The Components of a Good Employee Message – What Will Get You Heard

Writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Every manager communicates to inspire action, either directly or indirectly.  A communicator needs to use the right combination to touch on the three components of a good message: the data behind the decision; what kind of action is required; and why we want to move in this direction.  More easily put, it’s about head, hands and heart.  Revolutionary Assistants who understand these three components can make sure that the email, memo or presentation that leaves her desk is strong in all three areas.

Head – Every presentation, meeting and conversation needs to be based on fact.  What are the numbers showing and why are we here talking about them?  Even if your message is simple – “Were changing the channel from Fox News to CNN in the lunchroom” – there’s still an underlying employee engagement survey result that’s probably being considered.  But while numbers need to be present, good leaders talk about the data.  Numbers are very powerful, but it’s not enough to say that sales have dropped 7% year over year.  The communicator needs to talk about why sales are down, what sense she makes of it, what her conclusion is.  Add the context, and the data will be understood, but make sure the data is there!

Hands – Too many communications are lacking clear instruction.  Once the employee has learned that sales have dropped 7% year over year, he needs to hear how he plays a role in improving those numbers.  Messaging that includes clear instructions and obvious lines of accountability are an imperative if you want behaviors to change.  If your success hinges on employees understanding these new requirements, don’t bury the message in the fine print.  Make it obvious, make it simple.  “We need you to do X by X date, and we’ll provide all the support you need to accomplish that task.”

Heart – Messages resonate with people when they strike emotional chords.  Communicators need to make sure that their messages address the audience’s emotional needs.  It could be that they need to get stoked up about some news.  It could be that the message is a little scary, and the communicator could diffuse the fear by addressing it and even demonstrating a little transparency and vulnerability around that message.

Before you get visions of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech into your head, please understand that I’m not talking about that kind of heart-wrenching emotion.  I’m talking about something similar to the kind of emotions evoked when you see a good ad on television.  It might be that hilariously funny and sweet Volkswagen Darth Vader ad that ran during the Super Bowl this year, or the Chrysler 200 commercial that had Detroiters like me on their feet cheering. Regardless, you remember them because of the emotional strings they pulled.  They weren’t selling you cars, they were selling you a sense of family, or a feeling of enormous pride.  Universal emotions.  Everyone understands them. Your manager might be telling you about a new initiative, but if he laces the message with a little heart and soul, his message becomes universal, and it’ll stick in employees’ heads for a long time to come.

Hands, head and heart.  It’s what should be in every communication.  But what does that look like in a meeting agenda, a powerpoint presentation, or a memo?  Assistants, chime in with your thoughts!  And stay tuned for mine…

Next post:  Thursday, July 28