The business books that have come into my library are almost all because of the recommendations of others, typically at training events or mentioned in general discussion. This one was different. During a visit to my offices in August by Neil Denning and James Carson from Support Tree (a London based HTG peer group member), we were discussing some work I had undertaken as part of a steering group. I commented that although I thought I had put the work in, the level of response I received from the group was pretty low. Neil and James as one, suggested that I read this book to find out why. A book they swear by in changing their own communication strategy.
By the time I was a dozen pages into the book, I understood the root causes of the lack of response that I had to date received. My emails to this group lack a clear next step and are frankly too detailed for most of the time-poor readers. As part of justifying my role, at each turn I try and prove how clever I am or how much work I have put into my research. The truth is that most of the readers of this email just need the output and critically the next step. Re-reading my recent emails, the next step is not clear and I can’t now even see many people getting that far through anyway.
Having reviewed the emails that Neil and James mentioned, I also ventured into the communications I use with my team at Business Computer Solutions. I found these are typically much shorter but again lack very clear next steps. Critically, these emails also lack the initial request for the reader to buy-in to what I am emailing about. Why should they even care?
I won’t beat myself up completely regarding communication as the book has 63 techniques and some of them I do pretty well already and some are not currently relevant to me, so it’s not all bad.
Now to the book in detail, Andy’s strategy is that if you can get the first part of communication right as the core of your snowball, the other 62 techniques he mentions can be added on the way down the hill. A useful analogy for sure, but don’t let that get in the way.
So the first part of communication (and where I got my biggest lessons in this book) is Andy’s advice to think of communications in three steps and in this order:
- The ‘DO’ or next step. What do you want your communication to cause?
- The ‘AFTER’. What will be the outcome be of doing the next step?
- The ‘CONTENT’ of the communication.
In the case of an email, the ‘AFTER’ will form the subject and perhaps a sub-heading followed by the ‘CONTENT’ and closing with the call to action or ‘DO’. Andy’s reasoning for thinking about the ‘DO’ and the ‘AFTER’ before the ‘CONTENT’ is that it will drive the content to be relevant.
There were also some pretty good tips about grading the worth of the content of your communications. Which things are better off in an appendix and which are better off being scrapped altogether so you are left with the minimum required to achieve the ‘DO’ resulting in the ‘AFTER’.
So, with the core of my snowball built, I have highlighted a few things taken from this book that I intend to do differently from here.
- Ensure I point out the first step in all communications and create any required follow-up.
- Use ‘Walloping’ as a way to point out the risks of inactivity (see chapter 4 of the book).
- Provide pre-reading for the meetings that I run and reduce the duration of meetings.
- Change the language of appraisals to be more about the preview of what can be achieved than a review of what has gone before.
- Use negative questions such as “Can you think of any reason this should not happen?” to provide momentum.
- Asking what the client wants ahead of preparing detailed presentations. If they want a summary, let’s just give them a summary.
What is interesting is that nothing here is particularly new or tricky however you do need to be willing to unlearn how you do these things to embrace an easier, clearer way to communicate.
I will now change the emphasis, shorten and resubmit my emails to the HTG peer group and see if I get a few more replies.