The Elf on a Shelf, Terror, and Messaging | npENGAGE

The Elf on a Shelf, Terror, and Messaging

By on Dec 9, 2013


I consider myself a very lucky person.  I’ve got an amazing family, a good job, fun friends, and a decent golf game.  Overall I live a very fortunate life.  That is, I live a very fortunate life about 10 months of the year.

The other two months?  Well, those with children a certain age who celebrate Christmas probably know what I’m talking about:  I live in constant fear that I’m going to answer a question about Santa and/or The Elf on a Shelf incorrectly.  I’ve never stared down the barrel of a gun or anything like that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know terror.  Just one interrogation by an 8 year-old and you’ll know what I’m talking about.  And if you have more than one child and they team up—you might as well be in some sort of horror film.

(BONUS PARENTING TIP:  Always have a distraction ready to go.  If you’re in the car, have your finger ready to turn up the volume so you can play the old “I can’t hear you!” card.  In the house, keep candy handy to get out of the conversation.  Anything that you can do to replicate the “Squirrel!” reaction of a dog so you can run away is perfect.)

Of course I’m exaggerating… a bit.

Sort of.

I was working with a client recently and found myself thinking about these situations.  No, I wasn’t advising about Santa or anything like that.  We were working on the communication strategy for the rollout of a very large software installation.  We were talking about messaging, audiences, and how to get the news out, and we discovered that some of the communication team members had different impressions of why the organization bought the software in the first place.

Now, this is understandable—whenever you are undergoing a major change, there is likely to be different pockets of information out there and probably some misinformation too.  However, if you are tasked with communicating this rollout, then that is NOT acceptable.  And that horror film I mentioned above?  Yeah, you and your team will be starring in one if this is the case.

If you are on the communication team, or rollout team, or adoption team, or whatever your organization calls it, be sure to start with a frank discussion of your central messages.  First and foremost, why did your organization do this?  No matter their role in the organization, folks will want to know.  Is it to update infrastructure?  To get a jump on the competition?  To move in a new direction?  Whatever the answer, just be sure that you and your team agree on it and can consistently explain it to others.

Once you have the central message, you can work on the different variations.  Will you speak differently to the board than you would the front-line staff?  Sure you would.  But the central message has to be consistent no matter the context or the audience.  So in your planning meeting, start listing different audiences and different scenarios and then craft a message for each that reflects the central theme.  It’s like change management mad libs.  What would you say to someone who supports the project?  How about someone who doesn’t?  Do you have an elevator speech for it?  Do you have a longer briefing framed in?  And so on.

No matter the audience, or the situation, or the speaker—just be sure to keep hitting the same notes.  In the end, it’s really like doing an internal marketing/branding campaign, and the absolute pivotal key is to really, really know your core central message.  After that, things start to fall into place.  (And if you do that, you won’t need to keep your finger on the volume button or keep candy around the office for those tough questions!)

Taking my own advice, my wife and I had some discussions this year about how to answer the inevitable questions about Santa/Elf.  And yes, our answers are going to be different for our 9 year-old or our 8 year-old than they will be for our 5 year-old twins.  But the central message for all will be the same from both of us:  and that, of course, is to JUST BE GOOD FOR A FEW WEEKS!  🙂

Happy Holidays to all!



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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