Expelling the fear in communications

In her excellent piece on IT change communications, Theresa Stinson, lists “Expel the fear” as one integral part in any change communication roll-out. And how right she is, getting to test e.g. the new software is an important step to overcome any reticence to change in the organisation.

But this advice is equally valid for other types of IT related communications, I’m thinking about when the “customers” are the IT specialists. Before I move on I’d like to state one thing: I love working with engineers. They are solution minded and are often very enthusiastic. True they more often than not display this enthusiasm by speaking to you in four or five letter acronyms, but the enthusiasm is there and I can take their engineering speak and turn it into something non-engineers understand. And this is where the (expelling) fear come in. Very often I get the reaction from the “IT guys” that the text I have prepared is too high level. At occasion I have been accused of treating the target groups as idiots, and more often than not I have been told that the text is not “techie” enough.

So, what do I do? It should come as no surprise when the answer is: it depends on the audience. One thing I rarely do however, is to rewrite the text so it becomes “techier.” Of course I correct errors, but that’s it.

And, why don’t I listen to the wishes of the customer? Isn’t a fundamental quality in any customer facing job? It isn’t arrogance, trust me, I normally work with colleagues that will forget more about their subject matters than I will learn, I don’t in any way doubt their technical knowledge. But when it comes to communications I’m the specialist. And I also base my advice on many years of pitching journalists whom all have one thing in common, they are pressed for time and need to quickly identify if there is something newsworthy in the material I provide.

I remember in particular one customer that got so incensed I actually made a bet with him. It was regarding a newsletter I had produced and it is true it was high-level but I was convinced ,this was the way forward. I had taken 50 pages Rational Rose schematics and turned them into 1,5 A4 document and I attached the technical specifications. The bet went along the lines: if the stakeholders are upset its my fault, if they are good with this, it’s your sunshine. The result? An astounding success, and for the first time in the life of the programme the developers got much-needed feedback from the stakeholders. In all honesty the doubting programme manager did acknowledge that my way forward was the good way forward. The crux of the matter was the attachment. While many of the stakeholders were very senior managers and only read the short text, they for the first time ever knew whom to forward the technical specifications to.

So yes, expelling the fear is a large part of our job as communicators and sometimes an attachment is what’s needed to move ahead.

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