In the years Julie and I have been consulting and coaching firm owners, we’ve learned a lot about the value of messaging. Messaging is how you clearly communicate a change that has happened, or is about to happen in a company. Messaging involves 3 clear components:
- How you communicate
- When you communicate, and
- What you communicate
It is exciting to see clients understand new initiatives we are trying to explain to them during consulting or coaching sessions. They often get excited about seeing new things in new ways. The client can then quickly switch into a ‘telling’ mode where they will tell everyone in their company about their new ideas, tell them when the changes will take place, and tell them how things will look different from now on. And that’s where they can get into trouble – in the messaging. We caution them to ‘slow down.’
Big changes in people’s lives, whether expected or unexpected, often require planning to help them digest a new accurate understanding of their world. Moving to a new office location, removing an unhealthy team member from your firm, or implementing large sweeping policies in your firm can all be very disruptive to a team. Teams need help to make sense of the changes, to see how it will affect what they’ve understood up to this point, and to feel comfortable that their leaders are going to walk with them through this new world in a new way. Humans need guidance to rewrite stories in their head. They need new stories that they will safely fit in to.
Humans will always try to make sense of their world (especially if it’s changing), so they will try to put this new change into a category in their mind that helps them make sense of their world. They don’t even know they are doing it. For example, a team’s lenses of the world are influenced by many things including their past life experiences, the owners’ excellent/poor leadership skills, the fear of this change that the leaders project onto the team, experiences at previous jobs, etc. Our human teams are viewing all of their experiences through their own perceptions, or their own lens of the world. But your human teams don’t have all of the context of the firm, so firm leaders have to add to what the team needs to know with new knowledge to help them make sense of everything. This is the value and necessity of proper messaging.
Wise firm leaders want to influence these stories that are being told in the minds of their teams. How, when, and what you communicate is very important. Messaging is essentially ‘filling in the knowledge gaps’ of what a team needs to know, and should know so they can make sense of the world they are in as they work in your firm. It takes time to message to a team accurately, but it is a loving sacrifice firm leaders must make to build a healthy team.
How to message.
By ‘how’ we mean two things: (1) the mechanics of the messaging, and (2) the phrasing of the messaging. Mechanics of proper messaging can be to use meetings with your team, vision presentations to explain where your firm is headed, and other communication tools (blog posts, videos, etc.). We love to see firm owners we consult with use creative ways to explore the future of changes with their team in caring ways.
By phrasing of the messaging, we mean how you state it. Large changes are/can be very disruptive to teams, and they need care and empathy as you share the changes they are about to experience. Teams want opportunities to ask hard questions, to feel heard through the process, and to feel like you will protect them during this disruption.
How you message a team has a lot to do with the ultimate success of the change being adopted and committed to by the team.
When to message.
The ‘when’ of the messaging can be very broad and address a lot of aspects of when to use the right messaging with your team. The ‘when’ is subjective to your team’s needs, and contextual to the time to implement a particular change, how big the effect is on the team, how big the team size is, how many clients will be affected, etc. The ‘when’ of the messaging can be so broad, it’s wise to ask some simple questions to guide the ‘when’ of your messaging:
- When does this change need to begin? Be finalized?
- How big will the impact be on our team? Partners? Client base? Others?
- What past context do the parties involved have with this type of change? Is there possible ‘baggage’ to work through?
- Is there time between when we make the change with the team, and then when we have to tell the client base about the change?
- Why do we have to make this change now? Could we do it later? Should we have done it sooner?
- What other factors affect the timing of when we launch/announce this new change (e.g. tax season, holidays, etc.)?
When you message a team must be a decision that is best for everyone involved, as opposed to just a personal preference of the owners. Making these kinds of decisions can be hard, because your decision of ‘when’ to message the team may not be the most desirable for everyone involved. You are making ‘greater good’ decisions, so be ready to field important questions so that they feel heard.
What to message.
The ‘what’ of messaging is a balance of information. Teams can’t know everything, so they won’t often have the full context for the decisions that affect them. That’s okay – trust is involved with a team following your leadership. But it is still kind to tell the team the most information you can so they have some context to make the most sense of what they are about to go through. Again, watch the balance of information – you can listen to your team, but they can’t make the decisions. They can influence you as the leader, but they don’t bear the full risk of the firm so they can’t ultimately make the decisions. The what of messaging has to be very clear. It’s important to tell the team ‘do this, not this’ in this scenario of change. Don’t confuse them, but give them every opportunity to trust you and be successful with this newest required change.
I hope this information on making a commitment to the right kind of messaging will help you lead a strong, committed team towards bigger changes that can take your firm to new heights!
If you want to explore the topic of ‘perceptions’ in more depth watch this brain-numbing video called Consciousness and Creation: The Neuroscience of Perception. Or watch my quick explanation of Perceptions here.
Jason is the Founder of Thriveal and the Chief Innovative Officer of his CPA firm, Blumer & Associates. He is the co-host of the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show and speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives, his firm’s chosen niche. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three children.