How To Be a Radically Effective Communicator

In last week's post we explored the communication mentality of an effective leader. If you possess that, you're ready for today's topic. Today we look at how to radically--and I do mean radically--improve the effectiveness of our communication. To do that, we'll take a look at a couple of real-life leaders. Meet Lance. Lance was an up-and-coming leader in his organization but still getting his footing in what it meant to lead. His work required that he travel regularly, but he wasn't getting the travel assistance he needed. He was receiving his travel information from his assistant in a pdf attachment within the calendar on his Blackberry. (I know, I know, I just dated the story). As he walked through airports, luggage in one hand and Blackberry in the other, he found it extremely difficult to find the information he needed for his rental cars and hotels. Sometimes the pdf document wouldn’t open altogether leaving him completely in the dark about where he needed to go next. He had previously explained the problem to his assistant but nothing had changed. The message wasn’t getting through.

One day when back in the office, Lance decided to re-communicate the problem to his assistant only this time he decided to use an experience rather than words. He handed his assistant his Blackberry and his roller board computer bag. He then asked her to walk around the office with him. Perplexed but entertained, she agreed to do so. As they walked, Lance asked her to look up travel information from his latest trip in his Blackberry's calendar. As she did, she struggled to find the needed information just as Lance did while he was traveling. After about 60 seconds of fumbling about, she looked at him and said, “I get it.” The two smiled. It was s fun moment for both. From then on the assistant created a far more effective method for putting the young leader’s travel information in a useful form into his calendar. Message received. Problem solved.

The $1 Billion Experience

In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath share a story about another leader who used an experience to communicate effectively and drive change. The story begins with Jon Stegner, a leader who believed his large manufacturing organization could save sizable dollars by changing the way it sourced its materials. To investigate his belief, Jon decided to take a detailed look at one commonly purchased item: gloves. With the help of a summer intern, Jon discovered that there indeed was significant inefficiency in procurement. A great variety of gloves -- 424 to be exact -- were being purchased from a variety of vendors at a variety of price points. Jon's intern even discovered that the company was sometimes paying significantly different prices for the very same type of gloves. With its current practices, the organization was unnecessarily spending money by not leveraging its potential economies of scale in procurement, not just with gloves, but with many other items as well.

So what did Jon do? Did he create a PowerPoint presentation to share his discovery about the gloves? Or better yet a spreadsheet outlining the potential savings if processes were improved? Jon believed it would take more effective communication than a presentation to change the culture of the organization around procurement. So he decided to create an experience.

Jon invited the divisional presidents to a conference room. There on the conference room table was every type of glove the company was currently purchasing. Pinned to each set of gloves was the price currently being paid; this included having a different pair of gloves for each differing price that was being paid when the gloves were identical. The conference table was full of gloves. Everyone got the point. The experience was so significant that the table full of gloves hit the road and traveled to different facilities within the organization to make its point.

In the end, the company made big changes to its overall procurement processes which affected far more than the purchase of gloves. The net bottom-line result was a savings of more than $1 billion. Through Jon a culture shift was achieved. He enabled an entire organization to divorce itself from an inefficient norm. Like Lance with his Blackberry, Jon created an experience to communicate his message. The end result was a change in perspective and a pile of money saved.

The Real Goal

As leaders our goal is not to communicate; it is to produce accurately informed followers who are engaged toward action. We have to be willing to be creative if we are to achieve that goal. We have to be willing to have an assistant walk through the office as if traveling through an airport. We have to be willing to fill the conference room table with hundreds of gloves.

If we tell ourselves we are competing only within our organizations for our followers’ attention, we are fooling ourselves. In reality our messages are competing against every text, Tweet, Facebook post, and movie trailer our followers see and hear. Engaging messages are constantly coming at those we lead. To be heard in the midst of that din, we have to be creative; sometimes going so far as to create experiences for our followers.

When we communicate effectively, whether through creating experiences or by other means, our followers become both fully informed and fully motivated. In such moments they haven’t merely understood the issues, they've felt them as well. When that happens, our next move as leaders is to get out their way.

photo credit: Single Glove via photopin(license)

Share Your Thoughts:  Have you ever taken done something radically creative to communicate a particular message to those you lead? If so, tell us about it. We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.Click here to receive free postings from Tim Spiker and The Aperio. As a thank you, you'll receive the first two chapters of The Only Leaders Worth Following: Why Some Leaders Succeed, Others Fail, and How the Quality of Our Lives Hangs in the Balance.