Monday, November 26, 2012

Five to Seven

A few weeks ago I went through a change management course. If you haven't heard of it before, change management is one of the more recent business terms to achieve buzzword status: it describes the process of strategically managing change within an organization, rather than simply inflicting it on employees.

The meat of the course was on a painstaking process for managing change that my employer is teaching throughout the organization, but as a communicator a few things stood out for me. First was the importance of managers -- studies show that they're the most resistant to change in any organization, and they also exert a great deal of influence on their subordinates in determining whether they'll be open or resistant to change (or any communication for that matter).

Even more striking than that fact, though, was my other takeaway: you have to communicate something five to seven times before people will remember it. Think about that: five to seven times, or your message will be forgotten.

The implications are profound. If you take that number seriously, it means that the core task of communications is not informing, it's reminding. If there's something you really need your readers / followers / customers / employees to remember, your communications must be circular rather than linear: communicate, then remind, then touch on it again, then connect to it again, and finally offer a final reminder -- and that's at a minimum. When was the last time you authored a communication strategy that had so many touch points?

Do you think this point is worth remembering? Put it on a Post-It and stick it to your screen. You'll need to see it another four to six times before it's yours to keep.