Nepali Times
Strictly Business
What's sticky?


Management communication is one of the least appreciated arts. Senior managers who are good at it are seen as born with an ability to communicate well. Others who would rather focus on a functional role such as finance or operations farm out critical communications to their public relations or marketing officers, thinking it is something best done by underlings with the gift of the gab.

But as one climbs higher in one's career, perhaps no other skill is as important as the ability to communicate well. Indeed, how a manager communicates to her board of directors, colleagues, employees, customers, stakeholders and the public at large can make or break jobs, careers and even organisations. Despite the importance of this skill, it is seen as something basic one should have picked up while growing up or at school Ė therefore, not worth bothering about and improving on at workplaces. Yet the reality at workplaces is different. Tales abound of missed promotions, missed sales, irate customers, and company-wide conflicts Ė all due to poor communications.

One important aspect of communications is to understand how the other side receives the content of one's messages, be they letters to shareholders or advertisements in the media. To be effective, one has to adopt an audience-centric view of communications. This is easier said than done, of course. But a 2007 book, Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, shows how messages can be put together to make them 'stick' in the minds of the intended audience.

According to the Heath brothers, who are associated with teaching communications at Stanford, the six elements of successful messages are:

Simplicity: is the message easy to understand? Most readers quickly forget the messages contained in various development reports because even the executive summaries of those reports use tediously complex language. But the same readers do remember the content of a trashy novel because of its simplicity.

Unexpectedness: the human brain ignores what is routine. It notices what is different. For other people's brains to pay attention, what's the unexpected twist in your messages? Stand-up comedians use this insight all the time: they start by saying something routine, only to throw in an unexpected twist to grab your attention and make you laugh.

Concreteness: does the message use concrete language? Good communicators use words to paint pictures in their readers' minds through metaphors and the like. In Nepali conversations, I've noticed that most otherwise highly educated people go on and on, sprinkling their sentences with ambiguous 'yo', 'tyo', 'yesari', and so on without being concrete about what 'yo' or 'tyo' specifically mean.

Credibility: why should anyone believe your messages? When crises strike at a company, nobody believes what the company's public relations officers say. People are more likely to pay attention to what the CEO or the chairman says or what the business media says. Who delivers the message is as important as what the message says.

Emotions: the Heath brothers write that humans "are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions". Organisational messages may not contain emotions, but they can be rewritten to tell human interest stories for the audience to relate to.

Stories: people pay attention to stories. Yet story-telling is seen as something that belongs in kindergarten and not in workplaces.

These six elements could well be the key to making messages stick. Conveniently, they make up the acronym SUCCES.

10+2 for public health, KUL CHANDRA GAUTAM
Green hunt, PUBLISHER's NOTE
Conflict of coverage, CK LAL
Stuff of dreams, INDU NEPAL

1. Powerless
We attend meetings in which people fill up every powerpoint slide with globs and paragraphs of text. The worst thing is that they  start reading every line of the damn text. Boring and not sticky.

2. Sargam
Was that Pablovian reflexes that made scurried away the brilliant CEOs who took their pocket money from their affiliated banks to make commoners go broke and jobless?

A serious poking the nose in is required so that next time if the bell rings the dog wouldn't salivate at the same time to shower Pablov of reminiscence. Because so far I am concerned I prefer yogic flying!?! 

3. ngs
I am not even sure what Sargam is referring with reference to communication management.   Here in Nepal, we have this age old tendency even amongst the educated to tend to "hide" till it hits the fan.  Clear, proactive ,timely and concise communication, based on issues rather than personality conflicts or office politicking is the need of the day if we want to see our institutions rise above the fray.   Whether it be a simple matter of outputs report from the operational floor, identifying problem areas, its falls on the CEO of any company to foster a culture of transparency through open ended communications that flow both ways.  If  The CEO communicates his vision clearly and simply, he is then able to motivate and inspire his team to follow on clear lines of strategy and implementing becomes that much less difficult.  Everything Mr. Tiwari writes about is simple-  its us smartasses that just love to complicate and create laybrynths out of linear processes.

4. Sargam
When the horse is stolen, it is too late to lock the barn.

You can hardly imagine how much those already polished (I count myself in as well), toned and honed CEOs with modern tools of management where Pablovian reflexes (they are taught in higher communication) are the must are left with no more scopes because the Wall Street honchos were so much greedy in placing hidden derivatives in sane and profitable societies just to touch bonus and commissions and have a pocketful of actions in some big societies for their old age. It resulted in foreclosures and made the ordinary people go broke and jobless.

Do you hear the echos of it coming out of Greece where all think tanks are gathered for the time being to find out something concrete materializing to thwart another sweep of economic tshunami?

I just received some e-mails from my friends such as Sigolène Royal who are participating in the debate to shore up some alternate solution, if there is any.

5. Geeja & Gum
Sargam, your comments are neither sticky nor musical. What do you smoke?

6. Sargam

#5 Geeja &Gum, I must admit that I have a soft spot for all sophomoric, unpleasant, miserable and stupid jerks that we usually find them on the trash heap of the microcosm of Kathmandu.

First off, they want to hide their lack of knowledge and inherent stupidity in a phrase usually void of sense. For now, we understand why Nepal became what it is today because most of the fellas haven't even the slightest part of commonsense. So why they survive like zombies.

A poor dropout like Geeja &Gum should first buy for himself a set of false teeth to mince his words. Otherwise he is for sure going to suffocate because of big chunks he cannot swallow under the deleterious effects of ganja and dhatura.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)