Good communication skills are critical to a leader’s success. When I managed a team of 200 people it was astonishing how frequently communication was misinterpreted or simply not heard.
Once we had a significant change in the way we handled damaged product. Laws had changed, and our process needed to change with it. I explained the changes to my leadership team. We talked about it at staff meetings for several weeks. There were memos passed out.
We talked about the changes in our morning rallies. I could not think of a single venue we didn’t use to communicate out the important changes.
Two weeks after the change went into effect there was a team member processing damaged product using the old system. I couldn’t believe it! Right before I freaked out, I asked if he was aware of the new process. He confidently answered, “Oh yes – that’s what I’m doing!”
Oh no. It wasn’t.
To my disbelief the message didn’t get through to this guy. And, I would soon discover, it didn’t get through to a lot of people. I had missed the most basic communication must-haves.
Whether you have a small messages or significant organizational changes, there are three basics to getting your message across to your team.
1) Use Simple Language
Frank Luntz is a communication wizard. He has been a leading pollster for presidential candidates, congress and private businesses. In his book Words that Work he lays out 10 rules for successful communication.
Rule number one: Simplicity – Use Small Words.
When your message uses unnatural or uncommon language the message will be lost. Either the listener won’t know the meaning of the word, or they’ll be distracted by the fact they haven’t heard a given word since 11th grade English class.
2) Repeat it Often
When I was a kid I remember hearing my mom ask, “Do I have to repeat myself until I’m blue in the face?!” It wasn’t my intent to exasperate my mom by forgetting what she wanted me to do. It just…happened.
Leaders might not ask that same blue-in-the-face question out loud but if they did the answer is the same: yes. Yes you do.
Marketers know this better than anyone. They know most purchasing decisions are made after the customer has “heard” a message at least seven times. Hearing a marketing message fifteen times is the sweet spot. If you lead a team, no matter the size, prepare to repeat yourself if you expect your message to be heard.
3) Measure it
If you want your message to stick, put measurements in place to track progress. When my team was going through the process change I thought the team would make a seamless transition simply because we told them to change.
However, I failed to put any measurement in place when change occurred and there was no visibility or accountability for the team to change. Once I learned that the message had not been received I started to track how many times the old process was used. Almost immediately the old process disappeared.
It can be tempting to put together a finely crafted communication strategy with precise language, a memorable tag line and expect everything to fall into place. That might work for the sharp politicians in your favorite TV show, but it doesn’t work in real life. Use these three tools in your next communication and see your message get more attention.