Be Consistent In Your Message

If we learn nothing else from COVID, we now know how absolutely vital it is to provide consistent information to people, in order for them to act. Open schools/don’t open schools, wear masks/don’t wear masks, use hydroxychloroquine, don’t use hydroxychloroquine – the confusion runs amok.  And much of this occurs within the realm of our old friend science, which is supposed to be the verifiable truth. But like many of you, I have heard one so called expert say “the science is irrefutable” just before she gives a completely opposite response to another so called expert, who prefaced her comments in exactly the same way. It is no wonder people are paralyzed.

So leaders, here is the reminder. Make sure that you and the rest of your team speak in a common and consistent voice when communicating about important issues with the people in your organization. Mixed messages are incredibly destructive – to productivity and sanity. They not only stop people dead in their tracks, they create huge amounts of frustration as well.

With mixed messages, committed people who want to take action and move forward, are now completely stymied. “Do I go left – or right?” And for progress-minded people, being stuck in place is a special kind of torture. As engaged as they might be, they often start questioning the capabilities of “management” who is sending the mixed messages. And for every second people spend lamenting about the apparent ineptness of management, that is one less second they have to spend on taking care of customers or patients, improving systems, or whatever. And we all know how quickly competitors can rise up and make organizations pay for taking their eyes off the ball.

If you are wondering, following are some “organizational” examples of mixed messages. You may feel as if some are exaggerated. Maybe. However I have come across every one of these at some time in my career.

  • The director of sales excitedly sharing how the company will be doing everything possible to stimulate new business, followed by the finance director announcing new policies of price increases and tighter credit. (These two continually bad-mouthed each other privately and publicly.)
  • Senior management of a company adamantly promising no upcoming layoffs at an internal conference, while the very next morning the Wall Street Journal featured a front page story, quoting the CEO, detailing how thousands in that same company will be downsized out (which did occur).
  • The senior HR director describing how harassment of any kind would simply not be tolerated, followed by another senior manager who started his presentation with a very sexist joke (and who somehow continued to survive despite numerous complaints about his job-impacting propositions to female employees in his organization).

Put yourself in the shoes of people in these situations. What are you supposed to believe? And if you are wondering –  – yes, these examples created an enormous amount of “water cooler talk,” rumors and legitimate anxiety. All of which resulted in people shifting their focus from growing the business to self-preservation.

So leaders, make sure that the messages you send are aligned and consistent with those of your other team members – even if that message is “we do not yet know the action we will take.”

In these current times of incredibly fast change, it may feel as if there are sharp turns in the direction of the business every day. That is disruptive enough to people, even when there is congruent communications from each member of the team. Don’t create even more tension through confusing, conflicting messages. Work on being in lock step as a team. This visible sign of alignment and unity will give those outside the team more reasons to trust and have confidence in your team. And that is a good thing, in any situation.

Be well and keep leading.

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