Twenty years ago, I managed a staff that frequently marched into my office, disgruntled, to gripe about fellow colleagues who failed to respond to their email requests. My response was usually, “Then go talk to that person who conveniently sits 3 cubicles away.”

Today, I parent a child who boasts about all his “friends” on Instagram and “girlfriends” he has only messaged and Face-timed. I remind him that not everyone on IG is a real friend and that social media isn’t a substitute for face-to-face conversations in a dating relationship (especially at age 14).

Even with CRM software to create leads, AI to make decisions, Siri to type messages, Alexa to ask questions and VR to distort what we see, in-person discussions are still relevant — and necessary — in the business world today. Personal interviews and more structured workshops taste great when clients are thirsty for the real thing to solve problems.

Solving a brand identity crisis

I worked for a client this summer who provides staffing services to individuals, primarily in-person and over the phone, along with a suite of B2B employment offerings. With a traditional brick and mortar approach, the organization was getting caught by the internet tidal wave. After all, in the landscape of job seeking and career advice, online is king.

Which business model is relevant in today’s climate?

My initial instinct was to follow the “high tech” lead and re-vamp the organization’s website to make it easier to navigate and use. After a re-haul, we’d be ready to promote the site and drive more users to it. All job seekers want and need is a slick and fast moving medium to find jobs. Right?

In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so Fast”

Prior to a scheduled workshop, I carried out interviews with staff to obtain initial thoughts and feedback on their annual marketing plan. These conversations, while brief, were incredibly invaluable in identifying an important gap: the group’s identity crisis.

With times ‘a changing, many employees weren’t sure which drum was beating and whether they should march to the rhythm of online job search or in-person networking and outreach. And without knowing this behemoth goal, not even the greatest marketing in the world was going to help.

Solving problems in workshops

I openly share my bias for workshops because I think they are invaluable for many reasons. One, workshops can be designed to accomplish a variety of business objectives. Two, everyone who attends has a voice and open forum to share their opinions. Three, it’s a great environment to build consensus. If staff is part of defining the problem and creating a solution, they’re more likely to buy-in to a proposed direction to “make things all better.”

With this organization, we facilitated 2 X 2 business strategy, brand exploration and customer journey exercises. It didn’t take long to realize that job sites are only one resource in a huge toolbox of employment services, and a one-way resource at that.

Looking for jobs online can be a lonely, impersonal endeavor, so two-way communication with human beings can be a welcome change of pace. The need for a personal touch lifted staff morale while also identifying an approach that made the organization distinct and unique.

A competitive advantage Indeed!

Because of the interviews and workshop, I got a much deeper appreciation for this committed group of employees. These individuals had far more to offer than a laundry list of local jobs. Having connected job seekers and employers for years, they played a meaningful role in the economic development of the geographic areas they serve.

An online study or feedback app would have never uncovered the personality and true value of this group. Even in today’s digital age, directives from the ivory tower or disruptive technology solutions don’t always do the trick.

Like I tell my son who can’t stop tapping on his smartphone, there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned conversation. How sweet it is to grab the real thing to solve important business issues!

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.