Despite being a sensible communications professional by day, this summer I decided to take my one-year-old on a nine-hour flight to Europe. Rather than just relay a chilling account of our family’s harrowing experience, I’d like to impart the communications lessons that emerged. This will help you understand and strategically plan your communications... or your own travels with a baby.
The 20-60-20 Rule
There are some people who will get on board with your message right away. These are your top 20% and they are your champions. On the other hand, no matter how hard you try or how brilliant your communications tactics are, there is going to be a reserve of people who do not connect with your message. These are the bottom 20% – and it just doesn’t make sense to focus your energy on influencing them.
Try, for example, to explain the merits of plane travel to a crying toddler-wannabe. Can’t be done. Oh, I attempted to reason with her. I explained that no one really enjoys air travel. I tried to bribe her with her favourite stuffed toys and snacks. But alternating between shrieking, sobbing and this sad, mournful sigh, she was steadfast in her opposition to our first flight.
The point is, whether in the air or online, it’s a waste of resources to try to change the hearts and minds of those who have dug their heels in the ground against you. Instead, spend time trying to persuade the 60% who don’t yet know how they feel.
The Congruency Test
When an issue arises, it can sometimes be helpful to use The Congruency Test as a framework for analyzing the problem. This will allow you to understand whether yours is a tactical, strategic or true communication issue. Imagine the airplane passengers as stakeholders.
If there’s a gap between what you’re doing and what’s expected of you, you have a strategic issue. To the good folks who won the airplane lottery and ended up next to my family, I’m certain the preferred outcome was for my child to stop crying, but no one really expects that to happen. We all know that what a baby on a plane means, and we brace ourselves for the worst. No strategic issue here.
A communication issue occurs when there’s a gap between your perceived performance and what’s expected of you. In our case, the lines of communication were wide open. Between apologies and, at times, my own sobs, my fellow passengers were well aware of my best efforts. Most people are nice, they really only expect you to try your best given the circumstances.
And the final type of issue, tactical, transpires when there is a gap between your perceived performance and your actual performance. If we just happily let our baby scream, without trying to do anything, that would be very bad. But we tried many things to make the ride go more smoothly – it’s just that none of them were effective. Baby still crying despite your best efforts? That’s a tactical issue.
Using the Congruency Test as a framework can help you understand how to best pivot and correct any issues that arise. At least in Communications.
Have a Strategy
Above all else in communications, taking a strategic approach to your work is the single most important step you can take. Without a strategic framework, even the simplest tactical decisions will become difficult to make, and you’ll never really know if you’re achieving your objectives.
A strategy is your big picture action plan for how you are going to achieve something, and it directly relates to your objectives. For example, when you undertake a website project are you ready to reinvent the wheel and overhaul your branding, or are you simply refreshing existing content? You need to decide on your objectives and build out the plan from there.
On our first flight to Europe, we had no strategy. We simply boarded the plane and hoped for the best. On our return flight home to Vancouver, we got smarter. Our strategy was to use any and every tactical resource at our disposal to get this baby to sleep on the plane.
Arriving early at the airplane, we finagled an extra seat and plunked her car seat down between us. We had snacks, including the obligatory first option which must be turned down, and a noise machine installed on our phone. Thanks to the rumbling of the plane, the ”rains of Scotland” were audible only to her tiny, sleeping ears.
Whether tackling infant travel or a communications challenge, a strategic approach will help you focus and use your time in the most efficient and effective way.