Kim Girard on coming paper: "It's Not Nagging" and redundant communication at work

It's Not Nagging: Why Persistent, Redundant Communication Works — HBS Working Knowledge

Kim Girard discussing a paper coming from professor Tsedal Neeley on why managers send the same message via multiple media to team members:

Power, it turns out, plays a big role in how managers communicate with employees when they are under pressure.

The research showed that 21 percent of project managers with no direct power over team members used redundant communication, compared to 12 percent of managers with direct authority. And 54 percent of managers without direct power combined an instant communication (via IM or a phone call) with a delayed communication (e-mail), compared to 21 percent of managers with power.

A lack of direct power is common in companies today, Neeley says, because so many people work on teams that form and disband on a project-by-project basis. Yet team leaders are still on the hook to achieve their business imperatives despite this absence of authority.

Such is certainly the case with team members working on change projects, strategic planning projects, complex transformations, and so on. Where the discussion falls short -- and where we'll be interested in following up -- is in effectiveness.

We'll take it as table stakes that those in a position of power feel less inclined to send repeated messages to those over which they have some direct authority, than those project managers who have no direct authority over their own teams. What we don't know is whether there is another better strategy than frequency in messaging to team members, to illustrate importance.

Surprisingly, in Girard's closing, she shares the following:

The results also provide a concrete strategy for managers in Neeley's Executive Education classes who are struggling with how best to communicate with workers. "This is an actual strategy—a communication persuasion strategy that they will go and try," she says.

This piece has sparked an enthusiastic discussion in the comments, including the following, which sums up many more:

A competent manager should be able to communicate urgency without coercion. A few "how's it going" visits will reinforce urgency, but more importantly, encourage open communication about impediments and alternatives.

Tasks then tend to solved collaboratively. Works wonders.

If a manager requires the methods outlined in the article to achieve goals through subordinates, he/she is an ineffective leader, to say nothing about communicator, and probably not suited for the position. Alternatively, the subordinates need to be replaced.