Effective leaders always need excellent communication skills. Such skills are even more critical when you are communicating about change. You must have a clear communication strategy when you embark on any form of change initiative.
Phillip Clampitt and his colleagues identified 4 common communication strategies that you can use + 1 more. You should use the +1 more strategy, but to do so effectively you first need to understand the 4 alternatives.
Communication Strategy 1: Spray & Pray
Some leaders believe that the more information you give, the more effective your communication will be. For this reason, they bombard their staff with all kinds of information. They leave it up to their staff to discern what is and isn’t worth attending to.
The advantage of the spray and pray approach as your communication strategy is that it builds trust. Why? Because it shows, you have nothing to hide.
Yet, the disadvantage of this approach is that it can leave many staff feeling overwhelmed due to information overload.
Communication Strategy 2 – Withhold Until Necessary
Other leaders go to the other extreme. They share information on a need-to-know basis. And, they withhold information from staff until it is necessary to share it.
Why do they do this? Leaders who use this approach tend to do so for one of two reasons.
- First, some leaders believe that information is power and that sharing information reduces their power.
- Second, some leaders do not want to overload their staff with information, much of which is not directly relevant to them.
The genuine advantage of using the withhold until necessary approach is that it protects your staff from information overload.
The disadvantage of this approach is that it breeds rumours and distrust.
Communication Strategy 3 – Tell & Sell
Leaders who adopt the tell and sell approach as their communication strategy provide more focus than those who use the spray and pray approach. Yet, they are more open than leaders who use the withhold until necessary approach.
There are 2 core steps in the tell and sell approach. These are:
- Telling your staff about the key reasons why change is necessary
- Selling your proposed solution to your staff
The advantages of the tell and sell approach are that it prevents information overload, while also avoiding the distrust that can come from the withholding of information.
Yet, there are also two disadvantages to using the tell and sell approach as your communication strategy. First, some staff like to be kept in the loop, with full access to information about what is going on. Second, it is one-way communication and so may fail to address concerns that staff may have.
Communication Strategy 4 – Identify & Reply
Leaders who use the identify and reply approach to communication listen before they speak. Put another way, they listen to the concerns of their staff before responding to issues that their staff raise.
There are two advantages to this approach. First, it allows you to correct false rumours and misunderstandings. Second, it helps you identify and address real obstacles to the success of your change initiative.
There are also two disadvantages to the identify and reply approach. First, it does not allow you to get on the front foot by getting your key messages out. Second, without access to information from you, your staff may not know enough to ask the right questions.
All 4 approaches to communication have their advantages and disadvantages.
So, the best communication strategy involves integrating aspects of all 4 approaches. But, as the spray and pray and the withhold until necessary are the least effective approaches, you make more use of approaches 3 & 4.
Adopting such an integrated communication strategy is the basis of the +1 approach that you can read about below.
Communication Strategy 5: The +1 Approach
The +1 approach involves creatively integrating the best of all 4 of the above methods for communication listed above.
Underscore & Explore
Phillip Clampitt and his colleagues describe a fifth communication strategy that they call underscore and explore. It is a combination of the two most effective approaches – tell and sell, and identify and reply.
You start by getting your key messages across. This involves telling people about the real reasons why change is needed and selling them your broad vision of a better future.
You then listen to their concerns. This enables you to promptly address any misunderstandings. And, it allows you to identify and address genuine obstacles to the success of your idea for change.
You may even find the need to refine your vision to take account of your staff’s ideas of a better future.
Phillip and his colleagues don’t integrate the spray and pray, or the withhold until necessary approaches into their fifth alternative – the underscore and explore approach. Why? Because they are the least effective forms of communication.
Yet, they both have advantages. It is possible to give staff access to a variety of information, without pushing it on them and overloading those who don’t want it. It is called the offering access approach.
In this case, technology is your friend. It allows you to give your staff access to more detailed information as it is available. This may include access to both internal and external sources of information. For example, you could post an internal report outlining the case for change on your staff intranet. And, you could post links to relevant outside information.
By adding the offering access approach to your communication strategy, you make sure that staff can access further, relevant information without pushing them to do so. And, as more information becomes available, you give them access to this as well.
Clampitt, P. G., DeKoch, R. J., & Cashman, T. (2000). A Strategy for Communicating About Uncertainty. Academy of Management Executive, 14(4), 41-57.