Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


September 2008
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Archive for September, 2008

Communication – Up Close & Personal

It’s real easy to think of communication only in terms of email, newsletters and phone calls but none of these are as effective as face-to-face meetings and especially one-on-one meetings. Sure, no one has the time to meet personally with every client or customer on a daily basis but never getting togehter with them is a huge mistake. In fact, it can be the biggest mistake you will ever make.

This is especially true in the field of economic development. Every ED professional should make it a practice to spend at least one afternoon or morning each week out in the field visiting a community or business. Call up the mayor or village president and take her on a tour of the community so she can show you all the things that are happening in town. And make it casual. An advance call to set up lunch or a tour is all you need. You don’t need a specific agenda and for heaven’s sake, don’t let it turn into a ‘meeting’. Everyone has enough of those already. You want to use this time to get to know your contacts better and to let them know that you really care about them and their business or community.

If the only time they see you is when it comes time for an annual donation or renewal of dues they’re not going to be too impressed no matter how much activity your organization may be having.

Yes, this takes time. But it’s the best time you will ever spend and you’ll learn more during those visits than you ever will at your desk. (Besides the inbox will still be there when you get back and half of that stuff probably doesn’t really matter anyway.)

Communication – The Serial E-mailer?

Last time I talked briefly about how often to communicate. Now let’s look at who we need to communicate with. My suggested answer is, “More people than you think but not everyone.” But wait, wouldn’t it be easier and safer to communicate with everyone? Hey, send out a broadcast e-mail to everyone in the agency or company and we’ve covered out butt. No one can claim they didn’t know.

Seems logical at first blush but let’s take a closer look. We’ve all been the victim of serial e-mailers. Our first reaction after reading their first e-mails and determining they are not essential to our success today is to immediately discount any future e-mails we receive from them. They’ve lost credibility and even if they say something that could be critical to us in the future we’re not likely to even read it. Or if they are presenting in person, we nod our heads but completely tune out the message. After all, they’ve never said anything of value before. Odds are this report won’t be any different. Right?

So what can we do to keep people informed but not suffer the fate of the serial e-mailer? Step one was mentioned in my last post…..determine who needs to know and then divide that audience into sub-groups and determine how often each group to receive communication. One size does NOT fit all.

Second, really review you message for substance and clarity. Stick to the facts and ideas that are essential and don’t dump the whole load. In today’s world it is easy to provide a link from your concise summary to the complete text for those who want that level of detail. 

And that means that, third, you need to write and re-write your message. And with each re-write it should become shorter, not longer. Too many people do a general word dump and expect the audience to sort it out. Folks, we live in a world that just doesn’t have time for that. If you don’t put the time in upfront to craft a precise message, and that means customizing it for each audience, then your attempts at communication will be wasted.

Communication – How Often

Been a long time since my last post. It’s easy to get out of the habit of regular writing and all of a sudden it’s months later. Not the way to use this communications format. And that brings me to today’s topic. How often should communication happen to be effective?

Tough question and the answer can easily be, “It depends.” It depends on the situation and more importantly the type of relationship you are trying to build with those who are the recipients of your communication. If it’s a good friend and they haven’t heard from you in six months they might begin to question the value of the friendship. If it’s an old college or high school acquaintence then every five years at the class reunion might be enough.

But in business and in organizations the answer is also complicated by the type and importance of the message being communicated and that has to be measured from the recipient’s perspective. If the communication is perceived to be of little immediate value then once can be too much. We’ve all been the victim of reckless copying of messages intended for a specific audience. The sender thinks, heck I’ll send this note out to everyone in the building so I can keep everyone ‘in the loop’. Well intentioned perhaps, but probably 90% of those getting that e-mail consider it just a short step above spam.

On the other hand, we’ve all experienced a situation where we’ve felt blindsided when an action is taken or an announcement is made. “How the heck did this all come about?” Obviously a case of too little communication and badly timed at that.

So what do we do? The best thing to do is to set down and develop a communication plan that answers some basic questions.

  • Who are we communicating with? (Individuals and groups)
  • How often should we communicate?
  • What’s the best method of communication. (What? Isn’t everything done by email?)
  • Should this vary by group or individual? (The answer here is usually, ‘yes.’)
  • Who’s going to do all of this?
  • How are we going to get feedback on the communication effectiveness?
  • And finally…What are we going to communicate.

I put the most obvious one last and a good arguement can be made that this should be first but I put it at the end because in most cases that’s all we think about and skip the rest. Bad move.