Getting Internal Communications Right

Steve LudwigCoachingLeave a Comment

illustrating a leader communicating with their team (one to many skittles)

It’s one of those skills everyone says is important, but few ever invest time or money to get better.

Communication.

So, rather than fight how the world actually operates, we will just give you some very quick tips on how you can improve your communication efforts with audiences internal to work.

One-And-Done Doesn’t Work

There is a persistent attitude that the “one-and-done” message should stick.

That your email, slack message, text, etc., should be enough for it to land.

This is especially true for leaders. The attitude that your message is about work, work is essential, therefore people should pay attention.

When the message fails to land, we make up stories. Managers and corporate executives often blame the employees for being insufficiently committed; the rest of us think people purposely ignore us.

Not taking accountability that the challenge might be with the sender, people rise, repeat, and get the same results.

I get it.

A lot of us live and breathe work. We are surrounded by people who live and breathe work. We have a biased view of the world reinforced by our peers and feedback loops.

Throw in a couple of cognitive biases on top of that and exasperation kicks in.

Pathfinders are the individuals who often see a new path that a team or organization needs to take. Part of their success will be dependent upon how well they communicate their findings or suggestions to others.

What to do?

Know Your Limits

First: Admit that you might not be an expert when it comes to communication.

This might be a hard pill to swallow because you assume you would not be where you are or in a leadership position if you didn’t communicate well.

That self-view might not be accurate.

Even if it is, communicating with different people, groups, or large teams requires different approaches.

Second: You could be far too close to the issue to have an objective view of how to position what matters to you or the company in a way that speaks others.

When I was on the board of directors for a US$5.5 billion organization, I learned to rely on our PR person even though I was an expert at corporate communications. Why? Because I was in the weeds and needed help building the bridge from what was important to me to what was important to others.

Third: Accept that it is going to take a lot more effort and time than you probably think to get whatever message you want to stick to actually stick. It’s just the way people are wired.

Stickiness

How to get messages to stick?

Test: Run your messages by some people in your network that you trust to give you honest feedback. (You can also do a version of this with ChatGPT.) Does it make sense? What could make it stronger? What can you cut out?

Keep It Focused: There is a temptation to say everything, which means no one knows what is truly important. Keep focused. You understand the importance of the nuance. Most people just want to know the highlights.

WIIFM: What’s in it for me? As much as we think that people should be able to draw their own conclusions, that’s not always the case. You won’t go wrong if you make it explicit how the information impacts them.

Tone: Boy is this important. Stop talking at people and speak with them.

Tips for Communicating to Larger Groups

Use different media: People like to consume information in different ways, such as written, video, audio, graphics, in-person town halls, group video calls, etc. The more options you provide, the greater the chance people will pick it up.

Repetition: There is no research to back the old phrase from ad executives that a message must be heard “seven times” before people take action. However, studies have shown that repeated exposure at regular intervals does matter. Repetition is vital.

Memory Retrieval: Research has shown that asking people to recall what they learned soon after they have been exposed to the message increases the chance it will stick. Exposure to the message again in a relatively short time span helps further retention.

Get Creative: People are bombarded with email, slack, and texts. How can you break through the noise? Is it a video with the leadership? Is it posters around the workplace? Some physical thing delivered? A contest? What would get their attention?

How Will You Know If You Were Successful?

ASK!!!!!

Personal: Reach out to people you trust (different from those who looked at your messaging) and see what they think.

Survey: If it was to a larger group, electronic surveys are cheap, they should be part of your communications efforts. It’s the only way to know with certainty that your messages are getting through.

Feedback: I cannot stress this enough: allow people to contact you about what they think of what you sent them. Make it anonymous if you can. Read the responses, see if there are themes, and adjust your efforts as necessary. This is also key: Acknowledge the feedback and let your team know you took it seriously and considered all their suggestions.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a start to help boost your communications efforts.

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