Tell them once, tell them twice?
Managers who deliberately repeat themselves are more effective at getting things done, according to research by Professors Tsedal Neeley of the Harvard Business School and Paul Leonardi of Northwestern University. Neeley and Leonardi followed 13 managers in six companies for more than 250 hours, recording every communication the managers sent and received. They found that […]
Managers who deliberately repeat themselves are more effective at getting things done, according to research by Professors Tsedal Neeley of the Harvard Business School and Paul Leonardi of Northwestern University.
Neeley and Leonardi followed 13 managers in six companies for more than 250 hours, recording every communication the managers sent and received. They found that managers who sent the same message two or more times and who found different ways of communicating the same message moved their projects along faster and more smoothly.
As this research shows, effective managers understand the power of repetition.
In religion, people also understand the power of repetition. I do not think many clergymen will be sitting in their studies this week thinking “What will I do in the service on Sunday? We did the Lord’s Prayer last week and the 10 Commandments the week before that. What could I do that’s new and completely different?” Most clergymen would tell us there’re things we need to hear every week to stay on the right path. They know the importance of repetition!
Sportspeople also understand the power of repetition. If you have ever coached a sports team, you know that what you say at the first practice of the year is what you will say at every practice and game for the whole season. I am writing this column on the day of the first State of Origin match. I do not imagine one of the coaches will go into the dressing room tonight and announce: “Hey, listen up; I’ve got this radical new game plan for tonight’s game.”
In business, on the other hand, we think that telling people once is enough. I am frequently invited by CEOs to speak at their company’s annual conference. I ask them if they have a topic in mind and usually they respond by asking me if I have some ideas. I suggest we talk about the customer. “No, we focused on the customer a couple of years ago,” they reply. “Do you have any new topics?”
On the other hand, a few times a year I do a road show for a company, accompanied by some poor senior manager who has to listen to me speak up to eight times. On almost every road show, after three or four talks the senior manager tells the audience: “This is the fourth time I’ve heard Ian give this speech and every time I get new things from it.” They have discovered the power of repetition!
Now, you might be thinking that you should not have to repeat yourself. That telling somebody something once should be enough. It would be, if life did not get in the way. I used to coach high school basketball and if I had a dollar for every time I yelled, “Hands up on D!” I could have retired years ago. The reason I had to repeat myself is not because the boys did not listen or were forgetful. It was because when you are standing in front of somebody bigger than you, who’s driving right at you, the only thought that springs to mind is, “Where can I hide on a flat piece of wood?” In that moment they must be reminded about the key thing to do.
It is the same at work. Under the day-to-day pressures of jobs, people understandably focus on the immediate issues and lose sight of the big picture. They focus on the urgent, not the important. For your organization to succeed, you need to be constantly reminding your teams about the main objective and the few critical things they need to focus on, otherwise they will get bogged down by trivial things. As someone once said, “As long as you ignore the important things you will never run out of urgent things to do!”
What are the key messages you need to be communicating to your people so they stay focused on the critical few and not get lost in the trivial many? What should their main goal be? Do they understand it is not about the product but it is about the customer? Do they know the aim is not to make a sale but to create a raving fan?
Last year I did a road show around Australasia for five retail brands. I told my audiences, who were nearly all shopfloor staff, they had not been hired to unpack boxes, merchandise stores or make sales. They had been hired to turn customers into loyal, raving fans. That was their main objective. When you walk into a store and cannot get any service because team members are stocking shelves, you know they’ve forgotten where the money comes from to pay their wages. Somebody has forgotten to remind them of the main thing.
Identifying, communicating and repeating the key messages your people need to hear for your business to succeed is one of your most important jobs. Effective leaders do not tell their people how to do their jobs, nor do they leave them to just get on with it. They tell their people their top priorities so they can make the main thing, the main thing. As Neeley and Leonardi discovered, effective leaders repeat key messages many times and in different ways.
In my February 2011 column I listed a number of messages that were variations on the theme: “It’s about the customer, always” and recommended you communicate those messages to your teams. I suggest you take another look at that column, pick the messages you like and develop a plan for keeping them in front of your people – because effective leaders say things more than once.
Am I starting to repeat myself? I hope so!
Dr Ian Brooks (www.ianbrooks.com) is a leading expert in customer care. He welcomes your feedback at www.tellsimon.co.nz.