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Category Archives: HBR

6:13 PM Wednesday February 4, 2009

Tags:Communication, Getting buy-in, Personal effectiveness

Managers of the last century, gave speeches, then had their assistants send snail mail letters with the text, and maybe followed up by a phone call to see if it was received.

Managers of the 21st century send an email and think they’ve taken care of everything. Message received. Action underway. Done deal.


In my experience, people don’t “get” the important messages leaders try to send the first time around. This isn’t intentional, but there’s too much noise and too many distractions. And leaders with a lot of ideas find that people wait to see which ones take priority, which ones will be acted on, and which ones the leader really cares about.

I also find that people don’t automatically read all of their emails or download attachments. They read the subject line to see if they should. If the subject line is blank, there’s a risk that the message will be missed. (I now try to stuff the gist of the message in the subject line.)

Furthermore, even if people hear something once, they don’t necessarily remember that they did. Busy people with multiple projects might forget that something has already been discussed and raise it again at a meeting. Leaders cannot assume that just because it has been said, it has been heard.

So use the principle of redundancy. If the message is very important, send it through multiple media, in various forms, and do it a few times. It seems annoying, I know, but the delete key is so easy to use. I never mind a polite follow up (after a little time has passed), especially if it is easy to respond.

As for speeches, make those headlines dramatic, repeat them several times, and keep the theme going in the next few speeches.

I don’t think redundancy is waste; I think it provides focus. If you want everyone to be on the same page, put the page in front of them conveniently and often.