Plant Tours: Seeing is Believing

Plants tours, often overlooked in the toolkit of issue managers, can turn skeptics into advocates by letting people see for themselves what you are doing.When facing a contentious neighborhood dispute, don't overlook the persuasive power of the plant tour.

In an age when social media, YouTube videos and infographics have more sex appeal, the plant tour offers the irreplaceable virtue of letting people see for themselves what you are doing. That's often all it takes to turn critics into advocates.

Plant tours have the distinctive quality of being something that virtually any business or organization can organize. There are always restraints – sensitive operations, tight quarters or personal privacy issues. But there are almost always work-arounds that allow your neighbors or skeptics to get a first-hand view of your factory, educational facility or medical clinic.

Nothing is more authentic than opening the doors of your facility and letting people talk with your employees and see where they work. It can change people's minds because it erases their fears of the unknown.

A Tektronix-owned circuit board assembly plant in Forest Grove received a jolt several years ago when a resolution surfaced in the city council opposing renewal of the facility's air discharge permit. A few visits to nearby residents gave a major clue as to the concern – no one was quite sure what was going on behind the gray walls of the manufacturing plant.

A plant tour was organized and neighbors and city officials were invited. An exhibit was arranged showing how circuit boards were used in a variety of electronic products, including Tektronix oscilloscopes. And, cookies and punch were served. The relaxed atmosphere and the spirit of openness was the elixir needed to cure community concerns. The Forest Grove resolution disappeared into the mist and the circuit board plant air permit renewal sailed through.

For-profit career colleges have lots of detractors. One proactive step many of them have taken is to invite in community leaders and elected officials to see their campuses, meet their faculties and talk with their students. These campus tours have demonstrated the appeal of career colleges for students who need an educational credential as fast as possible to get a job as their path to a brighter future.

Unique facilities such as the Providence Child Center can attract doubters who question their costs. But a visit to the brightly lit facility that provides tender care for medically fragile children, which wouldn't be possible in home or traditional hospital settings, is literally eye-opening.

Plant tours rely on the maxim "seeing is believing." That can be the most powerful argument you have in managing a controversial issue.