Our friend in the lean community, Liz Guthridge of Connect Consulting Group, recently wrote a blog post titled Reinforce, yes; repeat, no. It caught my attention because I am a big advocate of repetition in communication. At first, it appeared that we were advocating the exact opposite approach. Repeating communication is even identified as overproduction.
In thinking it through, the role of repetition really depends on the specific purpose of the communication. Communication is too multi-faceted to warrant almost any maxims. It’s as broad as “management” or “entrepreneurship.”
First, why do I generally advocate repetition? Because it works. Quick…what’s 12 times 12? I bet you didn’t have to hesitate for the answer. Are you a human calculator? No, you are the product of repetition. If you want something to sink it, repetition works. You will remember 12 times 12 for the rest of your life. Anyone confused about the primary message of President Obama’s last campaign? What was it again? Oh yes, it was “change.” It was repetitive and consistent, and it got through.
But repetition can be wasteful if it is attempting to accomplish something that should have been done right the first time. That is, by definition, rework and waste. So when do I use repetition, and when is it wasteful?
When communication is for the purposes of updating status or requesting action, anything more than one time is wasteful. As it applies to status updates, even verbal updates are in most cases wasteful when it could be done visually. Whenever you have to request an action twice, ask yourself what broke down in the communication. It could have been how actions were managed. It could be how requests were made. It was a failure, and something broke down.
On the other end of the spectrum, when the purpose of communication is to create meaning or change behavior, repetition and reinforcement are both essential tools. It you are convincing the organization of a new vision for the company, you should be repeating the primary message often. You should also back it up with actions, examples, stories, and feedback. But the message repeated lends importance to it and also helps it breakthrough our thick filters to block out the bombardment of information that we are normally subjected to.
So think about the purpose of your communications. And then decide on the audience, the medium, and yes, the frequency.