Blaming Poor Communication is Stupid

Massachusetts recently tried to make changes in state health care programs for retired civil servants. They had to back down when the retirees protested. The Governor, Charlie Baker, blamed a lack of communication.

The Boston Public Schools recently tried to change school start times. They too had to back down following excessive protests. Once again, a lack of communication was cited as the culprit.

This is stupid. This is the kind of thinking that leads to endless meetings where everyone is invited. Truth be told, no matter how many meetings you have, no matter how many people are allowed to have their say, and no matter how many explanations you distribute, you will have protests if you mess with people’s lives and expect communication to be the preventive medicine.

This reminds me of an experience I recounted in The Clarity Papers. A VP of Strategy told me her team needed better presentation skills. When I asked why, she explained that they had put together a terrific proposal for a great strategic shift but weren’t able to persuade the executive team to adopt it. She thought better presentation skills would make the difference.

She was wrong.

Her problem had nothing to do with presentation skills. Her problem was that the strategy group was trying to persuade the executives to accept a proposal for a major strategic shift without first getting agreement on two absolutely essential factors: 1) that a major strategic shift was needed and 2) the criteria that such a shift would have to satisfy to be acceptable. These are the first two steps of smart decision making, the Statement and the Objectives (read more on how to SOAR through Decisions). You can’t skip these first two steps and expect to be successful.

Charlie Baker and the Boston Schools Superintendent were wrong for the very same reason. Had they begun with Step 1 and gotten people to accept that something needed to change and why – that health care costs had to be reduced, that high school students need more sleep – they would have been able to move on to Step 2 with totally different mindsets. Then, in Step 2, they could have gotten people into problem-solving mode, eager to help identify the most important criteria that should be used to select a viable approach – “We have to be able to keep our doctors.” “If school start and end times are going to change, we will need plenty of time to adjust our work schedules and, for those who can’t adjust their schedules, we will need childcare.”

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but if you replace all that communicating with an effective process, you will please enough of the ones that matter.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing if you just communicate more or better or a little differently everyone will be in agreement. Instead, SOAR through Decisions one step at a time and be sure those essential to success are in agreement each step of the way.

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