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Charity Disparity…

Even philanthropy must be challenged, says Mr. Loadlink.

I’ve never been afraid to address matters that polarise opinion. And this is certainly one of those ‘brace yourself for prickly feedback’ kinda blogs.

I’m just going to table my overarching point: charity doesn’t always bring out the best in us, and certainly not businesses.

I’m not suggesting that philanthropy is bad per se—actually, it’s inherently good—but the corporate world is increasingly losing sight of the meaning of donating to good causes and / or the needy. What I really want to shake a finger at is charity as a public relations gimmick. Some would argue that any monies or gifts are worthy but I think it’s counter productive when the motivation behind giving a donation is the publicity it brings.

(I’ll go on to explain how I’ve seen charity work conducted more authentically later.)

Ticking boxes

We’ve all been on the receiving end of announcements from companies whose ’news’ constantly features stories about them giving a dollar here and a lift truck there to one cause or another. Call me cynical but it’s not really done to promote the charity nor does it help raise the profile of the recipients’ plight, because the content doesn’t mention how others can support too, or even suggest that they should. The mindset, I fear, is: ‘look at us, aren’t we generous’.

All astute companies understand the science of branding. In other words, they accept the importance of the things people think about when they see a logo or product, or put a meeting with a certain representative in the diary. As children, the sight of the McDonald’s golden arches might have meant weekends, treats, a reward for good behaviour or a road trip, for example. America’s regional chain, In-N-Out Burger, may conjure up images of scoffing in the Californian sunshine or Hollywood glamour, meanwhile. Away from burgers, I’d like to think Straightpoint (SP) makes people think about making lifting safer and knowing the load. If we ooze honesty, integrity and safety from every pore is perhaps for other people to judge. Anyway, you get the point.

I think that’s what some companies have in mind when they donate to charities. They want their marketplaces to see them as saintly—above the throes of profit and loss. When they setup at a trade show or call on a customer, they want people to think, ‘these are the guys who donate big heartedly to all those good causes; we should work with them’. This is fallacy. The most authentic charity work goes unpublicised, unless it is to promote the cause. The starving need a solution—food, usually—not a photo call with a forklift company that’s shipped an end-of-line truck to help with material handling. Of course, the lifting power might be useful but the trade media doesn’t need a photo of the managing director grinning like a Cheshire cat alongside it. It’s crass.

Trust me, I donate to charity.

Trust me, I donate to charity.

I’ve been in hundreds of reception areas in businesses where a charity sweet (candy) box or donation tin is strategically placed to face the door. I’m not convinced it’s always done with the desperate in mind. I know the counter argument is that nobody can donate if the box isn’t there, but I disagree. I’ve seen these confectionery offerings—people put in a dime and take a sugary treat—gathering layer after layer of dust over time. They are no more than a window sticker: ‘We’re kind; we give to the… whoever it says on the side of that tin.’

Community spirit

The first thing a business should do if it wants to support a good cause is choose one wisely. It might be that they’ve been approached by a charity or a local group in need of support. A member of staff may be impacted by the work of another or the company owner has a historic connection with an organisation that supported him or her in younger life. It doesn’t really matter but it’s got to galvanise the team and get people working towards the goal. And it’s always got to be about more than a company-wide email referring to a shiny new box that’s in the tearoom.

Tying in with a product range helps. For example, we recently partnered with a non-profit organisation that works with rural communities in Kenya. Bridging the Gap Africa was using Kenyan skilled labour in a small town called Kitale to pre-fabricate components for bridges such as towers, suspenders, and anchor connections. It then transports everything to site and hires the local community for installation and assembly. The charity is using a 25t capacity compression load cell to construct these footbridges and river crossings, confirming the capacities of helical piles—a key component of bridge foundations.

There are two main takeaways to learn from this relationship. The first is that it is incredibly powerful to align a company’s product or service with the cause. Second, people must be able to see the results. When we offered publicity, we explained what their long-term goals are and showed tangible progress that we’ve had a small part in supporting. It’s not about the company or the brand, but how we actually helped. By enhancing safety and efficiency during the product development phase for the helical piles, together with Matthew Bowser, country manager Kenya at Bridging the Gap Africa, we have actually reduced the risk of them being compromised due to undermining of the abutments during high river flow events.

The hydraulic jack and load cell are used by Bridging the Gap Africa to apply and measure the load respectively

The hydraulic jack and load cell are used by Bridging the Gap Africa to apply and measure the load respectively

At a clip

Another good example of a successful charitable endeavour was conducted by SP’s owner, Crosby, which donated to the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation via Q2 2019 sales of its popular wire rope clips. The charity serves to provide college scholarships and educational counselling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. After government programmes there remains a shortfall in college funding for a child of a veteran that was killed or wounded in service. The initiative received overwhelming support because many veterans work at Crosby and there was a direct relationship with the product range that they handle every day. Consider the difference between this campaign and a donation box marked, ‘Fallen Patriots’.

Both the Bridging the Gap and Fallen Patriots programmes had clearly defined goals and targets, which is important too. A lot of charity work feels like throwing money into a bottomless pit and that’s not the impression you want to give a workforce, especially when so much positivity is being created around emotional intelligence elsewhere in the culture. If a team is motivated by spirit, goals, targets, plans and purpose in their professional roles, it’s prudent to surround charitable efforts with the same structure and framework. This is what we’re trying to do and here’s how we’re going to achieve it, in other words. Here’s your bridge. There’s your monetary contribution.

My final point on charity work: one of the most overlooked facets of successful campaigns is connection with the charitable organisation. It sounds crazy, but few think to ask the good cause how a business or company like theirs can actually help most. Go back to the lift truck referenced earlier: if the charity needed it, great, but what if they had a fully functional fleet already meeting material handling demands? Were they consulted on type, capacity, and attachments? What about operator training? Perhaps a charity has the resources in place to proceed with a project but needs certain equipment and expertise to execute it. Again, none of this can be achieved with the empty gestures that appear to be ubiquitous in this sector.

Charity works better when the sponsor and good cause work closely together

Charity works better when the sponsor and good cause work closely together

LiftEx back in Liverpool

It’s true that the LiftEx show, organised annually by the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), has a loyal following. More than that, it has a community. That’ll be proven again next year at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool when the 2020 event takes place on 13-14 October. Many are excited to see how it performs earlier in the year away from its November berth and after back-to-back sessions in Milton Keynes.

True, the aisles don’t burst, but that proves my point. Those that do exhibit or visit typically come back for more. Of course the jury is still out after this month’s event but they’ll find in favour of the show’s long-term importance to the industry because they always do. I’ll say it until I’m blue (red) in the face, LiftEx works because of the quality of visitor it delivers (I even sold a load cell on the stand). And it functions as a trade-based networking occasion too. The awards dinner is a brilliant night and we were honoured to sponsor the Sustainable Solution of the Year category; well done to winners, the LEEA Trailblazer group.

Thank you for reading.
You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Mr. Loadlink

The annual LEEA awards dinner was a glitzy occasion, this year hosted by television celebrity Rachel Riley.

The annual LEEA awards dinner was a glitzy occasion, this year hosted by television celebrity Rachel Riley.

Wall of shame…

Don’t expose your audiences to claptrap, warns David Mullard, as the business development manager at SP returns from KL.

Do you know the weight? What if you are wrong?

Have I got your attention?

I hope so. If not, I probably still have a better chance of getting it than if I’d have shown you a PowerPoint slide with a photo of my company’s headquarters behind an animated marketing slogan. You know the presentations I mean; the ones that go on to list the products a business provides, how many employees report for duty every day, and why it cares about its customers more than its competitors.

Wayne Wille, my counterpart in the States, always tables those hard-hitting questions at the start of his training sessions and presentations:

Do you know the weight? What if you are wrong?

It gets the room’s attention. In some cases, one can even see the delegation quizzing themselves behind widened eyes: I think we know the weight. Did we check? Who double-checked? How did we measure it? Was it recorded? What if we did get it incorrect? Is the crane we’re using of high enough capacity? What if something goes wrong? Have we done everything possible to make the application safe?

A PowerPoint presentation that resembles a catalogue is likely to come across as claptrap.

A PowerPoint presentation that resembles a catalogue is likely to come across as claptrap.

Wayne clicks through the next couple of slides. He has worked closely with a U.S.-based distributor to gather examples of damaged lifting and rigging accessories that have been inspected and removed from service. Some of the photos are jaw dropping: hooks that have opened under load; shackles that have bent; master links that have broken; lifting eyes that have sheared; etc. It often causes the audience to shift a little in their seats, as though the backs of their chairs all of a sudden become uncomfortable.

They wonder: What if this happens to us? Do we always know the weight? Are we sure?

The presentation becomes something of a Wall of Shame, where lifting and rigging flaws are exposed. It’s not an exercise in naming and shaming but more a case of revealing how common overload situations are and how easily they can be prevented by using a load cell. Further, it outlines the dire consequences if that advice isn’t followed. There’s a neat slide named “what happens if you don’t” that sums it up nicely.

That collection of worn and damaged rigging gear serves as a learning tool—they can see what went wrong elsewhere and use that to improve their own safe lifting operations and ensure they don’t feature in a future presentation! The main takeaway is an emphasis on the importance of proper inspection of lifting and rigging gear and on preventing overloads.

Wayne has perfected a powerful method of engaging people in his content and helping them to understand the importance of knowing the load. It’s true that ‘know the load’ is our recently-adopted company mantra—and we acknowledge that we’re in a commercial business—but giving that tagline substance and cause it what folks buy into, as Wayne realises.

Rising in the east

OGA attracted a quality demographic.

OGA attracted a quality demographic.

I was mindful of my colleague’s skill as a presenter when I prepared for a recent trip to Malaysia for the Asian Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Engineering Exhibition (OGA), which took place 18-20 June at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Convention Centre. My itinerary was multifaceted in that I was to spend time on the exhibit of our new Malaysian distributor, Goforth Corporation, and deliver a number of presentations to its representatives and other delegations. An area where Wayne also excels is in tailoring his content for the audience of the day and I too was sure to pitch my messages and hone technical detail to the expertise of the listener.

It’s a widely overlooked presentation strategy, yet it’s a no-brainer. Think about it: a teacher giving a revision session to a Year 11 class about to take a GCSE exam (tests that are usually taken here in the UK by students aged 15-16, after two years of study) is going to package information differently to a peer giving an introductory lesson to a bunch of Year 7s who have just started secondary or high school. It’s the same in industry: some people need to know what a load cell is and how it works, while others already have a background knowledge akin to that of the presenter. It’s easy to lose the attention of a roomful of engineers if they feel patronised.

It takes time before a presenter is equipped to deal with all eventualities, even on their chosen specialist subject, and researching demographics in advance is advisable. I’ve spent a number of years expanding my material that I can now tweak and manipulate depending on the usual variables: number of people in the room, amount of time available, levels of expertise, grasp of English, experience with SP equipment, and so on. I always have a plan but build enough flexibility into it to react to the audience and endeavour to involve them as much as possible.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is preparing to speak to a group of people, or those embarking on a career path that might require frequent public speaking, is to work on knowledge, passion, enthusiasm, and authenticity before perfecting PowerPoint visuals or aesthetics. Of course, it helps if one is lucky or astute enough to earn a living in a field that interests or excites them, but it’s possible to be passionate about something that isn’t necessarily a life-long hobby. Absolutely, fine-tune the seminar and practice so content can be delivered to a time schedule in a digestible format, but an audience remembers most that which is put to them with fervour. I hope Goforth’s community felt I came somewhere close to achieving that.

Team Goforth seemed to enjoy my presentation at its Selangor headquarters

Team Goforth seemed to enjoy my presentation at its Selangor headquarters

University of life

Education and training is generally underrated in business. I know I reached for a school-day analogy above, but too often people think they’re free of learning once they enter the workplace. To SP, ongoing training is the cement that holds us together with Goforth and other global partners. We’re constantly sharing information about products, applications, end user markets, evolving best practices, and so on. We don’t want anyone going into the field with a flight-case full of our equipment with only a generic understanding of what each item does. It’s important that when users have questions, our distributors can answer them, at least in most cases. Wayne’s Wall of Shame proves that some marketplaces still have much to learn.

Generally, we should more readily learn from others. Wayne is just one person within and beyond SP that I admire and respect. As is evident in his presentation style, Wayne has an engaging persona and has cultivated some fabulous client relationships. Regular blogger Mr. Loadlink (aka David Ayling) is another. As I take on greater responsibility throughout my career I certainly ask myself with increasing regularity: ‘What would Dave do here?’ I admire Mr. Loadlink’s drive, energy, passion and business courage, for example. His ability to take a chance on something and then make sure it works out is inspiring. His mentorship has been priceless for me and most memorably of all it has always been fun.

Goforth’s busy OGA exhibit.

Goforth’s busy OGA exhibit.

Mr. Loadlink can even go in the opposite direction and make you feel like you’re along for the ride. On a handful of occasions he’s sought my counsel and I’ve tried to coax him down an alternative path, but he’s chosen to stick to his original idea. However, he always did so in a way that still made me feel part of the decision, not at odds with his way of thinking. I admire that, even if it does turn out to be some kind of Jedi mind trick, passed down from Obi Wan Loadlink, a distant cousin!

All that said, always be you. Regardless of what I’ve learnt from Wayne, Dave and others, I’ve only ever tried to be David Mullard. To emulate anyone too closely detracts from the personality that people want to engage with. I’ve had many forgettable encounters with individuals who were pretentious and whose personal brands were a facade. Whether you’re on a stage, on a trade show booth, conducting a site visit, or somewhere different altogether, authenticity is vitally important. A hallmark of all the successful people I know is a belief in the courage of one’s convictions, as Mr. Loadlink proves.

Who’s in your Hall of Fame?

Thank you for reading.
Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint
dmullard@straightpoint.com

It’s always a good sign when people have questions after a presentation.

It’s always a good sign when people have questions after a presentation.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Goforth and its community at last month’s (June) OGA.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Goforth and its community at last month’s (June) OGA.