You Talkin’ To ME? | npENGAGE

You Talkin’ To ME?

By on Oct 2, 2013


“This organizational change is going to be a springboard for us to grow to the next level!”

Sounds pretty inspirational, right?

Then why are you only hearing crickets?  And why aren’t the troops hootin’ and hollerin’ in the hallways?

As a manager and leader you’re often asked to speak, write, tweet, or post about any number of things going on at your organization.  In my current position I consult and advise on these messages as they are related to changes in organizations (mostly software changes and the considerable ripple effects of them), and one thing I’ve learned to reinforce is that while all messaging that you do is vital, communicating about change should be done exceptionally thoughtfully.

Change messages at their heart are persuasive messages, and persuasion will not occur unless the speaker considers the perspective of the receiver of the message.

Consider this simple scenario with the following variables:  I live in the South.  It gets hot in the summer.  I also have four kids, who in the summer are often going in and out of our kitchen door all day.  My wife and I don’t like paying very high electric bills.   We would like them to close the door.  Closing the door does not seem high on their priority list.  My boys’ priority seems to be to beat the heck out of each other any chance they get.  My daughter’s priority is to go outside only when we tell her because she doesn’t like the idea of bees at ALL.

So…how do I approach this situation?  Telling my kids to close the door because “I don’t want to air condition the outside!  Don’t you know what this costs us?” doesn’t seem to take hold with them for some reason (any parent reading this is nodding their head, knowingly).

What’s the analysis?  This argument makes perfect sense to my wife and me, because if our electric bill is high we won’t have money for more important things like gas and groceries.  But were we really considering our audience?  Do my kids care (or even really understand) how that affects them?

What’s the better play?  Consider my kids’ motivators.  If I tell my daughter to make sure to close the door so bees don’t get in the house, WOW.  I challenge you to find a better door-closer.  That door is closed before she’s even inside the house.

There is no shortage of research on persuasive messaging, but if I was forced to pick just one thing on which to focus, it would be to be sure to consider your AUDIENCE.  My guess is that most folks reading this post will say, “Of course.  Everybody knows that and I always do it myself.”  And you know what?  You probably do.  But are you considering ALL your audiences?

As Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller note, employees don’t care about the company as you think they do.  Their argument is that while you may know how one of your employee audiences will receive the message, usually there are at least five different motivators (or sources of meaning) for employees—some will care about the impact of their work on society, some on the customer, some on the company overall, some on their team, and some care mostly about themselves.  The point is that any message that only attends to one of these motivators is often missing out on about 80% of the organization!  That’s a big chunk!

So when someone says, “This organizational change is going to be a springboard for us to grow to the next level,” that message may only be motivating for those who truly care about the organization.  What about the employee who really only cares how it affects their day-to-day activity?  The only thing they hear in that message is that their life is going to change, and they sure as heck don’t like the sound of that.  Yep, the old WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) adage rings true again.

I encourage all of my clients to take the time to do a real audience analysis, where they don’t just consider the one audience that is a mirror image of them, but rather to try to list all the different audiences that may consume that message.  And then try to understand what is important to THEM, and how that affects them.  It is easy in theory, but more challenging in execution.

The payoff, however, is always worth it.  And I hope that thought is useful to YOU, my audience.  J

What are your tips or tricks for persuasive messages in your organization?  Share your successes and lessons learned in the comments below!


Michael Reardon, Ph.D., is the Senior Principal consultant for the Customer Success Services team at Blackbaud where he leads the change management practice and has more than 20 years of experience in organizational communication, change management, virtual work, and corporate identification. Prior to joining the Blackbaud team, Michael worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Charleston where he was honored with Faculty of the Year awards in 2009-2010 as well as in 2010-2011. He is also an active volunteer in his community, having focused much of his volunteer work on literacy and communication through an adult reading academy and participating as a “reading buddy” for a group of underprivileged first graders. Self-described as an exceptional driver of minivans (and sometimes golf balls), Michael and his wife are the proud parents to four children.

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