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Consortium for Service Innovation

Technique 8.7: Communication is the Key

Effective communication in today's environment is difficult—there is a lot of competition. Some recent market research shows that in today's world of hype, a message must reach an audience 36 times before being acknowledged or absorbed.

There is considerable evidence that we are in the midst of a trust crisis.  The level of trust people feel towards leadership is dismal; less than one out of five people trust leaders to tell the truth (for more on this see the Edelman Trust Barometer).  This trust crisis has a domino effect that undermines the effectiveness of the organization, which creates apathetic or disengaged employees. Recent Gallup research indicates that 66% of employees are not engaged in their work.  Amazingly, this is a new high for employee engagement over the last three years (see Gallup research). Disengaged employees are not likely to contribute to the success of the organization or the knowledge base. Disengaged employees who interact with our customers are not likely to create the compelling customer experience that reinforces our brand promise. 

Apathy is death to any knowledge management practice. The antidote for apathy is engagement, and the first step in engaging people is communications.  If people understand the compelling purpose of the organization and are apathetic towards that, then they are in the wrong organization.  More often the cause of the apathy is the absence of an opportunity to understand the organization's compelling purpose.  The compelling purpose is a key part of the overall company vision.  For more on creating a vision see the Develop and Communicate a Vision technique.

Our challenge is to deliver thoughtful and well-designed messages about the organization's vision and how KCS serves that vision. To get the message across we must deliver these messages frequently and through different delivery vehicles. Knowledge Workers also have to hear the same message from executive leadership as they do from their team leadership. Communication is a key part of any change management effort. 

Develop a Communication Plan

A good KCS Communication Plan is really a marketing plan. It should include:

  • Target Audiences—Whom do we need to engage and influence in order to have a successful adoption? The critical audiences are:  executives, managers, and knowledge workers. The expanded list would include IT staff, product management, marketing, and sales personnel. 
  • Key Messages—Different audiences (i.e., executives vs. knowledge workers) require different messages because they have different roles and objectives.
  • What's In It For Me? (WIIFM)—Clearly communicate relevant personal benefits, not just benefits to the organization as a whole.
  • KCS Q&A/FAQ—As we discuss implementation, we capture the questions that are frequently asked and develop thoughtful answers. An easily accessible written response ensures consistent messaging.  Click here for a sample FAQ.
  • Overcoming Objections—We must consider the real and perceived objections for each audience and include enough detail in our responses to alleviate concerns.
  • Elevator Pitch—A short (about 10 seconds) overview of the KCS benefits and why it matters to the listener. A good elevator pitch captures the listener's interest, makes them want to learn more, and creates a positive perception.
  • Delivery Vehicles—Different audiences will require different communication tools—on-line, in-person, and through organizational communication tools. We must think through the most appropriate delivery vehicles, by audience, so that the message will be heard and remembered.
  • Programs and Activities for Engagement and Socialization—With messages and communication tools in mind, we need to consider how to socialize the ideas. Are there ways to create interactive conversations, solicit input, and encourage support? What programs or activities will reach the target audiences?  Examples of programs:
    • Meetings (all-hands, group, 1:1)
    • MBWA ("Management By Walking Around"—casual skip-level communications)
    • Coaching and training
    • Conference calls 
    • Themed giveaways
    • Newsletters (hardcopy and online/email)
    • Email updates
    • Bulletin boards
    • Posters
    • Videos
    • Websites
  • Project Plan and Timeline—all these elements should be organized in a project plan with timeline (and appropriate budget).

Objection Handling

Raising awareness and increasing support for KCS are everyday activities for leaders and the program champions. How we handle objections is crucial. Objections are a gift. They give us some insight as to how people are thinking about KCS. The confidence and consistency with which we handle objections has a big impact on people's confidence about the KCS program.  It is helpful to have a small team of people thoughtfully work through the likely objections and responses and capture them as part of the KCS communications plan.  We have found a few basic rules to be helpful:

  • Be sensitive to the feelings behind the objection
  • Acknowledge the validity of feelings; empathize
  • Seek to understand the issue from the other's perspective
  • Offer an alternative perspective (don't debate or argue)
  • Use WIIFM to craft a response that they can relate to

With these behavioral ideas in mind, we can effectively use the "objection handling" content that is pre-prepared. We handle objections much better when we are ready and consistent. For organizations where conflict is uncomfortable or communication is limited, written objection-handling material can also proactively address concerns that people might be reluctant or unable to raise themselves.

When we ask organizations that have successfully adopted KCS what they would do differently next time.... they almost always say "we should have done more communications."   

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