How many times did you hear that when you were a kid? I am from a family of six kids so I heard it a lot. If you didn’t hear it growing up, good for you, but it’s likely you’ve said it (or wanted to say it) to your kids, spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend. And while 100 times has a dramatic ring to it, there is also an element of truth to it. Telling something to someone once, particularly if it requires a change in behavior or thought pattern, is almost never enough. And it’s most definitely not an age-related phenomenon because it’s true of kids, teenagers, and adults. So why do leaders often forget this when dealing with a change, large or small, within their organization?
Perhaps it is due to the expectation that as adults and professionals there is a level of responsibility and accountability: we shouldn’t have to be told to do something 100 times.But did you know, according Pro Sci, any message related to organizational change – big or small – needs to be repeated an average of 5 to 7 times before it is understood, accepted, or remembered? That number represents an average, so some will need to hear it more, others less, but definitely more than once or twice. The frequency of communication is one of the often overlooked elements of a communication plan that is part of any change management effort.
Any message related to organizational change – big or small – needs to be repeated an average of 5 to 7 times before it is understood, accepted, or remembered.
My mother was a change management pioneer, even though the term didn’t exist at the time. She wasn’t always happy about it but she knew she’d have to tell us to do something more than once or ten times. Most parents also figure out pretty quickly to switch up the messaging beyond raising their voices. Explaining the “why” and “what’s in it for me” is far more effective in producing an intended action or behavior.
So while my mom told us we all had to clean our rooms (because that was part of the deal with having a room), it wasn’t until one of my older sisters explained that the sooner I cleaned my room, the sooner we were free to go outside and play with our friends. That was an explanation that made sense and motivated me. That’s human nature: we all want to know what’s in it for me. Leaders tend to think that explaining the business need behind the change satisfies both the “why” and “what’s in it for me.” But employees still need and want to know what’s in it for them when the change is implemented (e.g. improved productivity, better client service, change in commute time, etc.). Both the ‘why’ and ‘what’s in it for me’ are necessary elements of communicating change and communication needs to occur at different levels within the organization.
Finally, a critical communication element in any organizational change is to ensure variation in your mediums. Sure, we all know email is not the only communication vehicle but it’s the most common and often the only way change is communicated within an organization. Don’t forget your project management and alternative communication platforms (Redbooth, Slack etc) and social media. Even text messages if your company is into that sort of thing.
Digital communication is fast and convenient, but there are many other in-person mediums that are also important – face to face meetings, town hall meetings, lunch and learns, Q&A sessions, and on and on. Never underestimate how important the human elements can be.
In the name of repetition, here is a recap:
- Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
- I love my company, but how does it benefit me?
- Blast all communications channels, including face-to-face