As a professional communicator and amateur chef, I am frequently surprised by how often my two worlds collide.
Usually this happens in the kitchen when I’m following a new recipe and wondering how the recipe creator could have been so vague (My personal favorite: “cook until done”).
How many employees suffer from the same problem when trying to follow their company’s “recipe” for success? According to one study in the Harvard Business Review, 70 percent of employees surveyed were unclear about their employer’s strategy—and that’s in high-performing organizations with “clearly articulated public strategies.”
Imagine my surprise at finding the perfect example of clear communication during a cooking class in Provence, France. Chef Jean-Marc is a Provençal native who’s travelled the world to perfect his art and now teaches cooking classes out of his home in Maubec. He’s a world-class chef with a gift for breaking down complex dishes into understandable (and repeatable) instructions.
Here’s his recipe for success:
1. Speak your audience’s language.
Even though Chef Jean-Marc’s native language is French, he teaches all his classes in English. That’s because most of his students understand English.
Speaking in your audience’s “language” helps them grasp unfamiliar or complex topics. The easiest way to do that is to ban corporate jargon and speak with employees in a friendly, conversational tone.
2. Provide step-by-step instructions.
The recipes Chef Jean-Marc teaches are the same ones he used in professional kitchens. He makes recipes approachable by breaking them down into precise, easy-to-follow steps (“Peel and finely slice three medium baking potatoes, then mix with three tablespoons melted unsalted butter and two teaspoons cornstarch”).
You can do the same for employees by giving them clear, concise next steps. For example, my colleagues and I created an e-digest for a medical diagnostics organization that focused on just the top three things managers needed to know and do each month. By keeping the e-digest tightly focused on actionable items, we broke through the clutter and provided a clear path for managers to follow.
3. Define roles.
Remember the saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? This was never the case in Chef Jean-Marc’s kitchen. He gave each of his students a clearly defined role to play for each recipe.
Before you write that announcement about your company’s big change initiative, ask yourself what matters most to your employees, and clarify what specific roles they will be required to play.
4. Set clear expectations.
For Chef Jean-Marc, cooking is only half the story. His food is also aesthetically pleasing and thoughtfully presented.
After making each dish, he shows how to plate it by creating one perfectly Instagrammable example to emulate. For employee communication, you might try using real-life employee scenarios to help staffers understand what they should do to meet their performance goals.
From an employee’s perspective, internal communication often feels like a seven-course meal with everything dished up at once. Whether it’s benefits, HR policies, strategy or corporate initiatives, muddled, multifaceted messages are often difficult to convey—and even harder to grasp. However, if you follow Chef Jean-Marc’s recipe for success, you can take even the most complicated content and serve up hearty helpings of clear, simple and satisfying employee communication.
Caroline Hey is a project director for Davis & Company. A version of this post first ran on the Davis & Company blog.
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