Besides being researched based, another common characteristic of the books I’ve covered this week is they are provocative. Not provocative in the Lindsay Lohan or Glenn Beck sense, where people do or say outrageous things to get attention that leads to, well, more attention (and, seemingly inevitably more money).

Instead they are provocative in the positive sense. They provoke thought, provoke more informed conversation, and provoke changes in behavior.

Communicating Change, Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals, by TJ Larkin and Sandar Larkin is the most provocative of the lot. It is also the most challenging to fully embrace.

In many large organizations there are two givens when it comes to communicating with front-line employees. The first is that the people in charge of that communications are professionals in execution. They have strong skills in writing, editing, producing videos, laying out publications, etc. The second is that corporate leadership doesn’t really trust anyone but itself to own the message, particularly when it is a message about important changes in the organization.

The result is that most employee communications is slick in execution and top-down and one-way in presentation. It is also, if you believe the research and conclusions in the Larkins’ book, mostly ineffective and at odds with what employees want and value in terms of communications. To quote from the book’s major premise:

“Frontline employees distrust information from senior managers, don’t believe employee publications, hate watching executives on video, and have little or no interest in corporatewide topics. The boundary of the frontline worker’s world is his or her local work area. If the communication doesn’t break through this boundary, it is wasted.”

That’s hard for those of us who value our skills and abilities as communicators to accept. It’s a tough message for senior manager’s who are sure that all workers are awaiting the latest quarterly results and next year’s strategic plan with the same level of anticipation that they are. Particularly if they, the senior managers, are delivering it ex-cathedra.

In point of fact, the Larkins say that type of communication is not only suboptimal, it is counter productive. They present, with excellent sourcing and well-designed studies, what they call the three facts about the best ways to communicate change to employees in large companies. 1) Communicate directly to supervisors, 2) Have those supervisors use informal face-to-face communication with frontline workers, and 3) Communicate relative performance of the local work area.

The other, overriding message of Communicating Change is that all communication should change behavior in a positive, immediate, and measurable way. That’s not a bad mantra to keep in mind whether you are communicating with frontline employees, putting together an ad campaign, or making a sales call. I think Ogilvy, Cialdini, and Rackham would agree.  - Barrett Sydnor

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