Want to be an extremist? Stick to sports, religion or economic forecasting. Please stay out of the professional communications field.
Why? Extreme communicators do themselves and others a grave disservice, especially from the perspective of LEAN Communications. They don’t add value, they waste our time and they disrespect our smarts.
Take these three examples, culled from recent experiences. As usual, I’m protecting the guilty and keeping them anonymous.
Example 1: Preoccupied with Extreme Minutia
How would you answer this query? “Writers: What’s on your bookshelf?”
A director of a global company answered the question with a 600-word article (or more) about all the grammar, punctuation and references books she can’t live without! This is how she spends her time, energy and resources??? She’s stocking up on dead-tree editions of The Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook (both of which have online versions), and dictionaries galore. Not that I don’t appreciate and advocate good writing, spelling and syntax. But let’s practice moderation.
The director’s obsession with this degree of details is a crime to her company. Her priorities are all mixed up, especially in a time of high anxiety, limited resources, and concerns about the future. She’s focusing on whether a period should go inside or outside of a quotation mark, instead of whether her CEO and other leaders are having robust dialogues with key customers, employees and vendors.
As Richard Carlson advocates, don’t sweat the small stuff at work
And grammar and punctuation can be microscopic elements these days. Instead, follow the advice of the The LEAN Communicator and the Copyblogger Brian Clark writes this wonderful blog on copywriting tips for online marketing success. Many of his suggestions apply to all types of writing. Check out these posts
The point is quick, simple, user-friendly ways to make your communications easier to understand to ensure your messages get through.
Example 2: Extreme Casualness
The other extreme is playing fast and loose with facts. Recently a well-respected blogger referred to an IABC colleague in one of his posts as being from ABC. Even the character Goofy would acknowledge that Disney’s TV division has nothing to do with a global association of business communicators.
Bloggers may not always view themselves as professional communicators, but they do need to respect their subjects and their readers—unless they’re writing fiction. So focus on the core story, write clearly and check facts.
Example 3: Extreme Cheerleading
Yet another extreme is misdirected cheeriness. Common culprits are PR agencies, branding firms, and marketing consultants who believe they are also authorities on employee communications. In December, one of these firms advocated on its website to “create a fun, innovative theme” through a “branded 2009 communications plan.”
After reading that, I wanted to do what Dorothy Parker wrote in her “Constant Reader” column for The New Yorker: “Tonstant Weader fwowed up.” Parker was reviewing A.A. Milne’s House at Pooh Corner, which many of us have loved over the years. But fiction is different from facts—especially in our current work environment. We all need hope, inspiration and something to believe in. However, to be credible, leaders and the messages they’re delivering need to be grounded in reality. Forced fun, rah-rahs (as one of my clients used to call its motivational meetings) and sing-alongs aren’t the pat answer these days—especially for GM, Chrysler and Circuit City.
So be LEAN, not extreme. By being LEAN, you’ll maximize people’s time, money and resources. Plus you’ll gain their respect and trust.