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Leadership Toolkit

Communicate With Greater Clarity: Leveraging the Execution Triangle

Dr. JoAnn Sternke, Studer Education Leader Coach

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This toolkit focuses on how to leverage the principles of the Studer Education Execution Triangle to enhance the clarity of your written and spoken communication. The Execution Triangle is particularly effective when communicating at a time of crisis or when you are delivering bad news. That being said, the tools in this toolkit are useful for any message that must be delivered at any time. If you want to communicate with greater clarity, the three key principles in this toolkit will assist you in developing and deploying your message.

TOOLKIT OVERVIEW

Each section in this toolkit corresponds to one of the three sides of the Execution Triangle and has tools to use to assist you in communicating with greater clarity.

Section 1

Leveraging Reliability to Communicate With Greater Clarity

Tool 1: Begin with empathy to build reliability in your communication
Tool 2: Relay key information with accuracy and transparency to build reliability in your communication
Tool 3: Choose your words carefully to build reliability in your communication
Tool 4: Be Timely to build reliability in your communication

Section 2

Leveraging CONSISTENCY to Communicate With Greater Clarity

Tool 5: Message frequently to build consistency in your communication
Tool 6: Message with one voice to build consistency in your communication

Section 3

Leveraging ACCOUNTABILITY to Communicate With Greater Clarity

Tool 7: Stage communication intentionally to build accountability in your communication

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Introduction

It’s not a matter of knowing what to do, it is the execution of the how.

– Quint Studer

As leaders, we are driven by the purpose of our work. It’s our why. It’s the meaningful and purposeful work we are called to do. We possess the knowledge to do our work because most often we know the what of our work. So, if we know the why and the what, what gets in our way and often causes lower results? The how. We just aren’t clear about how we get the work accomplished. We don’t execute that work with fidelity. This lack of execution can take many forms. We don’t prioritize. When we delegate, we don’t make expectations clear or we may not give clear directions. We don’t take the time to carefully plan out the steps.

In other words, we don’t build accountability for solid execution. And this poor execution results in outcomes that aren’t what we desire. Execution is a must-have to achieve an organization’s desired goals.

In the Execution Framework, created by Quint Studer and used in Studer Education’s Organizational Excellence Coaching, the three principles that create solid, hardwired execution are Accountability, Reliability and Consistency.

MORE TOOLKITS

To support leaders and teams, we also have other toolkits that provide additional resources to complement those outlined in this toolkit.

EXPLORE ALL TOOLKITS →

The Execution Triangle

The three principles are displayed in the diagram of the Execution Triangle. Consistency and Reliability build the foundation of the Execution Triangle. At the apex is Accountability.

Execution Triangle - Accountability at top, consistency at bottom left, reliability at bottom right

You need all three to build top-notch Execution. If we “hardwire”, or standardize, our approach in these three key areas, we will facilitate more consistent execution.

This is particularly true when looking at our communication to employees or customers. We desire to be effective in our communication – that’s why we communicate. We want to get a message across. We communicate because we want people to understand the message we are relaying to them.

But we need to build desire as much as understanding when we communicate.

We know that our words affect how stakeholders perceive the organization. Well-crafted communication can enhance the perceptions people hold of leaders and the organization itself.

Sadly, poorly executed communication is highly detrimental. Miscommunication creates misunderstanding, confusion and uncertainty. It can also erode people’s trust in the organization.

If we apply the three principles in the Execution Triangle, our communication will have more clarity and be more effective. We will execute our communication with greater fidelity, and hopefully achieve the outcomes we desire from the communication.

This toolkit is designed to offer you strategies linked to Principles of Execution so you can execute communication that is clearer and more effective. You will learn to leverage strategies to enhance the reliability, consistency and accountability of your communication.

The challenge in getting results lies in consistency and reliability of execution.

– Maximize Performance | Chapter 3, Quint Studer, MSE and Janet Pilcher, Ph.D.

Section 1

Leveraging Reliability to Communicate with Greater Clarity

Reliability forms the foundation of the Execution Triangle. It is simply defined as “the ability to be depended upon.” Reliability is a deeply sought characteristic we desire in our leaders, in our friends, and in our family members. Reliability influences our view of integrity. If we think someone is dependable, we view them as being more reliable and with more admirable character. We more easily trust those we view as reliable. But what makes someone able to be depended upon? We trust people who tell us the truth. We trust people if we believe they will follow through and do what they said they would do.

When we think of what makes communication reliable, it is much the same. We want our communication to be viewed as trustworthy. What makes people trust what we say and write? When we craft a message, it is essential to view it from the eye of the reader. What do we want the reader to think and feel as they read what we write? We must strive to have the reader feel the message we are sending is reliable.

There are four key principles that make our communication more reliable in the eyes of the reader/receiver:

  • Empathy – Do they care about me? Do they understand the impact the news they are telling me will have on me?
  • Transparency and Accuracy – Are they telling me the whole story? Is it the truth?
  • Timely – Am I hearing this at a time that is relevant to me?
  • Follow-through – Will they really do what they are saying they are going to do?

Tool #1: Begin with empathy to build reliability in your communication

Imagine you have difficult news to convey. Because you are focused on “the news must be delivered,” it’s easy to just “get to the job at hand” and get right to relaying the news. Instead of jumping right to the news itself, it’s wise to take a step back and begin with an empathetic statement before you get to the meat of what is to be shared. Show understanding first. It softens the news and allows people to be more open to it. If people first understand the why behind the decision or news being delivered, they will more likely understand and support it. If you focus only on the what of the message, you may get compliance, but you miss the opportunity to build understanding and commitment. If we begin with empathy, you are more likely to keep people reading and engage them emotionally as well.

Look at the sample Key Words at Key Times. In this sample case, the writer is letting people know an event must be cancelled. That is the what of the message. But note that an extra step is taken. In the first line, the phrase “because we care about your health and safety,” is added. The writer relays that the event must be cancelled.

In everything they do during a crisis, resilient leaders express empathy and compassion for the human side of the upheaval.

– The Heart of Resilient Leadership, Renjiin, Punit (2020) Deloitte Insights

This empathetic statement frames the why behind the cancellation message and shows understanding and care for the reader. Additionally, the how message that follows the news shows empathy.

Also note that the how statement that follows the what information relays empathy as well when the communicator writes, “We understand this cancellation presents an inconvenience to you and your family” prior to discussing re-scheduling. By showing empathy for the receiver’s feelings, the writer conveys empathy. It would be easy to simply focus on the what and relay the news. By surrounding the news with empathy – like an empathetic sandwich – you demonstrate a caring demeanor as you relay the news. This builds reliability in the eye of the reader.

SAMPLE KEY WORDS AT KEY TIMES

QUESTION OR ISSUE: Need to cancel an event.
QUESTION OR ISSUE: Need to cancel an event.
Questions to Answer Response
Why are we doing this? Why is it important? Because we care about your health and safety…
What are we doing? … we must cancel the event scheduled for date.
How will we implement it? How will it impact me? We understand this cancellation presents an inconvenience to you and your family. We pledge to re-schedule the event at a time when we can gather safely and enjoy time together. Stay tuned to your email for details.

Your Turn

Now, you try. Think of some news, possibly bad news, you must deliver. Use the Key Words at Key Times Template, to plan your communication and begin with empathy. When we begin with empathy, people are more likely to view us as caring and, therefore, reliable.

Download the free PDF version of this toolkit to get this fillable template.

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Tool #2: Relay key information with accuracy and transparency to build reliability in  your communication

In Tool #1, we explored the importance of conveying empathy along with the facts at hand. While empathy is very important to communicate as you relay information, the information itself is the crux of the message. It is critically important to get this part of the message right in order to build reliability. People will read your message to get the facts. Tool #2 will help you communicate the facts – the what of the message – with accuracy and transparency. We must carefully deliver the message we intend as we communicate news. This strategy focuses on how you complete the middle portion of the Key Words at Key Times Template – the what.

The what of your message is where you communicate what is happening or what has occurred. Often it might be a decision that has been made or a situation that has occurred. It is the key information to be delivered. If the key information of the message is delivered with care, you will build reliability. If you do not do this well, you will enhance doubt and ill feelings in the mind of the message receiver. You don’t want people to feel you aren’t giving them the whole story or that you are hiding something from them.

As you see in the Key Words at Key Times Template you must answer the question, “what are we doing?” or “what is happening?” when we relay the what. It sounds so simple, but the what has many facets to it. It can be difficult to determine what is key. How much is the right amount of detail to offer while relaying the what? What is that sweet spot of not too much detail but enough to explain fully. If we offer too much detail, people get lost in the information or, worse yet, stop reading. If we offer too little detail, people become confused or, worse yet, skeptical that you may be hiding something.

Here is an example:
Imagine you must communicate at a time of crisis. This is an extremely stressful time where you as the communicator may be pulled in many directions, both handling the crisis itself while knowing you must relay news about the situation. A crisis can be a time of confusion, profound pressure, and distraction.

Execution of this all-important communication about the crisis may suffer for many reasons:

  • What happened was sudden and unexpected;
  • Everything is unfolding so quickly that you do not capture details. You are just too busy reacting;
  • There isn’t a clear chain of command. No one has been identified as a key communicator, so people don’t know their roles in communicating the news;
  • You aren’t thinking ahead of what people may need to know because you are focused on handling the situation;
  • You are busy handling the anxieties, concerns, or fears of those in your organization first before you work to relay the news to the public.

All of these reasons speak to the fact that a comprehensive crisis plan is a necessary step in planning ahead. It is important to have a Crisis Plan template ready to go. This sample Crisis Plan template is courtesy of Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert, Consultant, and Author of Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies. This template provides one sample. Many others are available online.

The key is to have a Crisis Communication Template you can easily locate, so you can easily complete it and make certain your communication about the crisis is both accurate and transparent. As you begin to think of communicating to your stakeholders about a crisis, the level of detail you must give is paramount. This template asks you a list of comprehensive questions about the crisis, so you can be thorough in your communication and in how you handle the crisis. At a time when it might be easy to become distracted or emotional, a Crisis Communication Template is a rational response to identify the key what of the message that must be sent concerning the crisis.

Review the Crisis Communication Template included below and in the fillable PDF version you can download here. Look for questions you might answer in advance and those you would complete at the time you are drafting communication concerning a crisis situation.

Be prepared so you can communicate with accuracy and transparency.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATION PLAN

Crisis Management and Communication Plan for:
[insert name of organization]
Prepared/updated on: [insert date]
By: [insert name]
This Plan Was Last Tested in a Crisis Exercise on: [insert date]
TOPIC YOUR ANSWERS
Crisis Trigger
What happened? What triggered use of this plan?
Contingency Plan
Insert whether and where there are back‑up plans in case this plan does not apply to the crisis.
Crisis Details
Describe what you know about the crisis, and how current the information is.
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
How:
Impact
What impact will the crisis have on the operations, activities, reputation, market share, or bottom line of your company? What can be done to lessen that impact?
Awareness
Who already knows about the crisis, and how they learned about it?
Notifications
Who should know about the crisis and how and when will they be told?
Success
Describe how you will define success in dealing with the crisis.
Priorities
List what must be done and in what order to address and resolve the crisis.
Deadlines
List any deadlines that must be met.
Messaging
List the three or four most important messages that you need to communicate about the crisis.
Distribution
Describe how you will distribute these messages via your communication tools or channels.
Questions and Answers
List the questions that people will most likely ask about the crisis and how to respond to them. Will the Q&A be posted online or distributed to key audiences? If yes, when?
Hotline
Will a hotline be established to answer questions about the crisis? If yes, when?
Challenges
List the challenges you may face in resolving the crisis.
Opportunities
Describe any unanticipated opportunities created by the crisis and how you will take advantage of them.
Needed Resources
List the internal or external resources that are needed, such as WiFi access points, computers, paper, printers, cell phones, etc.
Important Contact Information
Insert contact information for those who need to be informed about the crisis.
Approvals
Insert the names of those who will need to approve any decisions, actions, or media materials. To help save valuable time, consider preparing preapproved statements and media materials for different crisis scenarios that can be quickly updated or revised for immediate use.
Red Tape
Insert a list of obstacles or resistance that must be dealt with or overcome.
Crisis Team Members
Insert names, contact information, responsibilities, etc.; include back‑up team members in case anyone is not available.
Crisis Team Spokesperson and Back-Up Spokesperson
Insert name and contact information of a primary spokesperson; include a back‑up spokesperson in case the primary spokesperson is not available.
Recovery
What steps must be taken to bounce back from this crisis?
Distribution
Insert a list of those who have a copy of this plan and which version of the plan they have.
Documentation
Insert a chronology of the events and activities associated with the crisis and what was done to address the situation.

Tool #3: Choose your words carefully to build reliability in your communication

Imagine you have difficult news to convey. Because you are focused on “the news must be delivered,” it’s easy to just “get to the job at hand” and get right to relaying the news. Instead of jumping right to the news itself, it’s wise to take a step back and begin with an empathetic statement before you get to the meat of what is to be shared. Show understanding first. It softens the news and allows people to be more open to it. If people first understand the why behind the decision or news being delivered, they will more likely understand and support it. If you focus only on the what of the message, you may get compliance, but you miss the opportunity to build understanding and commitment. If we begin with empathy, you are more likely to keep people reading and engage them emotionally as well.

Once you have the message written using the why, what and how prompts in the Key Words at Key Times Template, it is time to review your communication and edit it for brevity and clarity. This is a time when you do more than look for misplaced commas. It goes without saying that we do not want to send out communication with punctuation and spelling errors in it. This erodes reliability of the communication.

Yet, reliability is built on much more than copy editing. When you review your message, this is the time to analyze your key words for their connotation. Connotation refers to the emotions and associations that people may have with some words. Connotation underpins the words we choose, and we must remember to think of the underlying meaning and feelings words have for those listening to or reading our message. Words may have positive connotation, negative connotation or neutral connotation. When you draft communication, you should strive to use words with neutral connotation unless you are intentionally selecting words with heightened emotion for a distinct reason. If we are unaware of a word’s connotation, the message we are sending may be viewed with skepticism and may build distrust, the exact opposite of building reliability.

Let’s look at an example to better understand connotation…

Think about the connotation of the words Confident, Secure, Proud and Egotistical. “Confident” and “proud” are positive, while “secure” is a more neutral description of this trait. “Egotistical” is a negative way of looking at self-confidence as something that borders on self-centeredness. These examples from YourDictionary.com give more examples of the positive, negative and neutral connotations of words.

A Sample: Change vs. Adjust

In our typical business communication, we often must communicate a decision which assumes a change in direction or a new path of action which is to be implemented. Note how powerful the word “change” is versus the word “adjustment” when describing this new direction. People don’t like change, by and large. It implies a somewhat jarring move in another direction, from a place where people may feel comfortable and secure. Change makes some people anxious. Conversely, people are more likely to respond more favorably to the word “adjust” as it assumes an intentional weighing of options and a proactive new direction being taken. Taking care to use words with more positive connotation may assist you in building reliability into your communication.

While it may seem timely to review each word, it is important to review your writing for connotation. It also helps to have a trusted reviewer to read your writing for connotation. Ask them if any words may be off-putting or insensitive. Also ask them to identify words that may be strengthened for tone to convey a more positive message. A friendly editor who can assist in reviewing your message is an invaluable asset. They may help your messaging have heightened reliability.

POSITIVE CONNOTATION NEUTRAL CONNOTATION NEGATIVE CONNOTATION
interested questioning nosy
employ use exploit
thrifty saving stingy
steadfast tenacious stubborn
sated filled crammed
courageous confident conceited
unique different peculiar
meticulous selective picky

Your Turn

Look at the words in the left column. These words have a more positive or negative connotation to them. In the right column, replace them with words that have more neutral connotation.

WORDS WITH POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE CONNOTATION WORDS WITH MORE NEUTRAL CONNOTATION
Example: Problem Example: Situation
Complaint
Failed
Conflict

Your Turn: Application

Think about a project you are implementing. How did you come up with the title of the project? Were you intentional or did it just get titled without thinking? Often the titles of our projects simply evolve from the imprecise language we used at the inception of the project. The project name is the first thing people will read. Don’t miss the opportunity to use the project title to inspire confidence and reliability. Project names are often overlooked yet they can build reliability in your message.

Think of the plans that you most likely made to phase in re-opening your organization as part of adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic. Some organizations called those plans COVID-19 Plans or Re-Entry Plans. Some people called them Back-To-Work Plans or Coronavirus Plans. Others called them Stay Safe to Stay Open Plans. Each of these titles has a connotation. Whatever you elect to call an initiative or program, be intentional in the words you choose. As you select a Project Name, choose words that inspire reliability and confidence.

What is some project you are working on where an intentional wording of a project title would help to instill confidence and clarity?

Download the free PDF version of this toolkit to get this fillable template.

DOWNLOAD PDF

Tool #4: Be timely to build reliability in your communication

Imagine you have difficult news to convey. Because you are focused on “the news must be delivered,” it’s easy to just “get to the job at hand” and get right to relaying the news. Instead of jumping right to the news itself, it’s wise to take a step back and begin with an empathetic statement before you get to the meat of what is to be shared. Show understanding first. It softens the news and allows people to be more open to it. If people first understand the why behind the decision or news being delivered, they will more likely understand and support it. If you focus only on the what of the message, you may get compliance, but you miss the opportunity to build understanding and commitment. If we begin with empathy, you are more likely to keep people reading and engage them emotionally as well.

One of the biggest irritants people have with communication is when it isn’t delivered in a timely fashion. The information may be organized and clear, but if it doesn’t get to the reader in time to be of benefit, it is not worth the paper it’s written on. Timeliness of the message is paramount. This means we must not only craft the wording of the message; we must think about what people need to hear when. We call this “staging” the communication by creating a cadence to the release of information. It doesn’t mean that we withhold information; rather, we release information in stages so that we are repeating and adding on to the message. We stage our communication to make sure we are sending communication early and often. This builds reliability in our communication.

Think about timeliness with this analogy. Many offices have a policy in place regarding returning emails in a timely manner. For example, some organizations require that email or phone messages must be returned within 24 hours during the work week. If we don’t have the answer, we are to respond to the email to let the sender know we have received their message and are working on it. Then we make certain we respond again when the answer is found. Why do we have this message return protocol? We demonstrate reliability when we respond in a timely fashion. It builds confidence and is respectful to the message sender as well.

Similarly, we should apply the same rule to our communication of decisions. It’s not wise to wait until the final decision is reached to communicate it. Instead, it is best to communicate along the way and offer updates regularly. When we don’t communicate in a timely fashion, rumors abound and people may feel the organization is operating in a vacuum, without concern for the public they serve. Reliability erodes. Simply put when thinking of communication, silence is NOT golden. Silence creates uncertainty.

What prevents us from communicating in a timely fashion? Often we don’t execute in a timely fashion because we don’t make time to create communication updates. More commonly though, some leaders may say, “Times are uncertain, and we haven’t made a decision. I don’t have anything new to communicate.” We may underestimate what we can communicate or focus on the fact that it all doesn’t seem that new to us. This makes sense, we are living the message daily in our work. It doesn’t seem new to us; it doesn’t seem newsworthy…. but there is much that is new to those who aren’t as involved in it as we might be. Look for those new items to share and communicate them in stages.

It is particularly difficult to communicate when we don’t know the answer, or the answer is out of our control. As organizations began to consider re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic, leaders were faced with the challenge of not having all the answers.

  • When will we re-open?
  • Will we stay open?
  • Is it safe to be at work?

These are gut-wrenching questions where answers are hard to find. This makes it difficult to communicate reliably.

When things are uncertain, or you don’t have an answer to share consider Managing Up the process.

Manage Up the Process

Manage Up is a Studer Education strategy designed to paint our organization in a positive light. It is a tactic designed to decrease anxiety and build a sense of confidence. Quint Studer defines it as, “The skill of telling a customer that your employees, co-workers and company are up to the task….is called ‘managing up’”.

Leaders may Manage Up a new hire to decrease her or his anxiety as well as instill confidence in the team the new employee is joining. A few well-chosen words about why this person was hired shared when the employee is being introduced will go miles to build confidence and reliability in people’s minds. Managing Up can also be used during handovers when transferring a phone call to another department or walking a visitor to an employee’s office. Again, a few well-chosen words about the person they will be talking to will ease the visitor’s anxiety and instill confidence. Simply mention something about their skill set or experience to Manage Up a colleague during a handover. We call these warm handovers, rather than a cold handover. It’s such a simple strategy that yields reliability.

But the same Manage Up strategy can be used to Manage Up your organization when information is uncertain.

The Manage Up Template

Imagine you are being asked a question for which you don’t have the answer yet. For the purpose of this sample, let’s say you are being asked, “What will you do if someone comes down with the coronavirus pandemic at work?” Imagine you have not created this protocol yet and are in process, but it is not yet complete. You are not on the committee that is creating the protocol, but someone has asked you about it. Here is how you might answer that question by employing Manage Up.

Look at the sample four-step Manage Up process below. Note that you begin with empathy and understanding and then you offer what detail you can. But you use the words, “I have high confidence in the team and in the work they are doing.” This language, combined with just a few details, Manages Up the process. It doesn’t cause over promising and under delivering. It is an honest approach to addressing uncertainty.

Look at the four steps in the Manage Up process paying close attention to Step Three. Be intentional in the words you select to instill high confidence.

SAMPLE MANAGE UP

STEPS TO MANAGE UP WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER KEY WORDS
1. Express empathy I can understand why you want to know this answer. I want to remain healthy and coronavirus-free, and I understand you do too. Work needs to be a safe place for all of us.
2. Be vulnerable and honest about what you know and don’t know We are dedicated to your health and safety and are making this a high priority. While I am not on the committee, I am confident in the team that is making that recommendation.
3. Manage Up the Process being used to address their question by offering what details you know and reassuring the person that you have high confidence in the process The team that is creating the protocol is comprised of administrators, employees, and public health officials. They are using CDC guidelines and recommendations from our public health department in designing the protocol. I also know they surveyed to determine employees’ concerns with safety at work and are using that data in their deliberations. This team has been working all summer. I have high confidence in them and in the work they are doing.
4. Let them know when you will have more information. I believe they will have that protocol published by (date). When it is published, please review it and then contact me or a member of the team if you have any further questions. Does that sound good to you?

Now You Try

Think of a situation where Managing Up your organization would be helpful to instill high confidence in your constituents, customers or stakeholders. Use the template to craft your Manage Up communication.

Managing Up the process is a key strategy to build reliability into your communication.

Download the free PDF version of this toolkit to get this fillable template.

DOWNLOAD PDF

Section 2

Leveraging Consistency to Communicate with Greater Clarity

Consistency is defined as conformity of appearance. When we think of conformity we think of sameness. Conformity is a principal of design where a pattern is repeated. We see conformity in nature and in art. Conformity is soothing and comforting.

Communication can be consistent when we think of the concept of conformity. We conform to conventions in writing, but it means so much more than this. Conformity in communication is built upon sameness. While this sounds redundant, communicating the same thing with frequency builds consistency in execution.

Two principles of consistency in communication are key: repetition of key ideas and one voice. Let’s look at each in a bit of detail.

Repetition builds consistency. Don’t be afraid of delivering the same message in multiple modes (e.g. same message on twitter, website, and in email) or multiple times. While we may feel we are saying the same thing over and over, the goal is for people to understand what you are communicating and often that doesn’t occur in one try. We must repeat the message multiple times and in multiple modes to enhance clarity of understanding. This takes staging the communication, referenced in Tool #4.

Similarly, inconsistency can occur if differing people in the organization aren’t “speaking the same language”. All who represent the organization must speak in one voice when communicating, “singing from the same hymnal,” a consistent message within and outside the organization serves everyone well. Nothing erodes consistency more than if one person in the organization isn’t on the same page and responds with a different answer. People don’t want to feel that they get one answer from one person in an organization and a different answer from another. We need consistency in how our team communicates key information.

But remember — there is a difference between one person and one voice. One voice sending the same message builds consistency. This is not the same as only one person delivering the message. In larger organizations, you may have a Chief Communications Officer who is the lead on communicating for the organization. Many of us do not work in organizations where this role is assumed. We all play a role in communicating decisions of the organization – yet we must do so with one consistent voice and message. Remember, customers, communities, and employees view all employees as unofficial spokespersons for our organizations. Make certain there they are using one voice when messaging.

Tool #5: Message frequently to build consistency in your communication

In our earlier Studer Education Toolkit entitled What the Best Leaders do to Communicate with Employees during Critical Times we relayed the importance of communicating with frequent short messages. “During a crisis, the key is shorter, focused, and clear messages delivered more often.”

Frequency of messaging is key at all times, not just at a time of crisis. The need for frequency of messaging is summarized in a blog American Express publishes for its business customers:

“So, how frequent must your communications be to reach and activate your audience? Long-standing research in advertising tells us that it takes three to seven impressions before a message registers. A frequency of fewer than three messages is a waste of money. But a frequency beyond seven continues to have a cumulative benefit; diminishing returns don’t set in for a good while. You’ll get tired of your ads long before your prospect does.”

It’s true. As we communicate, we must remember that redundancy is a good thing. Saying the same key message repeatedly builds consistency.

A Sample

We see the concept of frequency in advertising all the time. Look at this website blurb from Delta Airlines concerning their response to customers concerning travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Notice the headline, Committed to Your Safety. These four words have power when repeated over and over.

The word “committed” connotes caring concern and relays their dedication to me, the reader. These four words anchor all of Delta’s coronavirus pandemic communication. This simple wording is repeated in all their communications along with the statement, “Caring for our customers and employees is our top priority. We’re doing everything we can to deliver a safe, healthy and clean travel experience.” It’s akin to the five- paragraph essay we learned to write in elementary school. The communication is anchored with a few key words and then detail is provided about what they are doing to deliver three things: a safe, healthy and clean travel experience. The communication is tight. Each and every time they communicate on their coronavirus pandemic response, it is framed with this repeated message.

Your Turn

Look at the communication below from Amazon on their coronavirus pandemic blog. Reflect and answer the following 3 questions:

  1. What anchors the message?
  2. What are the three key areas of the body of the message?
  3. How does this blog address frequency of messaging?

Let’s discuss your responses:

  1. If you said the anchor of the message deals with the support Amazon is providing in response to the coronavirus pandemic, you would be correct. The repeated message is all about “how we’re supporting our employees, customers and communities.” If you go to the blog, you see evidence of that support provided in bullet format. They want you to know they are supportive. Support is the key word here.
  2. The three areas being provided that support are Amazon employees, customers, and communities. If you go to the Amazon blog, you will see that clear format of three examples of the support they are providing to these key audiences. This clear organization mirrors how Delta focused on three key areas. People remember up to three things very easily. Four or more demands more brain power. Condense and aim for two to three elaborated points in your communication.
  3. Note that this blog is updated daily with new information. It builds with frequency of messaging. This reminds us that during a crisis short updates of information are better than waiting for a long litany of detail. A daily “bite” of information is digestible and understandable. The frequency of communication builds consistency of messaging.

Your Turn: Application

Think about a project or decision you must communicate. Your goal is to build frequent, simple messaging to build consistency of understanding for the customer.

  1. What short, meaningful phrase will anchor your message?
  2. What are the 2-3 key areas of the body of the message?

Tool #6: Message with one voice to build consistency in your communication

As we craft our communication to build consistency, we need to be mindful of who is looked to as unofficial spokespersons in our organization. We want to give both official and unofficial spokespersons key messages to have in their pocket, so they are prepared and confident to respond. Earlier in this toolkit, we learned the worst thing that can happen is when people in your organization are uninformed and cannot “sing from the same hymnal” when asked about a decision or action being taken. Give your employees the information they need to respond to questions or concerns.

Begin by thinking about who needs to be given key information to relay. If possible, bring those people to the table to craft the message or give them Talking Points to have at hand.

A Sample: Using the Key Words at Key Times Template to Enhance Consistency in Communication

This familiar tool is helpful when creating one voice for communication. You have seen this tool before – The Key Words at Key Times Template. You can use this template to create the Talking Points for a group of key communicators. It is powerful when this group completes the template together and is intentional at selecting the words to use in the message. It is also acceptable to give your key communicators a completed Key Words at Key Times Template if time is of the essence. People appreciate being given key words to use when explaining a decision, initiative and project. It gives them a foundation. It gives them confidence in communicating. This Key Words at Key Times Template creates consistency of messaging if its use is reinforced by the leader. “We are using this template so we have one voice when we communicate about….”

A Sample: Using the Pre-Determined Talking Points to Enhance Consistency in Communication

We can also make it easier for people to communicate by determining Talking Points and distributing them to key communicators in advance. Look at this example below. Recently we completed a strategic plan for a partner organization, the Burton School District in Porterville, CA, and were presenting the plan to the Board of Education for their consideration and adoption. At the end of the presentation, this slide was used to summarize and offer them Key Talking Points:

Board members commented on how this slide gave them just the right amount of information to use when talking to citizens in the community about the new strategic plan. It wasn’t left up to chance to come up with something to say on the fly. Rather, board members had the key messages at hand and could respond with confidence. Do Talking Points increase consistency in communication? You bet they do.

Your Turn: Application

Think of an initiative you have recently completed. What would the 3-5 key talking points be? Who are the key communicators you would share your Talking Points with?

KEY WORDS AT KEY TIMES TEMPLATE

QUESTION OR ISSUE:
QUESTION OR ISSUE: Need to cancel an event.
Questions to Answer Response
Why are we doing this? Why is it important?
What are we doing?
How will we implement it? How will it impact me?

Download the free PDF version of this toolkit to get this fillable template.

DOWNLOAD PDF

Section 3

Leveraging Accountability to Communicate with Greater Clarity

Accountability is defined as responsibility. Who has the responsibility to do the job? Accountability is at the apex of the Execution Triangle because it all comes down to someone feeling it is their job to get the job done right.

Successful people feel a sense of responsibility to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. At Studer Education we say that people who are accountable view themselves as “owners” not “renters”. This means that they own the decision and the follow through as if it was their valued piece of property. They aren’t short timers; they are in for the long haul. Another way to say it is that owners are “vested” in the success of the organization. They care and follow through by doing what is necessary to make the organization successful.

The concept of accountability is key in communication. In Tool #7 we began to introduce the concept of Accountability by identifying key communicators and giving them talking points, so they are confident and empowered to speak for the organization with one unified voice. In this section, we will help you stage communication using key communicators.

If we achieve accountability, the organization will also be consistent and reliable.

– Maximize Performance | pg. 47, Quint Studer, MSE and Janet Pilcher, Ph.D.

Tool #7: Intentionally stage communication to build accountability in your communication

As we craft our communication to build consistency, we need to be mindful of who is looked to as unofficial spokespersons in our organization. We want to give both official and unofficial spokespersons key words.

In our earlier Studer Education Toolkit, Leading A Successful Reentry to Achieve Organizational Excellence, we provided you with a Communication Template to plan your communication with greater intentionality. Having a process to build accountability for communication is key to heightened accountability. People in the organization execute with greater fidelity when there is clarity about the:

  • Message itself
  • Who is to communicate the message
  • When it is to be communicated and in what order
  • Using what modes of communication

Clarity about the above four items instills accountability. It increases the likelihood the communication will be delivered systematically by enhancing sound execution.

For most of your communication, this Communication Template will heighten accountability and offers you a process to create greater accountability in your communication. Completing the Communication template will give your key communicators the information they need to understand what the message is and how it will be communicated.

Communication Staging Process and Template

For more complex communication, you will want to be even more intentional in determining accountability for messaging. This is when a Staging Communication Process and Template is useful.

Process

Once the message is completed using the Communication Template or Key Words at Key Times Template, use this Staging Communication Template to enhance accountability in messaging.

  • Step One: List each target audience who must receive the message
  • Step Two: For each target audience, determine the modes of communication that best reach them
  • Step Three: Now determine the sequence with which each target audience will receive the message. Who will hear first, second, third, etc.?
  • Step Four: Determine the person(s) who will be responsible for delivering the message to the identified target audiences.

Your Turn: Using the Communication Staging Template

Think of a big decision you must communicate. Try working with a few people to complete the Communication Staging Template below. Remember that it is best to communicate in small doses over time, so this staging plan could be quite long. That’s okay. It will provide great accountability about how you will get your key message out.

Download the free PDF version of this toolkit to get this fillable template.

DOWNLOAD PDF

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