K Street Newsletter :: Directions

February 2019    |    VOLUME 17, ISSUE 2

Memories of Mistakes Past

Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has found that when people learn a new motor task, they're learning from their mistakes as well as their successes. For a task like opening a door, the brain makes note of small differences in how a person expected the door to move, and how it actually moved. It's a largely unconscious activity, but has been shown to increase the speed of learning. What's more surprising is that it also seems to help people learn faster when similar errors are encountered in entirely different tasks.

It seems the brain generalizes from one task to another by keeping a memory of the errors, and there appear to be two different processes at work. One part of the brain is learning the motor commands involved to complete the activity, and another part is critiquing the learning, like a coach. The "coach" makes note of which errors are most worthy of attention, and that makes the learning go faster. You can read more about it here. It's interesting stuff.

Humor in Communications 

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling in communication. If you can wrap your message in some kind of narrative, people will find it easier to understand and be more likely to remember it. It also demonstrates that you really understand something yourself, if you can tell a story about it. Knowledge is narrative, in the words of David Weinberger.

Perhaps overlooked is the fact that humor delivers the same kind of payoff. If you can approach a topic in an amusing way, and engage with an audience's sense of humor, you can break down barriers and establish confidence and trust. If you do it well, people will even repeat your communication to others. We talk about things going viral on the Internet, and few things spread more quickly than a good joke. That was true before the Internet, too.

At many companies, corporate communications (especially internal communications) is pretty much a comedy wasteland. It tends to be dry, word-heavy and self-satisfied, utterly lacking in punch lines. The tone betrays a deep lack of confidence, and reinforces an us-vs-them culture. Adding humor to the mix can make communications more honest and approachable. There's a good TED talk on this, in which writer Chris Bliss considers how comedy can communicate complex ideas to a mass audience.



Street Smarts 184: Be authentic.

It's not hard to find advice on effective communications, and there are lots of articles suggesting basic dos and don'ts. Most of us who do this for a living understand the  importance of knowing your audience, getting to the point, and making effective use of visuals where possible. As noted above, humor is also a good way to break down barriers. But there's probably nothing more important than having an authentic voice. It's the best way to establish the kind of relationship with your audience that will build trust. If you're authentic, people are more likely to believe you.

That's not quite the same thing as being honest, which is obviously important. If you come across as disingenuous or phony, people may doubt your message even if you've got all your facts in order. It's something that politicians are good at, and it's something worth cultivating. Like mom always said, be yourself. You'll find other good communication tips in this article.


The Value of Internal Communications

Back in our corporate communication days, companies were just waking up to the importance of integrated communications. That means understanding that a company's employees are an key audience that needs to be in the loop on all important developments. It's obviously bad for morale if employees hear about things that effect them through the media, instead of from their managers. And since news travels so quickly, especially on social media, it's important to include your internal audiences in your overall communication plans. Unfortunately, while there's a common sense logic to that, internal communication teams are still asked to justify their costs. That's challenging, since their work can't be directly tied to revenue.

This article offers some advice for demonstrating the value of an internal communication program. It suggests that you start with a standardized strategic framework that maps to the hierarchies of your organization. Then, define measures and metrics for each level of the framework. You can use before and after surveys to measure results. Then you should set specific objectives, possibly using industry benchmarks as a starting point. It is possible to measure the results of internal communications, and doing it well is the best way to sell the value that your communication team brings to the organization.

Driving Employee Engagement

Today, most companies are working to build an engaged workforce. That's something that's larger than employee satisfaction, since the theory is that engaged employees will share a common sense of the corporate mission, culture and values. Engaged employees are happily connected to their work, more productive, more innovative and more committed to customer satisfaction. All employee engagement programs are unique, but they do share some common components.

According to this article, successful employee engagement involves a kind of contract between a company's leadership and the employees themselves. The leaders need to be clear about their expectations, understand what the employees most value and strike a deal that brings these two elements together. Then they need to support the employees, and execute their own side of the bargain. A lot of it comes down to empathy, a willingness to solicit employee feedback and to respond appropriately, connecting feedback to responsive actions. Engagement programs are most successful when they deliver a competitive advantage for the business. It's a continuous process that identifies, validates and maintains that leader-employee contract.




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