In the famous comedy sketch from the ‘40’s, Bud Abbott tries to identify for Lou Costello the players in the St Louis baseball team. It all begins with the player on first base, whose nickname is ‘Who’. Confusion turns to complete frustration (and a lot of laughs) as Bud informs his friend that ‘What’ is on second, ‘Why’ is left field, and the catcher is ‘Today‘. By now you’ll have got the drift of how this conversation unfolds, the skit was reprised on The Tonight Show a few years ago, with Jerry Seinfeld pulling it together (kind of) at the end. (//www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0Jg7pvVzKk)
This is one of our favourite ‘go to’ examples when we talk about effective and ineffective communication.
I’ve been reminded of this over the past few months as our political leaders and health experts have sought to inform, clarify and update Australians on the latest news and rules for Covid – and in doing so, have been regularly criticised for their efforts. They’ve got a hard gig for sure, perhaps all the criticism is not warranted, but it is their job and responsibility, they have to make the best of it and do the best they can, right? Just like financial planners are doing at the moment, as they seek to provide advice, implement and manage financial plans for their clients in an uncertain environment, which changes quickly, and sometimes, in unexpected ways.
Is there anything these seemingly disparate groups can learn from each other? Following are some communication fundamentals, consider;
1. Clarity of message
Our shout out is to both groups: avoid acronyms, jargon and lengthy explanations with lots of stats and, in some cases, little certainty around important actions – key messages are being lost.
Both groups have a bit to learn here we suggest. And while Advice has long held the mantle of ‘jargon champion’, I think Health is challenging strongly with its repeated use of phrases such as ‘road map’, ‘journey’, ‘pivot’ and ‘we’re all in this together’ (even if we are).
2. Consistency of message
Clearly everyone must be on the same page. It’s sometimes a little hard to understand why, in the case of Health in particular, all ministers and medical experts aren’t fully in lock & step. It’s very hard to get a plan implemented if some of the key players seemingly hold differing views.
The same applies to advice businesses where planners, paraplanners and support staff need to be fully across and in agreement with the overarching strategies and philosophies of the practice itself.
3. Frequency of message
Covid briefings are occurring daily for a number of very valid reasons – the frequency is positive and very reassuring for the public.
Our experience in Advice reflects a similar situation – frequency of communication has, and continues to be, a key driver of practice profitability. Clients, like the public at large, want to know what’s happening to their financial plans – it’s reassuring and what they expect.
4. Substance over hyperbole every time
Address the issue and answer the question being asked, not the question you want to be asked. Australians on the whole are a resilient bunch, we’re educated, aware and fair minded – often there is no need to ‘sugar coat’ a message – just tell it like it is, and there is certainly no need to score points.
In the case of Health, it’s not about which state has got the best tracing system and it’s certainly not about the views of one party over the other. It is about when we should wear masks, travel for holidays, eligibility for the vaccination , what’s an essential service (or more so – what isn’t) and when we should expect the lockdown to end.
While for Advice, what the client really wants to know is if they’re on track to achieve their financial goals. And if they’re not, what adjustments need to be made. Isn’t this what the review/progress to plan is really all about?
5. Be genuine and respectful of your audience
Meetings should take place as scheduled, they should start and finish on time, questions should be encouraged, and the answers should be genuine and honest. And, there is certainly nothing wrong with saying “I’ll get back to you” if you don’t immediately know the answer.
‘Do as I say and not as I do’ is not a good position to take. There’s nothing more irksome than seeing a senior minister or public servant being caught in breach of their own guidelines. And this applies for both Health and Advice.
While you don’t have to thank people at every opportunty, it certainly doesn’t hurt to acknowledge their situation and support from time to time. Something every state premier has become very good at.
Pleasingly, the same can be said for many advisers we work with, who are proactive in thanking clients for a milestone they’ve attained (five years as your client for example) or thank centres of influence for a referral (or ten years as a strategic partner etc). Never underestimate the power of a phone call or handwritten note – particularly in these times.
6. Avoid key dependency
Involving others is a professional approach, providing assurance to all. At every Health briefing, there are invariably multiple ministers and experts on hand to cover all bases.
This should also be the standard for advice practices, the majority of whom are sole owner businesses, where the owner openly acknowledges that their business wouldn’t survive without their presence. This key dependency issue can be somewhat addressed by involving other staff members in client meetings and other practice activities.
7. Never assume the strength of your relationship
Politicians are regularly tapping into the sentiment of the public through polling, research and focus groups. Sometimes they can get it wrong but for the most part they have a good handle on how satisfied or not their public is.
Advisers are seemingly not so diligent in seeking their clients’ feedback, with just one in three practices doing so over the last two years. A stat which continues to confound us. If ever there was a time for a ‘how’s things’ call or a satisfaction survey to be undertaken, surely it’s now!
For your consideration.