Challenges with senior management is the reason many internal communicators pull back from what they believe to be the appropriate course of action, according to a recent survey by the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC). Among those surveyed, 45 percent said senior managers are a major block to progress in key areas of their development (far ahead of budgets and time pressures, at 19 percent each).
To help explore aspects of IoIC’s annual conference theme for this year, “The rise of the fearless communicator,” the group commissioned the online survey, Fighting Fear for Effective Communication, which considered the following: the “nature of fearless communication, what encourages it, and what kills it stone dead.”
Survey results also revealed that 45 percent of respondents said gaining leader and staff support is the “scariest challenge” they face. When it comes to reducing fear and initiating positive action, 44 percent of those surveyed cited understanding leaders as the key variable.
While results showed the challenges facing internal communicators today, respondents also identified the traits they equate with “fearless communicators,” including a leader’s ability to inspire, listen, be honest and consistent, and confident.
“This survey clearly illustrates the challenges faced by internal communicators in getting through to business leaders, but also how important it is for them to have the abilities required to break down barriers – with managerial and interpersonal performance, along with business know-how, being just as important as technical skills,” says IoIC Chairman, Dominic Walters.
The IoIC survey results support the notion that in order to best drive business success, today’s leaders need to pave the way—not block it—by using their ability to positively influence the internal culture, being sensitive to employee needs, and being open to progress.
What would make you more fearless?
- David Grossman
The Top 5 Reasons (Excuses!) We’re So Bad at Communicating
Learning the skills to communicate well is not difficult, and is easily accessible to all of us. In fact, it’s relatively easy to acquire in light of the potential and power it can provide you. But with good communication well within reach and so critically important, why in the world are so many of us still so bad at communicating effectively?!
Ever have trouble getting your prospects, customers or employees to tune in to your communications? You may be falling victim to something psychologists call “cognitive fluency.”
In its simplest form, cognitive fluency means this: people prefer to think about things that are easy, rather than those that are hard.
Granted, this principle isn’t rocket science, but what is fascinating is how cognitive fluency actually influences people’s behavior.
The Surprising Impact of Cognitive Fluency
Take, for example, a recent study that compared the stock returns of public companies with easy-to-pronounce names versus those with difficult-to-pronounce names. Strangely enough, those with easy names significantly outperformed those with difficult names.
The study’s authors chalked this up to cognitive fluency, asserting that just the complexity of the company’s name would actually influence people’s appetite to invest in the firm. Come across a cryptic name and one’s brain just sort of recoils, looking for something that’s easier to process.
A less esoteric example, and one that’s been very well documented over the years, involves the 401(k) industry. At one time, companies were convinced that the more investment options they threw into their retirement plans, the more attractive the plans would be to consumers.
They were wrong. Turns out that when consumers are faced with a seemingly endless array of investment options, they’re basically paralyzed by the sheer number of choices, and many end up not enrolling in their 401(k) at all. That’s cognitive fluency at work.
The Curse of Complexity; The Opportunity of Simplicity
Complexity is a very dangerous thing when you’re trying to influence the behavior of others, be it consumers, employees, shareholders, or any other constituency. When your products, services and communications are free of complexity, they become more cognitively fluent – making it far more likely that your target audience will take the time to listen to, process, and consider your offering.
Communications, unlike many products and services, are relatively malleable. For this reason, they represent a great platform for enhancing cognitive fluency, helping your audience to better understand your message and better appreciate your value proposition.
So when you develop any type of communication artifact – from sales proposals to billing statements, from new hire packages to executive memos – think carefully about how to maximize cognitive fluency by simplifying both content and design. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Use signposts to facilitate navigation. When faced with a “wall of text,” people have difficulty navigating and absorbing the content. Use signposts – such as bold headings and summary call out boxes – to help your audience absorb information in smaller, more easily digestible morsels.
- Create visual appeal to entice your audience. Communications that look cluttered and complex will repel your audience. Choose fonts, colors and layouts that are easy on the eyes, inviting people to actually read the content.
- Highlight what’s in it for me. If your hook – the reason why people should listen to your message in the first place – is buried deep in your communication, then you miss a key opportunity to engage your audience. Up front, make it clear why your message is relevant.
- Don’t just rely on the written (or spoken) word. Some concepts are best explained with well-crafted visuals – graphs, diagrams, and even animations. Use these other mediums to enliven your communications and help people grasp more complicated information.
- Break things into clear cut steps. Particularly for instructional communications, clearly identifying distinct procedural steps not only helps foster understanding, but it also gives people a sense of control (i.e., knowing what to expect) that will improve their comprehension.
* * *
If your sales proposals are falling flat, if your employee communications are being ignored, if your customers are tuning you out – the culprit could be cognitive fluency. No matter how compelling your message is, without the right packaging, it can easily fall on deaf ears – because that’s how the human mind works.
We crave simplicity. And if you deliver it – in your products, your services, and your communications – then you’ll be harnessing the power of cognitive fluency to set yourself apart from the competition.
Jon Picoult is Founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps businesses impress their clients and inspire their employees. Previously, Jon held senior executive roles in service, technology, sales and marketing at Fortune 100 companies. Learn more, or read Jon’s blog, at www.watermarkconsult.net.
We’ve heard for years about how companies gain employee commitment by helping people balance the demands of jobs and personal time. Now some new research suggests that’s not the only balancing act we should think about.
A recent study of 80 global companies by Towers Watson found the 24/7 work environment is the latest major challenge to employee engagement. Continuous demands from online collaboration and mobile technology actually require employees to behave differently and develop new competencies to manage their activity. Time management is critical, of course, but so is the ability to manage stress and transition smoothly between personal and work commitments.
Digging deeper to understand what influences discretionary effort among employees in a realm of constant demands and communication, the research found two additional “E” factors: enablement and energy. Like engagement, they flourish in environments that nurture and take care of employees.
Enablement happens when employees have what they need to work efficiently and effectively over time. Energy is generated by a healthful work environment that supports employees’ physical, social and emotional well-being. Notably, focus on the bottom line without consideration for employee needs can drain people’s energy and reduce discretionary effort.
Enablement and energy are found when individuals have clear expectations, experience positive and respectful dialogue, participate on effective teams, and have leaders who model “harmonious” behavior that reduces rather than compounds stress.
And once again the bottom line is clear. Further Towers Watson research on 50 companies showed that those demonstrating all three factors -- engagement, enablement and energy -- had operating margins three times those of companies with only one of the factors present.
In a world where opportunities and communications happen around the clock, we have to be even more vigilant about the demands on the people who matter most to our organizations.
How are you addressing these new multipliers?
- David Grossman
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The science is in…
A recent study released in The Annals of Internal Medicine
showed that communication and culture impact patient outcomes more than any other factor…even the best equipment or surgeons.
The researchers focused on hospitals with the lowest and highest mortality rates from heart attacks, and compared their performance with themes from more than 150 interviews with physicians, nurses and administrators.
According to the study, what affected outcomes more than anything else was simply this: a cohesive organizational vision that focused on communication and support of all efforts to improve care. "It's how people communicate, the level of support, and the organizational culture that trump any single intervention or any single strategy that hospitals frequently adopt," said Elizabeth H. Bradley, senior author and faculty director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute
at Yale University
, as quoted in the New York Times
Earlier studies suggested other explanations for the difference in outcomes such as income, affiliation with an academic medical center and number of beds, among others.
"A lot of people think that you have to go to a really big city teaching hospital with really expensive equipment," Dr. Bradley said. "But we didn't find that to be true."
"We have to focus on the relationships inside the hospital and be committed to making the organization work. It isn't expensive and it isn't rocket science, but it requires a real commitment from everyone."
I couldn't have said it better myself.