Remember playing telephone as a kid? You would sit in a circle with friends and whisper a message into the ear of the child next to you. By the end, when the last kid would announce the message out loud, everyone would break into laughter: It never bore any resemblance to the original message.
Is that still happening to you? Are your messages getting lost in a modern-day game of telephone?
I see it in companies all the time. The CEO knows the message — in this case the business’ vision and strategies — but it gets terribly distorted as it gets passed along and it becomes no laughing matter.
There are reasons why messages get lost.
No. 1, managers often don’t understand or even hear the message or its importance. Its relevance to their work hasn’t been explained to them.
No. 2, the noise of stress can deafen the message. Today, employees are running at breakneck speed in order to stay competitive. The priority is on responding to immediate needs and putting out fires. Under stress, many managers can’t hear the message or can’t prioritize communicating it.
No. 3, competitive work environments mean personal job security comes first and the company’s long-term success second. We make decisions that are in our best interests, not always thinking whether they’re aligned with the company’s goals. When that happens, the message gets sidelined in favor of short-term gain.
In order for the message to stay intact, it needs to be communicated loudly and clearly over and over again, and everyone in the circle needs to be responsible for passing it on accurately. Don’t wait until the end to realize the message has been mangled.
Articulate the vision and strategy.
The importance of this can’t be overstated. The vision and strategies — your message — should be presented to people over and over again, not just in words but visually.
Visuals resonate with people and make the message stick. Develop a visual representation of the company’s vision and display it prominently throughout the organization.
Generate confidence and commitment.
In order for people to pass the message on accurately, they need to know, “What does this mean for me?” and “Why should I care?”
Today’s competitive work environments are making people incredibly anxious and concerned about the future. People want reassurance about their own futures and their company’s future. Perhaps more than ever before, they need inspiring visions for the future that they can take confidence in.
Give them a vision they can support and make it clear that the company needs them on board in order to succeed. Let them know how they will benefit if the company reaches its goals. Once they believe in the company’s future and their role in it, they’ll be committed to the message.
Leaders must accept personal accountability for communicating clearly. Each leader must commit to communicating in ways that align with the original message. No matter how tense things get, the message can’t get dropped or distorted at will by one leader. If a leader or leaders stray, the situation must be addressed immediately. Otherwise, the strategy has no teeth and will not be trusted.
Invest in management.
Commend leaders who communicate well and work closely with those who need more help. Remember that this is a process. In order for it to work, people will need mentoring and coaching.
Break it down.
Our high-pressure work environments mean that people will want to throw out long-term strategies when the going gets tough. In order to prevent that, work with managers to create daily, weekly and monthly priorities that meet short and long-term goals.
Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.