Say it 7 Times: The Art of Overcommunication
There’s an adage in marketing that a brand must “Say it seven times” before a message sticks with a consumer. I’ve found the same to be true when communicating with others on my team. When you present new information, you are coming from a place of complete context. The recipients of your message, whether an individual or a group of people around a conference table, might be hearing it for the first time, and they’re likely to hear different things.
Information expands our context. As we learn something new, we move through a series of phases. Hearing it for the first time, we become aware of it. As we hear it again, we begin to think critically about it. And through thinking about it, we gain the ability to act on it, to internalize the information as part of our context that we can then use to guide our actions and behaviors. Repetition of the message helps move us through these phases.
Saying it seven times doesn’t mean you have to just verbally say it over and over (though that doesn’t hurt). You can reinforce the message through multiple mediums. Maybe you use a poster, or a mug, or a few lines at the top of every meeting agenda to repeat yourself in a new way. Or better yet, maybe it’s the words of a peer, or another on your team, who reframes an initiative or project from their perspective.
Alan Mullaly’s return to Ford is a great case study in this. Tasked with turning the company around, he began with what any CEO would do: he created a plan. But the plan was unusually simple. It consisted of four bullets points and less than thirty-seven words.
This simplicity made the plan scalable. Mullally started every meeting by reviewing the plan. He printed the plan on wallet cards and distributed it to every employee in the company. And he talked about it incessantly. Bryce Hoffman, a journalist and author of a book on Mulally’s work at Ford, said, “After six months, those of us who followed the company had gotten sick of hearing about them.” That’s the power of saying it seven times. Everyone within Ford knew what they were trying to do.
As a manager, this can be a helpful lesson when thinking about the miniature mission you and your team are carrying out on behalf of the organization. For a sales manager, this might be the revenue the team is tasked to generate, but more importantly why that revenue will contribute to the success of the company’s mission. An operations manager might focus on how creating efficiencies and workflows allows others in the organization to do their best work. And a customer service manager might articulate how delivering great value to customers creates great outcomes for the entire team.
Whatever your context and role, repeating how what you and your team does to drive the success of the business creates clarity for your team. So here’s to saying it seven times.