3 ways to set people up for success and follow through on your requests

by | Aug 7, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

Be big, bold, and brief. That’s an effective way to cut through clutter, get people’s attention, and get them to complete a simple action.

The managed health care company Aetna definitely snagged my attention with the envelope pictured here. The envelope spoke to me, a human with a wavering attention span who had slipped up the week before.

The mistake was my fault. While chatting with my husband one evening in the kitchen, I started going through that day’s mail. As I was multitasking, that is dividing my attention between two tasks, I tossed a box and its contents—the dog’s new container of flea and tick tablets—into the recycling bin. Luckily for the dog and my pocketbook, I later realized the $100+ medication was missing and found it before the recycling truck hauled it away.

I goofed on a simple task. What if you want people to do something more complicated than opening an envelope or other container and storing the contents for future use? You need to be more than big, bold, and brief.

You need to be intentional about how you set people up for success. That means getting their attention, keeping them focused, and ensuring they can follow through on your message and call to action.

What do you do? At the most basic, build these three elements into your messaging as well as  your request to act.

  1. Adjust your pitch for the situation.
  2. Show pictures.
  3. Make it as easy as possible.

 Adjust your pitch for the situation

Take into account where individuals will be when they get your message and how receptive they will be to it.

To say it another way, how will you make your message cut through the clutter of everything else they’re doing at the moment? To make them spot your message or you as the sender, you need to grab their attention with curiosity, novelty, or anything else that’s significantly meaningful.

And once they give you or your message their attention, will this be something they want to focus on and then take action? Or is it something they must do or should do?

Recognize that it can hard to compete with notifications on a device, or anything else that’s deemed more tempting. Nevertheless, in a work setting, you’re usually dealing with responsible human beings who realize that part of their job requires complying with certain tasks on deadlines.

However, you can help people understand and respond if you’re also able to give them a sense of control. When individuals feel that they’re driving rather than being forced to ride along, especially against their will, they believe they can influence the situation and maybe even the outcome. As a result, they become more motivated to stay focused and take action.

To give people a sense of control, you need to provide them with three things: 1) autonomy; 2) competence; and 3) relatedness. These three things form the self-determination theory developed by two psychologists back in the mid-1980s. (If you’re not familiar with the theory, it’s worth getting to know. Dan Pink wrote about it in his bestseller Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.)

For example, autonomy in messaging means giving people the choice of listening to audio or reading. And if they choose reading, allowing them the freedom to skim in the order they choose.

As for competence, strive to be interesting, not too simple and not too demanding. To say it another way, be engaging; not boring nor brain-numbing.

And for relatedness, make the content relevant to them and their situation. Also personalize it if possible. If not, include quizzes or something interactive to make the material be more relatable. And if you can create a social experience in which they can involve others, that’s even better.

Show pictures

Providing still or moving pictures, a la video, also helps get and keep attention. As receivers of messages, when we see images or visualize them in our mind, our brain works faster with less energy. Images also make stronger connections for us than words do, especially when we’re working with complex relationships. (This article is on the old side yet its information is still solid.)

Make it as easy as possible

Individuals are more likely to do something if it’s easy. Ideally, you want to lead people down the path of least resistance, clearing any obstacles along their way.

You’ll want to test the path for its degree of ease if you’re trying to get more than 10 people to do something. Find 3 to 5 volunteers who will check out your message and your request in advance. To ensure they’re experiencing ease, ask:

  • How easily can they maneuver the information? Are they able to avoid slogging through long words, sentences, and paragraphs?
  • Do they know what’s expected of them? Can they get through the material in a reasonable time frame? Are the instructions clear? Do they need other material to complete your request?
  • Where do they go if they get stuck or have other problems?

Be aware that researchers continue to find that ease predicts customer loyalty better than   customer satisfaction. In one study, 81% of customers who reported having a difficult experience said they planned to complain to friends or post a negative review while only 1% of customers who reported having an easy experience said they would complain about anything. (For more about this topic, check out the HBR article, another oldie but goody, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.)

Even with these suggestions, you can still fail – or at least not succeed to the extent you want. In today’s noisy world, it’s hard to compete for people’s attention, especially when they’re overloaded, overwhelmed, and overworked. A dose of grit and grace helps too.

Are you ready to be clear, give up some control, and make the experience easy?



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