March 1

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Why you need clarity if you want people to change

I recently got called in to assess a program to encourage employees to change their default method of multi-factor authentication (MFA). The key word is change. They’re asking people to change some aspect of their behavior, and we know change is hard — even when it seems like the ask is simple.

Here, the team needs to influence people, without authority, to make the change.

A few months in to the effort, the number of people who voluntarily made the change is anemic.

They asked me to diagnose the situation.

The team suggested the only available option is to resort to force, engaging the executives to issue a decree, followed by punishment for failure to act.

Force is the failure of influence.

We easily ignore generic corporate speak

Looking at the effort, I can see why it just isn’t getting people to change. It’s good, but otherwise generic, corporate communications. That means proper sentence structure and complete thoughts. But it’s also devoid of emotion and the language is stiff and, well, corporate.

Aside from the banal corporate edict, there is no interesting reason for someone to change. The message is like the dozens or more filling up the inbox each day, none of which impact work or paychecks.

As a result, the communication is noise, easily pushed into the background. Overlooked and ignored, even for something people might be naturally interested in doing.

Confusion builds friction that prevents action

To the point, though, the writing is unclear. Many people skim it and get confused. Confusion prevents action.

It’s creating a lot of friction – and a lot of friction in the team responsible for the project. Friction erodes value, destroys trust, and burns people out. I see that in this team and effort. More, as friction builds, projects slow down and grind to a halt. Getting them back on track is more complex, costs more, and takes longer.

What they need most is clarity — in the project and in the communication.

When I write about clarity, I’m looking for a more complete, more accurate, and more detailed picture of the situation. If only in my mind’s eye, I want the detail necessary to visualize what’s going on. We often get this by pulling in different perspectives.

When we invest the time to clarify, we build our credibility

We’ve all read rambling missives that are clearly drafts. I often think, “if you just let this sit overnight and reviewed it in the morning…” — without even worrying about the type of editing it really required.

Credibility is about effectiveness and believability. If you want people to believe in your work — and believe in you — then invest the time to clarify the situation, what you are asking people to do, and offer them what they need to know to make the change.

When we clarify, we show we understand. We give people the chance to understand.

Invite people to change and explain why

Consider the difference between telling someone they have to switch because security said so and reminding them their work is important, ransomware is on the rise, and if they spend five minutes, they can better protect their account and the overall company.

Investing the time to clarify shows you took responsibility. You didn’t dump the word-salad buffet on them, in hopes THEY did the work to find something interesting to them.

When we do the work and distill our message, we show we care. We save people time. We reduce the friction. And with a time savings and less friction, we build trust.

What’s it worth to have the trust of the people we serve?

It’s the key to how we deliver recognized value.


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