leaves the room, which means they may well miss something useful or important. I also pointed out, due to the interactive nature of the program, it would be disrespectful if they chose to focus on their devices rather than their peer discussions.

Most of the group willingly complied, except for one outspoken CEO who flipped between engaging vigorously and burying his head in his mobile phone. Sometimes when he seemed lost to us I wandered over and stood next to him. Admittedly this had no effect, not even when I leaned over him, tapped on the table and whispered his name. He just glanced up and kept typing.

On the morning of Day 3, as I was delivering the most important material, he came in late looking flustered, sat in the front seat, popped his phone on the table and proceeded to tap away madly. I thought maybe I could get his attention if I delivered some particularly engaging stories. Occasionally he’d look up and then I’d lose him again. It seemed the harder I tried to make the material interesting, the more emails he sent. Because he was sitting right in front of me, his behaviour was driving me nuts.

Naming Bad Behaviour

Just prior to the morning tea break we had done an exercise on calling people out for bad behaviour, so I decided to practice what I preached. While most people had left the room, he continued to sit there tapping into his phone. I wandered over and said “You must have a lot of pressing business.” He raised his head and blinked at me with a confused look. “What in heavens name are you doing on that thing?” I continued.

He turned it around to show me. He had small photos of his staff listed on the screen and explained he was using an app called WhatsApp to capture and send them everything I was saying, along with occasional shots of my slides or of me making a point on a flip chart. He was sending these messages like a stream of consiousness to specific team members he thought would benefit! “Greg just said we need to…” “When I get back I want to talk with you about…” He also had a To Do list of 15 things he was going to follow up that week. He then said “Greg you have no idea what an impact this course has had on me. It has shifted my thinking and reminded me I need to focus far more on my people.”

So it turned out that he was the MOST engaged person in the room. Humbled and embarrassed I sat down next to him and thanked him for the comment. We then chatted quietly about his business and his insights from the program. I used this incident as a case study later in the day when talking about the risks associated with jumping to conclusions, which made them all laugh at my expense. Obviously I still have a way to go in blending face to face facilitation with the smart use of technology.

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