There is tremendous power in message consistency and repetition if you are looking to build an effective employee communication programme. But it is an idea that many leaders and communicators struggle with. Too quickly, leaders become frustrated when people don’t immediately grasp a new idea or concept, especially when it is linked to business strategy and important change initiatives. And too quickly, communicators become bored with messages or move on to the next new thing.
What is it then about the power of consistency and repetition that makes it so important in building effective communication programmes?
Consistency and repetition defined
Consistency and repetition are not the same things, but they are related.
Consistency is about making sure that your communication elements stay aligned to your central idea or message regardless of the channels or executions you use.
Repetition is about communicating your message – over and over. As a communicator, there is a very good chance that you may get bored with a message long before it has properly landed with your audiences.
Why does consistency and repetition matter?
Let’s start with the science.
Our brains learn new things by creating new neurological pathways – both in how we think about things and how we do things. These pathways are strengthened through repetition and repetition plays an important role in how our brains retain information.
Consistency also helps to build a sense of certainty and certainty is something our brains crave. When you have inconsistent messages floating around in your organisation, it creates an uncertain work environment. Uncertainty, in turn, creates stress and affects performance and engagement. Being consistent in the messages you communicate will help you to build and strengthen trust internally.
We live in a noisy world, placing great demands on our attention
We spend most of our days navigating the rapids of an information rush, bombarded with all kinds of messages and information. In this perpetual information rush hour we live in, important messages can easily get lost, confused, or go unnoticed.
That begs the question, just how many times should you repeat a message for it stick? One of the oldest marketing principles is the rule of 7. It states that, on average, a prospective consumer will need to be exposed to your message at least seven times before they make a purchase. This rule dates back to a time when people were confronted with far fewer messages than we are today, but the principle behind the rule still provides useful insight. People will need to hear and see a message many times over before it sticks and they are encouraged to act on it or even believe it.
Message consistency and repetition helps to build understanding
We’ve all experienced it, that moment when after hearing or reading something a few times, the penny drops and suddenly you understand something complex or new with great clarity. Repetition affords our brains the chance to digest a message, especially when that message is complex and may introduce new ideas to our world. This point is especially important when communicating a new vision or strategy that will require people to think and do things differently.
A few tips to keep in mind as you plan communication:
- Establish and be consistent in using a core set of terms and phrases that express the essence of the concepts and ideas your messages aim to communicate.
- Use different communication channels and a variety of different ways to communicate your messages over time. Make sure you design content to meet the needs and strengths of specific channels. But, don’t get distracted, stay focused on keeping messages consistent, clear and concise.
- Use recognition as a communication tool – recognise employees who behave in a way that shows they understand and act consistently with key messages.
- Use storytelling to provide powerful and consistent examples that bring messages to life.
- Focus on supporting managers with message toolkits – the shift to remote working in the past year has led to a change in the mix of channels we use to communicate and has highlighted the communication role managers play.
- Be inclusive in communicating – make sure you don’t leave some employees behind or excluded. Think carefully about the communication tools you use, taking the needs, preferences and circumstances of employees into account.
A word of caution
While message consistency is important, we live in an ever-changing world and work in increasingly diverse workplaces. It is important to remember that consistency is not the same as inflexibility. When a message is being misunderstood, take the time to engage your audience and understand why it is the case. Importantly, use their feedback to evolve messages to make them clear, relevant and engaging in a changing world.