As an internal communicator, you have a really tough job. You need to convey a lot of important information and get all your colleagues to consistently pay attention. But when they’re often so busy, how can you grab their attention and inspire them to take action?
One of the biggest pitfalls of internal communication (and communication in general) is focusing too much on what needs to be done and how to do it. Of course these things are important, and if nobody understands what they need to do, they definitely will not do it. But is it the right place to start? Will explaining how something works really inspire your audience to take action? Probably not.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this happen far too many times. Companies have a new strategy or change they want to introduce, and all they want to do is share how it works, or what needs to be done differently. But actually they need to start with explaining why the new strategy is so important in the first place. Think about it - if you don’t understand why something is important, why would you want to do it?
To address this issue, we’ve come up with a very simple solution. We call it the why-what-how framework. A simple, 3-step process to follow whenever you’re introducing a new topic to your colleagues.
What is the why-what-how framework?
The why-what-how framework is a set of guidelines to follow when trying to introduce a new topic. Stemming from Simon Sinek’s best-selling book Start with Why, the framework has a unique Funk-e approach where we extend the method from simply starting with why. We want to ensure that you also cover the what and how in the correct order to ensure your audience gets the information they need, when they need it most.
Starting with why simply means clearly explaining to your audience why your topic is important to them. This can be tricky, but it’s the most important step. If you can hook them in here, you will likely have their attention for the next steps as well. So put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. What is most important to them in their daily job? Why will your information make their life better? The more you are able to empathise and understand your target audience, the more convincing you will be. That’s why we say it’s always essential to understand your target audience. You can read more about this in our how to make an internal communication campaign blog post.
Remember that humans are emotional beings, and even if your what and how are logical and make a lot of sense. You might not always get the results you want, because people often let their emotions guide their decision making. Once people understand the why, they begin to feel as if all the pieces are falling into place. They can finally get on-board with that new strategy and become an advocate for change.
In addition to the emotional benefit, there are a few more reasons that it's important for internal communicators to start with why: Firstly, because excited and engaged employees are more productive, happier and create a positive atmosphere within your company. The Journal of Public Relations Research even published a study that found there is a direct relationship between employee communication, engagement and overall commitment to the organization. Think about it, would you rather have someone working for you who just turns up for their paycheck? Or do you want that enthusiastic employee who is fully on-board with your vision and will set a positive example for those around them?
Starting with why also means that you don’t have to take a ‘sales-like’ approach to convincing your employees to change. No more smoke and mirrors, time to start being clear and honest. If you start by overwhelming your employees with lots of features or pillars of your new strategy, you’re probably just going to end up with a bunch of confused and skeptical people. But, if you start simple and explain why you are changing, you will earn their trust. Even if it doesn’t seem like the best reason at first, for example if you need to change your strategy due to increasing competition. Be honest, let people ask questions and make sure you give everybody their chance to understand why. Only once you have done this you can begin explaining what those big fancy pillars are, and how employees can take action.
How can you apply the why-what-how framework?
Using the why-what-how framework can be as simple as thinking of a title that will incentivise your audience to learn more. We’ve even done it with this article. Take a look at the title again - if you clicked on this article, it’s probably because you are involved in internal communications and want to inspire your colleagues. That’s the ‘why’ of this article. Slowly throughout the article, we’ve gone through the what of the framework, and now we’re wrapping it up with the how.
Whether it be an article, a video, a slide-deck or even a larger campaign. You can always break your subject down into why-what-how. If you have multiple topics to communicate across a larger campaign or strategy, you can cluster your topics into the why-what-how buckets. Perhaps there’s multiple reasons why you are changing. Or maybe there’s a very complex set of steps that need to be followed in the ‘how’. This is not a problem at all, just make sure you’ve got it all mapped out in advance. The secret is consistency, if you started a 6-month campaign with a lot of information about why you’re changing, don’t jump back and forth between your why and how in the second month. Build it up in a linear fashion over the course of the campaign, depending on what information your audience needs most.
Explaining new topics is a skill that we’ve mastered over 10+ years and thousands of products. We’ve scratched the surface of how to craft an engaging message today, but it takes a lot of time and thought to know which message to give your audience and at which time. So, try to start simple by giving your next message more structure - perhaps you could use a why-what-how format in your next presentation. Or maybe just think about a really good ‘why’ to put in the subject line of your next email.
Want to see how we apply the framework with our clients? Get in touch!
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