The forecast said the year ahead would be a fairly decent one. At the annual get-people-excited-about-the-year-to-come-all-company-meeting the senior sales exec gave a rousing speech all about the specific product lines that would be the tip of the spear for growth in the coming year. He had great market research information, forecast and pipeline data, and competitive analysis to back up his strategy. He wanted the troops to get excited about what they could achieve. The meeting finished on a high note and there was an n excited buzz in the room as the folks disbanded. It seemed the speech had done the trick, until the following day.
The support team called a meeting to discuss when they would be announcing end of the life on the product lines that hadn’t been discussed. That information wasn’t readily available so several more meetings were needed to get it, and then to try to formulate a strategy from it.
Account managers started asking for details on what they should tell customers who were on some of the product lines that were now “out of focus”. They needed to know if there was a migration path that would be made available to the product lines that were the new focus and so multiple meetings were called
Developers and technologists on the lines not mentioned were honing resumes and querying other groups to see if they had openings. HR suddenly felt the need to meet to discuss what seemed like unrest in product groups that had always been stable.
After two weeks of churn and close to two-dozen “what do we do now” meetings the senior sales exec called another company wide meeting. He explained that there were NO plans to retire ANY product lines but that the coming year would see additional focus on the lines previously mentioned. No one was at risk for losing a job, no customers needed to be given bad news, and no support policies needed to be changed. This time the meeting ended in relief, if not mild annoyance.
Sadly this is a true story. The staff at Dynamic Communicators was asked to come in and provide communications training to help this company avoid the madness in the future. I’m not sure if we ultimately achieved that goal or not because, while we did meet with a couple of groups, the executives didn’t think they needed help.
Even sadder is the fact that this sort of thing happens all the time and being diligent to look out for three pitfalls in corporate communicating could easily squelch half of it.
Pitfall #1: FYI-tis
Giving information is great. We all like to be informed. At the end of the day people care much more about “why” they should know something than they do about the “what”. Just passing information without a word as to why you’re passing it, FYI, leaves people to interpret the “why” on their own. As seen in the case above that interpretation may be quite different than what was intended. If you find yourself saying, “but they need to know this” without answering “why” in the next sentence you’re at risk of falling into the pit.
Pitfall #2: Confusing Content and Context
In the case above the senior sales exec thought he’d rouse the troops by providing strategic forward thinking based on the numbers by which he lived everyday. He’d interpreted the data and presented it at the annual get-psyched meeting, a context in which people expected to get direction for the coming year. By giving incomplete information based on an FYI approach the meeting spawned two weeks of unnecessary mania. The context in his head was not the context of the meeting. Ask yourself what the audience is expecting in the context of the presentation.
Pitfall #3: Audience Amnesia or Passion sans Perspective
In the example above the senior sales exec presented with passion. He had good, exciting information and he wanted to share it but he forgot that the audience almost always starts from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” Unless you know what your audience is looking for you can’t address their need, you can’t answer the question “why” am I giving this information from the audiences perspective. Oh, you can answer it for yourself, you know why you want to GIVE it but that may not be why they want to receive it. What is the need that they have that your information meets?
You have the info, the 411, you know you need to pass it along, whether in a meeting or an email, or a white paper. Start by asking yourself why, why does my audience need this? Then pause and check their contextual expectation, what do they expect out of the context in which they’ll receive this information? Then pause again and ask why, why would THEY say they’re interested in this information? What is THEIR purpose for listening?
Answer these questions BEFORE you deliver the info and you’ll find you’ve wended your way successfully through the pitfalls.
What’s the worst you’ve experienced? How could the problem have been solved by better preparation?