Communicating to Engage


Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

You’re enjoying dinner with your family when the phone rings. Checking the caller ID provides little help in identifying who is interrupting your dinner. You let the answering machine take the call and hear an automated message from the “Friends of (fill in the blank) Campaign.”

With the primary elections approaching, I’ve received four of these messages daily for the past week. Frankly, it makes me question the decision-making capabilities of candidates who think that repeated automated messages will generate the results they’re looking for. Being stalked during meal times does not make me think: “Ya’ know what? I think this guy should lead our country!”

If we realize an approach like this does not work, why do so many business leaders take a similar approach in communicating our priorities?

How many times have leaders expressed frustration when their teams are not actively engaged in their vision? Leadership teams spend so much time communicating with each other – testing the vision, debating and defending it – that we feel that the details must be completely obvious to everyone in the organization. Yet, our communication is often fragmented at best. It’s no surprise that engagement numbers are at an all-time low.

These days, change is constant. Studies show that upwards of 70% of change initiatives fail. If your organization is part of the majority, consider the following communication strategies to improve your results. Communication should be:

  • Strategic. Consider the audience and how they prefer to be communicated with. Overwhelming your team’s inbox with long or boring e-mails will only ensure that your message is tuned out. Messages should be direct, to the point and let people know what’s in it for them to take the specific actions you’re suggesting. 
  • Appropriate in Frequency. Some experts recommend that we “over-communicate” when the stakes are high. This is likely intended for those of us who tend to send one e-mail and wonder why the heck no one has taken action yet. Instead of following the politicians’ machine gun approach, be strategic and send your message through various channels. This includes different people communicating formally and informally. In many companies, the real conversations take place at the water cooler after meetings. Leverage your thought leaders so they can reinforce the message during those informal conversations. This will increase buy-in and reduce the amount of people who do nothing, thinking “This too, shall pass”.
  • Provide Context. The value of translating how goals and changes impact various team members is often underestimated. An accounting team member who hears an executive say that profitability needs to be improved may think it is strictly an issue of salespeople not discounting so much. They may not realize that getting invoices out the door faster can improve profitability (customers pay earlier and improved cash flow means reduced financing costs and increased profitability). If someone takes the time to translate how actions impact the big picture, team members will be more engaged and more likely to come to you with additional suggestions.

A few deliberate changes can go a long way in the effectiveness of our communication. Be intentional in your communication and people will respond favorably.

What other communication strategies have you found to be effective?


About Brian Williamson

I work with salespeople and leaders to get better results by taking a character-based approach. That means Executing by helping others Execute their priorities. I'm also the founder of Testimony & Tunes ( where everyday people share lessons learned through faith, and artists can share tunes that reflect their faith.

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