When Communication Matters
Question: when does your communication with your direct reports matter? Answer: always. Can your managers communicate when it matters most? Remember, every interaction with your team gives them more information about who you are, what you care about, and what their role on the team and in the organization will be.
Change management consulting experts know that whenever change at work is needed — perhaps to implement a new strategy, solve a problem, shift organizational structures, or improve performance — how you communicate change to your team is immensely important.
Bringing the Message to Life
Any expert on executive presentation skills will tell you that storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to get a message across. In fact, research has shown that when you convey a message via a relevant story, it will be more than 20 times more memorable than if you had simply related the facts.
Why is storytelling so memorable?
Because well told stories engage your audience. Powerful storytelling at work can evoke your coworkers’ emotional side, increase the odds that they will remember and resonate with your ideas, and motivate them to act. Successful storytellers imagine, articulate, and invite their audience to become an active part of the story.
Can Your Managers Communicate When It Matters Most?
When there is a disruption in business as usual, you need teams to come together and move forward with a common purpose at work. Done right, people managers – especially new people managers – can inspire, engage, and empower people around them by understanding and telling their own story in way that differentiates their unique value as a leader and builds trust and confidence with those around them. Why not use a compelling story to connect with your audience in a meaningful and authentic way?
Some Situations and Examples to Help Your Managers Communicate When It Matters Most
- A Change in Strategy
While changes in business strategies usually start with a corporate strategy retreat grounded in facts and rationale analysis, stories are typically associated with fairy tales and entertainment. But facts and logic alone rarely change the hearts and minds of coworkers. When corporate strategies change, the way people think, behave, and act usually needs to change proportionately.Few people drink and drive less when presented with facts about drunk driving accident statistics. But people are motivated to drink and drive less by a vivid and personal story about a particular family killed by a drunk driver.
And we know from change management simulation data that those affected by change need to truly understand, deeply feel, and mostly agree with the business case for change, the level of strategic urgency, and the change vision for a better future.
Your strategy story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. What’s the current strategic situation? What are the major challenges that you all collectively face? What are the implications if you do not change? And what specific actions do people need to take in order to get to where you want to go?
For example, a healthcare client, even after alcoholism was designated as a disease like cancer and survival rates were commensurate, only conducted liver transplants for patients who were non-alcoholics because they did not think it was fair. It was not until the story of one of their family members getting a liver transplant somewhere else and changing their life did the doctors change their strategy.
What story would best embody your desired strategic changes in a way that motivates people to action?
- A Critical Decision to Make
It’s been estimated that the average American makes around 70 conscious decisions per day – both big and small. Most managers know that decision making can be fraught with bias, workplace politics, and conflicting priorities – especially when the stakes are high. Effective decision making can also make or break a career, strategy, or team.For example, if you are trying to decide for the greater good of the company that may take some effort and sacrifice from everyone, you could tell the story of the mouse and the mouse trap. It goes something like this…
One day a mouse looked through a crack in the wall and was devastated to see a farmer and his wife open a brand new mousetrap. The terrified mouse scurried to the farmyard to sound the alarm. “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house! I need your help to get rid of it.”
The chicken, who cared only for himself, clucked and said, “I can see you’re concerned about this, Mouse, but it’s of no concern to me.” The pig, who faced some immediate challenges of her own, oinked, “Too bad. I do not have the time or resources to help right now.” The cow, very happy with his current situation, mooed, “I can see your concern, but I’m good with the way things are and do not want to rock the boat.”
The little mouse went back very sadly to face the mousetrap alone. That night there was the sound of the trap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to the trap. In the dark she did not see that the trap had captured the tail of a poisonous snake. The snake bit the farmer’s wife, and she developed a bad fever. That is when the downward spiral ensued.
To help care for his wife the farmer needed chicken soup. He got his ax and went to the farmyard to get the main ingredient – the selfish chicken. The wife’s illness continued. Many people came to visit her. The farmer needed to feed them all. He went to the farmyard once again and slaughtered the busy pig. Unfortunately, the farmer’s wife passed away from her illness. There was a large funeral, and of course the folks at the funeral needed to be fed. Once again the farmer went to the farmyard, and this time he got the complacent cow.
As you can imagine, the moral of this story is that everyone at work is part of a larger and connected whole that must rely on each other to succeed.
- Need for Higher Performance
Done right, raising performance expectations at work can dramatically increase performance. Done wrong, it can cause fear, resentment, and disengagement. If you require more from your team to thrive or survive, how can you as manager communicate the need for more?Here are a few example stories. The first relates to a Hot Dog Eating Contest. From 1974 to 2000, the world hot dog eating record was between 20 hot dogs. Then in 2001 Takeru Kobayashi amazingly ate 50 hot dogs in one sitting. Once people saw that eating 50 hot dogs (previously considered impossible) was possible, every new contestant started eating 50 or more hot dogs. Today’s record stands at 70 hot dogs – a 350% increase in performance.
When perceived performance barriers are overcome, people are often able to perform at heretofore unimaginable levels. They simply needed to see someone else doing it to realize what was possible.
Similarly, conventional wisdom said that a 4-minute mile was not humanly possible. When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile barrier in 1954, it took just 46 days for John Landy to set a new record with a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just twelve months later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Since then, over one thousand runners have broken the 4-minute mile barrier – something that had once been considered impossible by the best athletes in the world.
The Bottom Line
Add power to your communications as a manager by developing a repertoire of compelling stories from your life or the lives of others. Just make sure that your stories are digestible, engaging, and motivating to your target audience.
To learn more about how to help managers communicate when it matters most, download 3 Tips to Create a Better Story at Work