Communication vs. Conversation
One of the big aha’s of my career as a business executive, is that no one actually listens to you!
As executives, we like to think that when we have just announced a compelling new strategy, initiative, or transformation, that people not only listened, but have internalized it, and are ready to take action. It doesn’t work that way.
You need to be ready to consider this first telling of your strategy as pretty much a throw-away effort.
What people are thinking while they are listing to your strategy for the first time…
“OK, here we go again, another new strategy. What’s it going to be this time? This is kind of boring… Oh wait…I just thought of a new idea to solve that problem I was working on, I wish I wasn’t stuck in this meeting so I could test it out…What was on my Costco shopping list? Oops, I forgot to tell my son that his karate lesson was cancelled…”
Top down is not enough
Yes, your communication is a step in the process. Yes, you need to communicate top down.
But to genuinely communicate, and to get your message internalized, and for your transformation to take hold, you need to create a fundamental shift in the way that you think about communication if you want to get people to actually listen.
You need to change your existing idea of communication to instead become conversation — conversation that involves everyone.
“But I was very clear”
Whenever an executive tells me, “I don’t know why people aren’t getting it, I was very clear“. The force with which they say “I was very clear” seems to be inversely proportional to how much people have heard and understood!
The right measure is never about how clearly you think you have communicated. The only right measure is about how much your audience has internalized.
You have communicated successfully only when the people in your organization are talking about it amongst themselves.
How to get Everyone talking
For your transformation to work, the change must be part of the social fabric of the whole organization in a very real way — and that happens through conversation.
For example, when you can approach an employee at any level at random and ask, what is the most important thing for us to be doing right now, and why? — and get the same answer most of the time — then you can say that your communication has been successful.
Recruit Spokespeople from within the Organization
One of the best tactics to get the conversation happening in the right place is something that I use with my corporate clients in my Strategy into Action Program.
Think about this. Instead of presenting the new strategy yourself, or even having your executives present their part of the strategy, instead recruit someone doing the work to be the communicator. Get a service rep, a marketing person, a sales person, a product developer, an accountant…
Find someone in each department who has a knack for communicating and the desire/potential for advancement and bring them into an inner circle of people who you discuss the strategy with before it’s announced.
This in itself creates good conversation in the right place.
Get their inputs on creating the presentation.
Have them build parts of it for their organization. Ask them to share what questions their peers will have or what people will be worried about. Address those issues in the presentation.
Then when you have your all hands meeting or webinar, you can do the introduction, but have the individuals present the strategy. You and the executives can be standing by for support and to help with questions.
But when everyone in the organization sees the new strategy being presented by a peer instead of an executive, they are going to much more ready and open to listen. And then the person can bring the conversation into the group in a very natural way.
This is one of my favorite examples both of creating conversation in the right place. I share lots of others in my book MOVE in the section “E=Everyone”.
If you want something to happen, make sure everyone is talking about it.
What do you think?
Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.