Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after. - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Communication is essential to all businesses. From establishing a mission and vision for the company to building strategy to creating a new offering to servicing customers, everything flows through the exchange of ideas, opinions and thoughts.
Often executives struggle with the content, design, shape and medium of what has to be communicated and how. Often the communication content becomes too lengthy or too short. Sometimes they are not able to define the purpose and the outcome clearly. In other cases, the medium does not serve the client's purpose.
For years, we have mostly communicated by building up a conclusion in the following sequential steps:
The approach mentioned above works when your audience has more patience and time to go through every detail of the proposal. But in most situations, the audience has limited patience and wants first to know the answer to a specific question and is only then interested in venturing into the details. This is where outcome-oriented conversations help.
Defining outcome-oriented conversations in her book, “The Pyramid Principle - Logic in Writing and Thinking”, Barbara Minto says that “ideas in writing should always form a pyramid under a single thought. The single thought is the answer to the executive's question. Then, for each supporting idea or argument, break that further into more ideas or arguments until you have formed a pyramid.”
Barbara, who headed training for McKinsey & Company back in the ’70s adds that when an executives ask a question ― “What should we do?” start your response with, “You should do X,” crisply and directly. Only then, the supporting reasons should be presented. This helps in routing your clients' attention to the outcome to address their thirst for the most burning question and facilitate the desired call to action.
Outcome-oriented conversations help us structure large amounts of information into an accessible story yet retain the details. An approach that allows you to seize your audience’s attention quickly is to break the conversation into two parts – Introduction and Story. The Introduction provides a short snapshot of the critical points of the discussion, while the Story details the relevant aspects of the outcome.
Executives can design an Introduction keeping in mind the Rule of Three. Exemplified in the Latin saying, ‘Omne trium perfectum,’ which means everything that comes in threes is perfect. The Rule of Three helps executives enhance the quality and memorability of their communication. As per the rule, an introduction should have the following parts.
An Introduction in this structure could take up 10%-20% of the total time, while the Story covers the remaining 80%.
While the Rule of Three helps create an impactful introduction, the subsequent Story section can be broken down into vertical layers of expanding content, as shown below. Such a structure ensures that the specific aspects of the outcome or solution are conveyed first, followed by their details, and then supported by data points.
“No matter what you do, your job is to tell a story.”– Gary Vaynerchuk
The key is to create a foundation for the culture of outcome-orientation both in day-to-day conversations and high-profile meetings and discussions. The cornerstone for this is to build a robust learning & training ecosystem for developing effective communication as a behavioural trait for employees through the following steps.
Assess - Assess the present state of outcome orientation & communication through feed-back, reviews, surveys and most importantly, informal conversations
Identify - Identify and prioritize the gaps in communication.
Define - Define the Competency suite required to address these gaps like structuring, language, tone, body language etc.
Design - Design ‘communication’ learning paths customized to the requirements of not only the organization but also specific teams, functions & individuals. Include behavioral simulations for practicing effective communication in a zero-risk environment.
Deliver Digitally - Deliver learning paths through bite-sized digital modules customized as per the learner’s profile & needs. The learner should have the flexibility to access these journeys whenever and wherever is most convenient.
Mentoring - Identify employees who communicate effectively in an outcome-oriented manner and encourage them to mentor peers who lack the trait. Structure these conversations keeping the remote context in mind.
Evaluating - Evaluate the program's impact through periodic feedback mechanisms and make changes to the system accordingly.
Though communication is an essential competency for professional success, workplace communication statistics show that 86% of employees and executives cite the lack of effective collaboration and communication as the leading cause for workplace failures. On the other hand, teams who communicate effectively can increase their productivity by 25%.
Leaders, thus, have the responsibility to provide the right training, coaching and mentoring to their workforce on how to have effective outcome-oriented communication. The good news is that this is a behavioural trait that can be imbibed in the workforce through a structured and strategic approach. The earlier this is done, the faster companies can reap the benefits and adapt to a world where the attention span is continuously decreasing.