How to Avoid The Number One Mistake in Corporate Communication

Calgary is famous for its annual Stampede celebration, which features a fantastic fireworks show every evening for a week, visible across the city. It’s nice to watch from your home, but something incredibly different to experience sitting up close at the Stampede grounds as fireworks explode above your head in an awe-inspiring display of colour and noise you can feel in your chest! The farther away you are from the grounds, the less impactful the show.

The same thing happens where you work: Executives get pumped up about a new direction and determine, correctly, that the messages needs to be shared. How? Via email to their direct reports who are asked to pass it along. They cascade it.

The cascade method of communication DOES NOT WORK.

Welcome to the game of broken telephone. The message never reaches the final intended audience intact. With each handoff, the translation varies and words are diluted. The emphasis shifts and helpful explanations are lost. Here’s a truism: The farther people are from the point of the message, the less likely they are to ‘get it’.

People don’t read any more. They skim. Emails get lost in the noise of overloaded inboxes. Details are missed. Organizations seeing no other way to get their message out, send more emails, amplifying annoyance instead of clarity.

How do you break through?

Changing Your Mind

Conduct a Communication Audit
When I advise clients on communication I always begin with an inventory of their current ‘channels in use’ coupled with this question: “How do you know people are getting the message?” Invariably the response is “We don’t.”

This process is helpful in revealing what doesn’t work; tactics that have been tried and received a poor response.

Innovate your message
No need to get crazy with coloured text and rampant punctuation!!! Try these practical tips:

  • Take a lesson from the web: What headlines draw your attention?
  • Go Live: Whenever possible, deliver the message in person whether face-to-face or by video / phone.
  • Direct attention: Highlight the most important points and make the action items clear.
  • Appeal to self interest: What does your audience really care about? Think WIIFM
  • Dump the fluff: Sharpen the red pen and take out everything people don’t need or care about. Place secondary content on a web page and include a link to “Read more…” in your email.
  • Try video: If you can’t do it live, record yourself. we live in the YouTube generation.
  • Add interaction: Ask for some kind of response. There’s nothing wrong with a one-item survey.

Start in the middle
Bring the fireworks to them! Instead of sending down from the top, get in direct contact with middle managers and work with them to construct the message to go out. Build a Leader Kit to help them deliver it. Make them part of the message. They are often the most critical link for getting things done.

If you want to go direct to your audience throughout the organization, work in batches: Target specific groups and meet with them directly. Smaller audiences encourages attention, sends a better message (You are important!) and enables interaction.

Test for echo
Get out and ask people if they received it, read it, and what they took away. Build a network of people that will give you transparent feedback. Including the negative stuff.

Everyone believes they can do communication. Most of them are wrong. Have you tried a really innovating way of avoiding BTS (Broken Telephone Syndrome)? I’d love to hear about it!

Thoughtfully yours,

Jeff Skipper