Getting the Message Across

McKinsey’s have just published a great interview (free registration required) with a guy called Chip Heath.  Chip has spent much time, effort and money researching what makes ideas ‘stick’ in a business.  So his interest is in sticky ideas.  His research suggests that sticky ideas share six basic traits.

  1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. (Good feedback fits this description)
  2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense.
  3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”
  4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message?
  5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”  (Again the feedback model provides us with the opportunity to talk to people about emotional impacts of their behaviour as well.)
  6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

This is all sound advice.  However sometimes the message that the managers needs to get across is not especially sticky.  In this case I think Chip underestimates the importance of repeating the message frequently and clearly.  This is one of the reasons why weekly 121s are so effective in building relationships.  The non-sticky message can be given repeatedly until behaviour starts to change.