I used to be a terribly distracted driver. I’d cruise Atlanta’s choked and challenging roadways while talking on the phone, reading texts or just letting my mind wander. Fortunately, my wife’s steady stream of, ahem, feedback finally showed me the error of my ways.
And it only took three years for me to see the light. That’s right. It took three years of constant “messaging” before I changed my behavior. In that regard, I’m a lot like most organizations or businesses. It takes time and repetition for leadership’s significant messages to be heard and adopted.
Why? Because organizations are made up of people, and people need to be repeatedly exposed to messages before they actually hear them, let alone embrace them. It’s just the way our brains work.
Marketing professionals will tell you a prospect must hear your pitch at least seven times before she even starts to consider buying your product or service. A Microsoft study concluded that people need to hear an audio message between six and 20 times before they will react. Disc jockeys know they will be sick to death of playing a song about the time it starts to move up the charts.
For all of the above reasons, you should never assume that an absence of questions following the debut of a new policy means your team understands and accepts the information. It’s far more likely they didn’t truly hear it.
It would be nice for leaders if implementing an initiative or mindset could happen in a flash, but it’s more like water running over rock. So, it’s important to keep that water flowing fast and steady until your new direction is received, embraced and implemented.
Several years ago, my wealth management firm, Capital Investment Advisors, realized that we were doing a poor job of communicating to clients that one way we grew our business was through referrals and greatly value when they have enough confidence in us to refer family or a friend. To correct that shortcoming, we launched an “Open for Business” initiative. A senior member of the leadership team led a program that included celebratory goals for the team and thank-you gifts for clients who provided referrals.
To keep the initiative top-of-mind and moving forward, we discussed its importance, mechanics and best practices at every team meeting, with an “Open for Business” sign posted prominently on our agendas. Still, it took at least two years for the “Open for Business” concept to be truly incorporated into our culture. It was, however, well worth it.
I had a similar experience as a board member at WonderRoot, an Atlanta non-profit that seeks to strengthen community through the arts. In 2016, the board committed itself to a comprehensive improvement initiative called “Movin’ on Up.” The goal was to boost the board’s performance by increasing each member’s professional development and level of commitment, and by encouraging us to identify possible high caliber replacements for ourselves when our terms ended.
We made the “Movin’ on Up” initiative an agenda item at every board meeting and every committee meeting. Today, 18 months after its launch, I routinely hear board members discussing the tenets and goals of the “Movin’ on Up” program.
As you prepare to roll out your next Big Idea to the team, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In fact, I hear it took three years for people to really understand and buy into the whole columns, coliseums, and togas concept. But once they did, wow, did that communication effort pay off!