Send Three & Fourpence Were Going to a Dance!

The title of this post is the anecdotal example of miss-communication in the military. The intended message was “Send reinforcements we are going to advance”.

In the heat of battle it is perhaps not surprising that messages get garbled however clarity generally comes from context, so the clue here is:

“Get the context right and the communication will follow”


Communicating to your workforce about the new sales incentives, new strategy, new organisation is often fraught because the communication is not aligned to the context. So to make the communication successful we need to think about the context that the recipients will place it in.

  • You launch a new strategy and your team put it in the context of the previous strategies that have failed or have been changed multiple times – They don’t buy in to what you are saying and the new strategy will fail.
  • You rebrand your business and your team put it in the context of the previous brand, if they identified with it your new brand may struggle.
  • You launch a new service, all those not involved with its development or creation put it in the context of something foreign to what they know, they will find fault wherever they can.
  • You communicate that you are bringing in a new manager, the team will immediately compare them to their predecessor, the new manager will have to work hard in the first 30 days to overcome this.

So how can we overcome this?

Since the contexts may be different for each department and each individual, there is no silver bullet but there is a method that you can use to wrap your communication up in a context of its own.

A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down

So how do you create a context to wrap the message in?

Use appropriate terminology and language , don’t use techno or management speak, it simply alienates elements of your audience. Use simple visuals, don’t allow the audience to interpret the information in their own context, it won’t be what you intended. Use the rule of 3, people don’t take in more than 3 points at a time so don’t hose them with information. People understand stories, use them to create a unified context and powerful imagery that sticks. Adapt your message to their level, tell them how they can contribute and benefit. Have people from different departments describe how the change or initiative you want to convey makes sense to or has helped them.

Nokia’s Burning Platform Memo

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop in February 2011 used a story to create vivid imagery to Nokia’s entire workforce to create a common context for a difficult message. Nobody that read it would forget it or be under any illusion to the change he was implementing.

Read the memo here.

In Conclusion 3 Points

  1. LANGUAGEUse clear and simple language and distil things down to 3 take-aways, tell a story, make it moving or funny but make it vivid an conjure up powerful imagery
  2. CONTEXT: Tailor the message for your people or even specific departments and use people in your team/business that are not at the management level to illustrate your message
  3. HONESTY: Give business objectives that will be achieved as a result of the messaging and follow up with honest progress on a regular basis

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