Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Fundamentals: Lighten Your Prose with Alliterative Pleasantries

Welcome to Friday Fundamentals, a series designed to help all communicators improve their skill using basic tips and techniques.  Today it's all about writing winsomely to captivate, and connect with, reluctant readers.

I challenge you to a scavenger hunt.  

Quick, find the seven pairs of alliterative words in this Wordlegraphic.

In case you're hesitating, let me confirm that yes, alliterative means that the words start with the same letter or sound. So now that we've cleared that up, this is an easy win.


Got 'em? Congratulations. I hope that was a fun challenge.  As an instructional designer, I know that learning needs to be enjoyable. Games are one way to accomplish that; so is entertaining writing.  And entertainment is what the literary device known as alliteration brings to the table. That, and much more...

If you're a regular reader of Remarkable Messaging, the word combos in this game might have seemed familiar to you.  That's because they're all taken from previous posts, where these same pairings were used intentionally to solidify key concepts and make ideas more memorable.

Choosing words that begin with the same letter can make your message more impactful.  It introduces a subtle, unexpected pattern that attracts notice and moves your writing beyond the everyday.
Humans respond to the lyrical texture of words.When we read or listen, we primarily are focused on discerning meaning, but we also notice and enjoy qualities such as sound similarity and symmetry. In fact, we take delight discovering those elements. We even have a fun term for them: wordplay.  Repeated sounds add entertainment value --  and by doing so, they enhance the positive emotional impact of any text. 

Alliteration in a piece of writing brings us pleasure and sparks our interest, the same way that a repeated musical theme adds life to a motion picture soundtrack, or a repeated accent color brightens an interior decorating scheme.

Just a warning, though: for best effect, use this trick sparingly.  Read on for a case in point.

What are words? They are powerful projectiles, each with its own context of connotation.  And each sails into range with a sonic repercussion, leaving an impression on the listener's ear (or the reader's retina).  The point of this post is to promote the premise that words can win the hearts of your hearers when they have similar starting sounds.  

And with that paragraph above, I hope to illustrate that too much alliteration can come across as a bit artificial and tongue-twisterish, if not Dr. Seuss-like, and may actually distract the reader instead of engaging him or her.  So if you're going to use this literary device, use it sparingly.  It's the salt and pepper, not the meat and potatoes. 

So when is the best time to use alliteration? 
  • When bland text needs spice.  If your material is desperately dense, highly abstract, or possibly even of a boring nature (dare we admit it?), inserting a few same-sound-driven phrases can perk it up -- even if it's just to help the reader stay awake and focused.  
  • When you want to give tough material a friendlier spin.  Alliteration can add a touch of breezy whimsy to a too-serious presentation.  For example, at a recent seminar I attended that dealt with a complex subject, the presenter arranged his material so that all twenty subtopics started with the same letter.  His audience soon noticed, and we were soon in anticipation mode whenever he advanced to a new slide: would he keep to the pattern?  How would he pull it off?   This added a fun element to what might have been a dull session.    
  • When you want to group or contrast concepts. My favorite place for alliteration is a list -- that is, any grouping of ideas.  Somehow, if they all can start with a similar sound, they're more interesting in relationship to each other.  
  • When you want your audience to remember the punch line.  Words that hit with a similar sound-splash make a stronger combined impression in our memories.  So if you want to keep retention potential high, try to use an alliterative phrase to articulate your main take-away. Example:  One of my prior posts states, "What works on paper, doesn't always work on people."  Because of the repeated p sound, that sentence is elegantly memorable.  If I had said, "What works in theory doesn't always apply to real-life relationships," would it have had the same effect? 
  • When you want to paint a more emotional picture.  Words with same-sounding beginnings are the cousins of words with same-sound endings, or rhymes. Both can be used as brushstrokes by the artistic author to establish mood, movement and rhythm.  Consider these lines penned by another one of my communications superheroes, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her poem Autumn Daybreak:
Tardy, and somewhat south of east,
The sun will rise at length, made known
More by the meagre light increased
Than by a disk in splendour shown...

(Aaah, Edna.  In just a few lines, you've painted us quite a misty morning there, with all those m's and s's.  Great job, sweetheart.  If there was an American Idol for under-appreciated poets of the past, you would get my vote.   Every week...)

Back to the here and now of our own less-than-poetic writing assignments.  Here's an idea for another scavenger hunt.  Go back in this blog and search a few of the earlier posts.  See where I've used alliteration to add punch to my points.  (Extra credit for finding the actual pairs shown in the graphic above.)  

Or if you prefer, start a different game of your own.  Take another pass at some of your recent communications to identify places where this little trick could have ignited some sparks.  Then, the next time you need to churn out some content, don't just create -- alliterate.  Make this a game you play with your own material, and you'll win increased retention, engagement and good will.  

I predict that people's plaudits will prompt you to pursue this predilection in perpetuity.  (Well now I'm just being silly.)

Remember, alliterate responsibly... and happy communicating!

Like this post? Have another tip about alliteration?  Leave a comment!

* You can make a Wordle graphic too.  It's free, and it's fun.  Go to their site and find out how:

I first found out about Wordles from my pal in the New York communications world, talented blogger and video producer Christopher Ming Ryan.  I highly recommend his blog for all media dabblers and creative types:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Manager Mondays: Do Your People Know Your Playbook?

Welcome to Manager Mondays, an ongoing series of posts designed to improve workforce communications.  This time it's about getting and keeping everyone on the same page with procedural compliance.

Walk into the lobby of any organization that strives for excellence, and you'll probably notice some predictable wall decor:
  • a framed mission statement, explaining Where the company aims to go
  • a list of "Corporate Values" showing What it considers important
  • a group of "Star Employee" plaques recognizing employees  Who have made noteworthy achievements
There's one other item you won't see.  It's just as important, because it shows How to translate all of those other idealistic elements into everyday actions.  The only problem is, it won't fit on a wall.  

I'm referring to a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs), the Hows that define the way things should be done and set behavioral expectations for everyone in the organization. 

It's been shown that, if employees have a firm grasp of what they're expected to do, they'll be much more likely to do it -- and much less likely to go rogue and engage in undesirable behaviors.  The problem is that, in many organizations, SOPs are often communicated to staff in a haphazard or mystifying way.  

What about your company's procedural standards?  Are your Hows coming across as Huhs?

Check off which of these assessments apply to your organization's SOPs:
  • They're overwhelming, distributed in an employee handbook during the first days on the job, mixed in with lots of other new-hire need-to-knows -- OR --
  • They're underwhelming, scattered randomly among orientation handouts, break room posters, email reminders, newsletter articles, or CEO pep talks, without any way to sort them by priority or save them for reference.  
  • They're incomplete.  They don't address all situations --OR --
  • They're too complete.   They tend to go into endless and sometimes obvious detail, leading readers to stop reading as they surmise that they "know all this stuff already." 
Plus, in many cases, the SOPs themselves are the problem :
  • They may be hard to read,  written in cryptic Legalese sprinkled with Business-School-Speak terminology -- a combo that makes ordinary employees' brains glaze over in stark incomprehension. 
  • They may be hard to do, because your people don't have adequate time, training, systems, and/or tools to do them. 
  • They may be intimidating and demotivating, phrased in such a demanding way, and setting such perfectionist standards, that the average staffer concludes she can't possibly achieve them.
  • They're probably outdated,  because everyone thinks that five-year-old codes of conduct still apply in this new age of internet searches, social media, and client cell phones that shoot video and post it on Youtube faster than a manager can cross the floor and apologize.
Setting procedural guidelines and behavioral expectations is a good thing.  It's not that your company doesn't want to do it.  It's probably made plenty of noble attempts.  But the chances are that those attempts have not hit their mark... and setting standards poorly might be just as bad as not setting them at all.   Fuzzy behavioral guidelines end up enabling risky behaviors.  Here's how it happens:

1.   The map is lost in bad messaging.  That is, due to factors listed above, standards for desired behavior fail to make an impression simply because employees give up trying to decipher what they are.

2.  Management assumes there's understanding, when there isn't.  "Well, I'm sure that procedure was covered in the [insert company name for SOP document here]," the thinking mistakenly goes.  "So now we can hold everyone accountable for it."  Good theory -- bad basis!

3.  Phantom expectations never get firmly executed.  When management thinks that certain things have already been said somewhere else, nobody ever ends up saying them anywhere.  As a result, performance is consistently inconsistent.

4.  Accountability is replaced by anarchy.  Without key knowledge, workers work to fill the vacuum, inventing their own responses to situations, and forming habits based on their own judgments.  Suddenly the company has several different approaches to getting a certain thing done.   Each one is fueled by  "grapevine guidelines" that issue from an assortment of strong personalities styling themselves as local know-it-alls.  Then, when an employee is discovered doing something outlandish, destructive, or downright evil, she can turn around and say, "So-and-so told me that's how we do it," or simply "Nobody ever told me I shouldn't."

Are your company's behavioral baselines treated as givens -- even though proper treatment has never been given them?  Think about your division's last few dropped balls, performance shortfalls, or disciplinary problems.  Then think about the behaviors that went haywire on those occasions. Were they rooted in wrong procedure?  Did you have to go back and explain the right way to a roomful of blank looks?

If you think your troops don't have a good way to figure out "the company way", take action to correct the situation.  Your team needs a playbook.  Get them one.

1.  Look up whatever's there now.  Maybe it's been a long time since you perused your firm's new employee orientation materials, or thumbed through the HR descriptions of roles and responsibilities for the positions under your supervision.  Review them now.  Root out any other official reference material used for procedural guidance.  Verify that it's still reliable.  Are there vital things left unsaid there?  Were they ever said anywhere?  If anything needs revision, reinterpretation, or updating, find the people in your organization who incur the biggest risk when standards aren't followed, and recruit them as allies to whip the SOPs into shape.  In the meantime...

2. Add a Playbook Review section to your team communications.  Regularly feature one aspect of procedural compliance in your weekly calls, memos, or team meetings. Start with the area that seems to produce the most chronic confusion.  Take it upon yourself to reproduce relevant portions of your manual, new hire materials, or whatever other resources pertain to SOPs.   State the proper procedures, then relate them to your team's present activities.  Give explanations, examples, and answers to the questions that keep coming up. (There are leadership development possibilities here.  You may want to assign different topics to different team members in turn so they can  research, write and present short How-To segments on hot-button procedural controversies.  They get some practice developing their communication skills, and the whole team benefits from hearing fresh voices.)

3.  Send out a Procedural Update Alert for any critical compliance issue or for a change in procedures. This type of communication needs a clear-as-day subject headline.  Example:  Urgent! New Procedures for Autoclave Sanitation. State-Mandated Changes Will Take Effect July 1, 2012.  Note: for any regulatory compliance matters, consult your Legal or HR departments to determine whether documentation requirements exist.   For example, employees may need to get a hard copy in the mail and return a signed acknowledgement to show that they received the new instructions. 

4.  Use "do it this way, NOT that way" language, photos, graphics, videos, etc.  to make correct procedures extremely clear.  State what is acceptable and what's not.  Find out where the source of misunderstanding was, and address it.   If homegrown shortcuts, bootleg cheat sheets, or pernicious urban myths have clouded the picture, you may need to debunk them specifically, but do so graciously, without pointing the finger of blame at anyone.  

5.  Provide systems to store and retrieve vital procedural information.  This may mean buying a Procedures Playbook binder for every employee and encouraging them to keep their updates in it.  It might mean keeping a central binder in every location with a copy of all relevant procedures, and assigning someone to keep it current.  It may mean hosting a directory on your company employee website.  Whichever system works best with your company's resources and business model, make it easy for employees to use. If they don't have ready access to the correct procedures, they will soon forget them and fall back on their folklore versions.

6.  Establish a dialogue about good procedures.  Invite feedback, suggestions, and even arguments about all of your company's How's.  Remember that it's possible that your troops have figured out a better How.  Sometimes homegrown variations show up for the simple reason that the real procedures don't work!  Pay attention when employees create workarounds; their front line perspective may be giving them insight you lack.  On the other hand, if they're clinging to an alternate method that incurs risk or sabotages other company processes down the line, a discussion will bring those facts to light and allow you to explain the larger picture. 

If procedures aren't properly understood, management can be blind to the consequences for a long time.  It's rare that an average employee will go directly to his boss to say that he needs more clarity on what to do, or what not to do.  He doesn't want to look stupid.  And if he does ask for clarity, it won't help one bit if he's directed right back to the gobbledy-gook guidelines that initiated his confusion in the first place.

When the Hows are Huh?s, the answer is not just sending out more dense verbiage, or explaining the same correction fifty different times in fifty different conversations with fifty different people.  The challenge is to convey what your company expects your staff to do in efficient, understandable, actionable ways.  This is an area where a proactive manager can make a great deal of difference.   

When you replace your staff's hazy ideas with firm understanding of your company's authorized procedures, and why they matter, they will apply those procedures more consistently.  This means that metrics can be tracked more intelligently, and issues can be addressed more accurately.  Your people can get out of the make-it-up-as-we-go-along business, and onto the fast track for developing your business.  And that increases the likelihood that some of them, or maybe you yourself, will soon be featured in that illustrious "Star Employees" display in the lobby.  

Demystify your procedural playbook.  Coach your players until they have all the plays down cold.  Then they can focus on playing the game right -- and scoring big wins for the team.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Fundamentals: To Have Them At Hello, Start With A Story

Welcome to Friday Fundamentals, a weekly feature of this blog that presents fail-safe ways to improve your communication.  The subject today is how to use illustrations and metaphors for better audience engagement.  Read on to discover two quick structural devices you can employ in your opening paragraph to ensure that your target audience stays tuned.

There was a time when you could just start talking and people would start listening.  This is still the tradition at the famed Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London.  At that little spot in the U.K., anyone can stand up, start giving a speech on any topic, and attract a gaggle of listeners -- at least, for a couple of minutes.  But if the orator is only  ordinary, the paused pedestrians are soon in motion again, drifting down the sidewalk in search of a more riveting show.

And so it goes in all messaging.  First you need to get your readers'/listeners'/viewers' attention.  But you're not done there.  It's not enough to just hook them.  You have to keep them on the line.   (A little fishing metaphor, there -- more about metaphors later.)  And unless you're at Speaker's Corner, you have mere seconds to prevent your audience from evaporating.

In all my readings and rambles, it seems as though I'm always noticing the detachment point in messaging -- the moment at which the teller loses the tellee.  Often I see that it's a matter of disincentivization.  (No, that's not a word found in today's dictionary, but it will be in the dictionary of tomorrow,  because we writers will have more and more reasons to worry about it.)

Readers don't know where you're going with what you're saying, but if it sounds like it might be boring, they won't stick around long enough to find out.  So capturing their imagination in your first few sentences is key.

You DON'T have them at hello.  You need to give them reasons to stay.  One way to prevent attention drift is to add a sense of drama to your messaging right away.  Set up a story for your listeners, and you set up anticipation.  If they get an inkling of what to expect, they will be more likely to stick around -- if only to keep score and see if you stick to your game plan.  Keep score -- hey that's a bit of a sports metaphor, isn't it?  Since metaphors keep popping up here, let's talk about them first.

1.  Start with a metaphor.  Relate your topic to an easily-understandable situation, ideally one that has a compelling emotional ring to it.  The clearer the image, and the simpler your comparison, the better you will succeed.  When it comes to emotional engagement, the right metaphor succeeds like nothing else.

This was a device famously used over and over again by one of  history's all-time most successful communicators.  It would be an understatement to call Jesus Christ one of my communications superheroes, but regardless of your view of his life and claims in general, you have to admit the guy was one astounding speaker.  And when he had an abstract concept to illustrate, he used a familiar reference point as an illustration.

One of my favorite instances of this is when he starts one speech by talking about a despicable sheep stealer.  This is a big attention-getter for his straitlaced rural audience, and it has an emotional impact -- their righteous indignation gets in gear right away.    Jesus then contrasts that picture with the picture of a dedicated shepherd who protects the flock from thieves, at any cost.  Again, this is an attention-capturing bit of monologue for his audience.  No one is drifting away at this point, and inwardly there's probably a lot of self-comparison going on as they ask themselves, "Would I have the guts to confront sheep thieves?  How would I rate my own dedication to my job?"  

Jesus then ties the ribbon around the story as he explains simply, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." The crowd is electrified -- and not all in a good way, by the way -- but the point is, Jesus has their attention up to the end.  (Read and admire the whole discourse, found in the book of John, chapter 10, by clicking here.)

There are plenty of  more contemporary examples of metaphors all around you.  Campaign stump speeches are full of them.  That's because metaphors are a prime means of political finger-pointing.  Campaign staffers live to run out and empty store shelves of Etch-A-Sketches and flip flops that they can wave at the cameras when a sound bite suddenly turns them into symbols.  

The power of a metaphor goes further than that.  Just a few days ago, President Obama spoke about the bad economy, likening it to someone ordering a big steak dinner and then leaving the next person with the tab.  Now there's a  Facebook page called "Don't Put It On Our Tab" that invites its viewers to  "Click LIKE if you are ready for fiscally conservative leadership in the White House."  

Expect many more metaphors of this type as presidential campaign rhetoric heats up.  Anyone in the mood for outrage?  We'll get plenty of that in the months to come, with deliberately-chosen, finely-tuned metaphors serving as catalysts.

But back to you, and your audience.  Starting your message with a metaphor is a great way to pull people in, whatever emotion you're trying to tap.  The more abstract your material, the more a metaphor will juice it up.  If the politicos can use one to set fire to the theme of fiscal responsibility, think how you can apply one to heat up  your own subject matter.

On the other hand, if a metaphor is just not feeling right in your case, here's an alternate way to engage the crowd with your opening sentence:

2.  Start with an example.  Tell your audience about a real-life situation that illustrates the point you want to make.  In most cases, you will already have heard about an event or a story that pertains to your subject.  Simply retell it.  But make sure it's one that has some drama attached.  

To access the full dramatic power of storytelling, you usually want your opening story to be a tale about what when wrong.  But it can also be about something that went right.  Or (and this is my personal favorite!) it can be about a crisis situation that seemed to be headed for certain disaster....  

Then, you stop telling it and leave it dangling as a cliffhanger as you launch into the body of your message.

Nice!  You've got them now!

If your example is captivating enough, it can set the tone for the rest of your message.  It becomes the "hook" in your song (click here to see last Friday's post that relates speech writing to songwriting.)

Using real examples has the benefit of conveying expertise.  If you  fire off a couple of stories about your topic, right at the start, you establish your credibility.  This is especially true if you can link them to your own observations or professional activity.

Look back at how I started this post: the cute little story about Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, right?  And remember how I interjected my own presence into the narrative a couple of paragraphs later?  "In all my readings and rambles..."

And look who's still reading now.  Yup -- consider yourself hooked, my friend.

I have one stern warning about using real-life situations in your messaging.  Be careful about confidentiality.  If a metaphor is like a feature film, an example is like a documentary.  You may need to edit your narrative carefully to keep those involved safe from anger or shame (and to keep yourself safe from a defamation of character lawsuit).  Like the digitally blurred-out faces in reality TV shows such as C.O.P.S., discreetly omitted details, generic descriptions, and vague pronouns can be used to mask your protagonists' identity.  Whether they function as the good guys or the bad guys, reveal the actual names of your story characters only if you get their permission first, preferably in written format.  (This applies to audio recordings and roll-in video as well.  Click here to find some Media Release Forms that you might want to use to document permission.)

And with that comment, I will end this piece by encouraging us all as communicators to deal respectfully and honestly with our audiences, especially when it comes to using metaphors, illustrations, examples, or any other devices to grab their attention.  Let's make sure that when we hook them at Hello, we go on to give them our best offering.  Otherwise, their Goodbye might be for good!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Silos, Separation, and the Craft of Conveying Meaning

All of us whose day-to-day work has us addressing an audience -- in person, via print, or via media -- must pause from time to time just to marvel that anyone can ever truly get their point across to anyone else.

So much gets in the way of pure idea-sharing.  So many factors can distort a message. 

I'm reflecting on the elusiveness of understanding tonight:  how rare it is for any of us to feel that we are truly understood.  And how difficult it  is for us to feel that we have successfully bridged that middle space between us and our hearers, and truly communicated what we meant to say.   

We can make a lifelong study of this craft of communication, yet still be left wondering if we really know how to do it.  I can speak or write eloquently, sending my words out in strong, sturdy, grammatically-correct sentence structures...  but I don't know -- I never can know -- precisely how you hear them.  Because ultimately, the perception I have of reality is not the same as yours.  Many of the assumptions I take for granted do not appear anywhere on your inner map.  And the memories that influence the way I express myself are forever alien to you.

We house our thoughts in separate human silos.  We sort and stockpile our experiences utterly alone inside our strongholds of identity.  And when we want to share the insights that come from our sorting, we have only words as tools.  Our view into each others' realities is like looking out from one set of windows into another, with smudges, fog, and raindrops on the windowpanes.

Saying something is never simple.  Hearing something is even harder.  We each must deal with the static of our own emotional state, the crackle of our own subconscious distractions, as we tune in to another's voice.  We are so quick to surmise that we know what each other means, but do we?

How much courage, patience and passion it takes to tell something truly and well.  How much like defying gravity it is to step beyond ones own sense of what's obvious, and construct communications that honor ones listener's need for simplicity and clarity.

The truth is, the hardest part about communicating isn't the telling -- it's the listening.  Because in listening, we attempt to enter another person's silo and experience their message as they themselves experience it, without contaminating it with our mental fingerprints of filters, stereotypes, and labels. In listening, we find clues to the other person that help us custom-craft the words we need to express our own ideas in a way that he will hear.

Good communicators are always polishing their windows, resetting their expectations, and abandoning their senses of entitlement.  They know how rare and how costly it is to share ideas well.  They know how much they need to understand first, in order to be understood.

Good communicators don't  rely on their cleverness to bridge the separation between souls; they rely on their cluelessness.  They don't assume that others should just know what they're talking about.  They never assume that anything "goes without saying."  Instead, they acknowledge and respect the distance between each of our thought streams, like the empty space between galaxies, and they do not take lightly the attempt to bridge it.

Good communication starts with humility.  What do I really want to say?  How can I put words around my idea to help other lonely silo-dwellers really get it?  Why is it worth saying?  How do I earn the privilege of inviting others to understand?  

Yes, tonight I'm thinking about the elusiveness of understanding, and the miracle that any of us ever hits that target outcome of having another person "get it."

I'm convinced that we communicators have a holy craft.  The true power of communication is its ability to enable each of us to transcend our profound isolation and connect us to each other, and to ideas, principles, humor, truth, and choices we would not otherwise have dreamed up on our own.  In doing so, we can change each others' destinies.  As communicators, we need to respect that power, and use it ethically and kindly.

Meaning is precious -- as precious as life.  Let's carve with care the word containers that we use to transport it.  Let's be courteous in our dialogue, since dialogue is all we have to bridge our separation.  Let's try our best to let light come through our tarnished windows. Let's use the power of communication to light each others' way through the rain, the fog, and the murkiness of our individual journeys.   Let's remember how mostly-clueless we all are, and how much we need each others' expressions of wisdom and comfort to survive, and thrive, in a world where each of us is ultimately alone.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Manager Mondays - Put the "Great" in Grateful

Welcome to Manager Mondays, a blog-within-a-blog that functions as a forum for improving workforce communication.  Join us each week to keep your contacts with your team fresh and fruitful!   This week it's all about expressing gratitude.  
Please note:  what follows is an adaptation of a comment that I originally posted on another blog cited here previously, Positive Organizational Behavior (  
Very few scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of thanking employees.  However, one fascinating piece of research on this subject was published in 2010 (see full citation below).  This study showed that when people received expressions of gratitude for tasks they did at work,  it increased both the frequency and duration of behaviors intended to help the organization.  
Empirical evidence aside, I think any one of us instinctively knows that we ourselves respond better when we are thanked than when we are left unthanked.  This holds true whether the effort is small, like holding the door open for a co-worker, or big, like completing a project within budget and on time.
As a person who directs others' work, do you recognize the power of your "thank you," and use it liberally?  
At minimum, the expression of thanks is a signal that:
- a person's effort was noticed;
- a person's effort was perceived as having a beneficial impact;
- a person's effort was perceived as springing from their own human initiative — or in other words, the “thanker” acknowledges that the person had a choice to do it or not, and the person decided to do it.
It's that last assumption that trips up many bosses.  "Why say thank you?" they wonder. "Don't I have a right to expect good performance?  Do I actually need to tell a guy I'm grateful that he did something he needed to do anyway?  Doesn't that make me sound wimpy?"  
 This line of reasoning says that a task that falls within someone’s assigned duties is not thanks-worthy.  There may be some basis of logic to this idea -- but leading employees isn't always purely logical .  What works on paper, doesn't always work on people.  A boss may view her leadership actions as purely logical business transactions, but most assuredly her employees do not.  They're looking for signs of validation, reassurance, and guidance in every communication their leader sends their way.  
The folks who work for you don't just dispense their labor on demand, the way a Coke machine dispenses Coke.  They decide how, when, and to what extent to comply with the requirements of their job.  Those decisions represent a vast opportunity for good management -- and they're locked away inside the other person's volitional capacity, beyond your ability to control.   But when people perceive that you, the person in charge, are sincerely grateful for their individual effort and sacrifice, they will tend to grant you more access to their locked-away power of personal choice.  In other words, they will increasingly follow your leadership.
Once I had a discussion about expressing gratitude with a former colleague. We both developed training courses for our organization. She balked at my inclusion of a slide at the end of a classroom training that said, “Thanks for coming today!” She rightfully pointed out that this was a required course.  The participants had to attend, so why should we thank them for doing so?  
I conceded that she was correct in her logic -- but I kept the "thank you" slide.  I wanted to acknowledge the fact that for this course, they had to show up outside of work hours, during time that would otherwise be their own.   And even though they would be compensated in their paycheck, at the training rate we were paying, the course was not exactly a gold mine. Thanks were in order.  (And by the way, the course was well received -- and wildly successful.)
Over the years, I've kept to a pattern of thanking people even for those things that others consider usual or expected behavior.  I've been in charge of workers whose clear mandate was to do what I told them to do -- yet I still showered them with thanks for doing it.  This approach has never backfired for me.  Far from it, I have found that the action of thanking people almost always results in more positive behaviors, greater team loyalty, and an increased sense of ownership.
By honoring a person with a simple verbal "thanks," we recognize, and grant dignity to, the inner human being who lives within the outer system of work-related behaviors.  Gratitude acknowledges the soul.   
So let’s all un-Scrooge ourselves from the niggling urge to treat people as if they owed us. The truth is, they may owe us — but by thanking them, we will not risk an insurrection — only maximize the interaction.
Don't treat your people like Coke machines.  They will view it as contempt, and give you less of the unrestrained cooperation that your organization needs to thrive.  Instead, discipline yourself to show your workers that you're grateful.  You'll  prime your workers -- and yourself -- to be great.  
Agree, or disagree?  Do you have an opinion?  Please post a comment to share your views!  

Full citation: Grant, A.G. & Gino, F. (2010). A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (6): 946-955.

Please read more from Bret Simmons on this and other leadership topics by visiting his excellent website:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Fundamentals: Write Speeches that are Music To Their Ears

This week's Friday Fundamentals post tunes in to the sounds and rhythms of music to offer a cool tip for writing voice communications.

Let me start with a story:

The woman was an accomplished professional.  Slim, blonde and youthful, she projected a charming presence.  She had boundless drive and an amazing track record for accomplishing the impossible.  She was driven by her passion for the non-profit organization that she had founded and now headed.  I'd seen her manage difficult people and crisis situations with strength and serenity.

But that day, she approached me with fear in her eyes.  Alarmed, I asked her what was wrong. She came nearer, desperation tinging her voice as she lowered it to just above a whisper.

"I have to make a speech to the Kiwanis club," she confided.

Among  all the varied types of communication, I've noticed that speeches and verbal presentations top the terror list.  That's a bit surprising, isn't it?  We each speak thousands of words daily.  In a casual conversation, we have no problem telling our spouse, our sister, or our sales manager what's on our mind.  But shove a mike in front of us, and we freeze up.

I've often had the opportunity to write speeches, presentations and voice-over soundtracks for media programs.  It may seem strange, but I've found that my background as a songwriter has helped me in this area more than any formal training I've had. I've discovered that the same tricks a musician uses to compose a ballad can be used to write presentations that rivet audiences and move them emotionally.

But maybe that's not so strange a thing after all.   A good song is, after all, a message well delivered. Its lyrics tell a story.  Its  rhythm gives it punch.  Its instrumentation and pacing are its framework.  Its melody sweeps us into an emotional current that we find irresistible.  As communications devices, hit songs do a lot of things right.  So why not borrow some of their magic when you sit down to write your next speech or presentation?

That's what I did to help my friend face down her Kiwanis club fears.  I took her already well-articulated thoughts and sorted them into memorable sound bites, using the tricks below.  She was awesome -- and you will be, too, when you bring a Tin Pan Alley approach to your talking points.

1.  Think musically about your speech's desired emotional impact.  What's the feeling you're trying to elicit from your audience?  What style of music fits that picture?  Would it be:

  • A sweeping, patriotic anthem?
  • A carefree Top 40's hit?  
  • A woeful song about lost love?  
  • A thumping rock-and-roll manifesto?  
  • A playful Broadway tune?
Figure out which type of song best expresses the basic "feel" that you want your speech to have.

2.  Adopt a song for inspiration.  After you've done step 1 above, think of an example of a song that fits that profile.  Then use it to help you build the structure of your speech. For example, if you're trying to rouse your audience's feelings of sympathy, like my Kiwanis speaker, you might choose a ballad about lost love.  In that case, you might start your speech with a story illustration, like the hit Barbra Streisand hit, Since I Fell For You:
"You made me leave my happy home
You took my love and now you're gone..."
Those words paint an immediate picture of need and loss, pulling in the listeners and focusing them on a dramatic moment.  So my Kiwanis speaker started her speech with a short story of a woman reaching a crisis point in her life.

On the other hand, maybe you're reporting the results of your team's successful marketing campaign.  It got off to a rocky start -- a fact which has not escaped the attention of the top execs -- but your guys pulled off a big win in the end.  In such a situation, you might choose to pattern your remarks after the opening lyrics of the Queen rock classic, We Are The Champions.  In fact, you could simply substitute "we" for "I" and come up with a pretty great lead-in:
"(We've) paid (our) dues - Time after time - (We've) done (our) sentence But committed no crime - And bad mistakes (We've) made a few (We've) had (our) share of sand kicked in (our) face - But (we've) come through ... We are the champions - my friends!"
Well, you might not use those exact words, but you get the drift.  Start your introduction with a bold recap. Make it frank, and make no excuses.  Then, listen to the wailing lead guitars in your head as you reveal the awesome sales numbers on the payoff PowerPoint slide. Your audience will be ready. Who wouldn't feel a stadium-size surge of victory after hearing a build-up like that?

  3.  Outline the rest of your speech, songwriter-style.  With a musical theme and a specific song as inspiration, you can proceed to flesh out your ideas.  Thinking of your presentation as a song will help you keep yourself on track and prevent going off on tangents.  You're not writing a whole Broadway musical here.  Focus on the main idea, and organize your thoughts in a listener-friendly way. Songwriters use three key structural elements to keep their listeners engaged.  You can use them, too, as you continue to put together words that will captivate your hearers:

a.  Chorus - Most songs have a declaration statement that they return to again and again. It frames their main idea.  It's an effective device -- think of any pop hit and your thoughts will zoom right to the words of its chorus.  In fact, most song titles are merely their chorus' memorable first line:  You Can't Hurry Love.  Under The Boardwalk.  All You Need Is Love.

What's your chorus?  What's the main message that you want your audience to absorb?  Hit that message early on, and go back to it throughout your speech.

In my Kiwanis speaker's example, her theme was that a caring community can work together to transform the lives of people in need.  She gave several examples of this principle throughout her speech, and after each one, she returned to this thought as her "chorus" core message.

b.  Hook -- This is the part of a song that you remember.  Whether it's a distinct drum rhythm, a soaring synthesizer lick, or a perpetual background vocal, the hook becomes the song's signature.  (Think about the incessant, breathy micro-lyric, "celebrate," that's sung throughout Madonna's hit song Holiday.  Actually, many people think that song's title is Celebrate.  I wonder why?)

Your presentation needs a signature line, too.  Find a key phrase that you can make your own.  Then find a way to work it into your speech as a recurring theme.

My Kiwanis speaker spoke of "invisible women" -- the single moms among us who look "normal" but are nonetheless at the point of losing their homes and children due to economic adversity.  By the end of her speech, she had mentioned that two-word phrase, "invisible women," at least six times.  Her Kiwanis club members came away with a tag phrase that they would forever associate with her message, and her cause.

c.  B section -- This is a part of the song that diverts from the steady flow to make a fresh-sounding statement that supports the whole idea.  In a Broadway musical, the B section often comes in the middle of the number, with a change in volume or orchestration to make it stand out. This is when a main character might come to the front of the stage and sing his own solo, conveying how he feels about the action or reminding the audience about a key plot point.  The B section of a song always reinforces its main theme, but it does so from a different perspective, taking the audience a bit by surprise and engaging them in a new way.

Think about how your speech can have a B section, too.  Some ideas: an interview with a guest speaker, a live demonstration, an amusing anecdote or joke, an appropriate visual image (such as a map, a photo or a cartoon), a movie clip or YouTube video, or -- why not? -- a song clip with a relevant lyric.   A warning here: don't use something just because you have it handy.  It has to contribute energy and depth to your message.  That's what a good B section is all about.

My Kiwanis speaker had a video clip with testimonials that she rolled in midway through her speech.  It was a powerful addition.  It kept the club members awake, and spurred their imaginations.  It brought the main point home in a way that mere spoken words never could have done.

Finally, when you write for audio delivery, keep it simple.  Always pay attention to the principle in last week's Friday Fundamentals post, Short Sentences Beget Longer Attention Spans.  Remember that short sentence length is the rule when it comes to speeches.  Like catchy song lyrics, the best speech sound bites are sturdy, small chunks of words that paint strong pictures in your audience's minds.

When we approach speech writing, let's replace terror with a tune.   Let's loosen up and have a little fun with our craft.  We can do this, guys.  Cue the music:  "We are the champions, we are the champions, no time for losers, 'cause we are the champions -- of the world!"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Manager Mondays: Communicate Purpose To Fuel Performance

Welcome to  Manager Mondays, a regular feature of this blog where we explore ways to increase the effectiveness of workforce communications.  Today we focus on the positive power of purpose. 
This past Saturday, I had the privilege of leading a volunteer workforce comprised of  over 60 health care professionals and caring individuals.  Together we provided health care services at an outreach to low-income Long Island families sponsored by the international relief organization, Convoy Of Hope.  We offered an array of consultations and services from blood pressure screenings to mental health counseling.  Over 5,000 people attended this event, and the health care component impacted at least 20% of them. 
I observed  true collaboration that day.  I witnessed these volunteers, most of whom were strangers to each other, go into immediate action to form bonds of friendship with their colleagues.  I saw them do spot analysis and combine their insights to overcome difficulties.  I watched them patiently endure confusion and adverse conditions.  And in many cases, I saw them performing tasks that were way below their professional status, all in the name of serving others.  
They knew the mission; they believed in the mission; and they had a blast applying their skills and strengths to further the mission. Their attitude was: "Bring it!"   
Do you emphasize purpose when you communicate with your teams?   Do you find ways to verbalize how their efforts link to a greater mission?  Do you constantly stress how their work benefits the project, the organization, the customer, and/or the planet?
We all may not be able to lead a group of people in such an overtly altruistic endeavor.  But each of us who leads, needs to lead with a greater purpose in view.  We need to visualize the mission clearly enough to get excited about it ourselves -- then we need to communicate that excitement to the troops.  
Think about the mission you're spearheading.  How easy is it for you to put the "why" of it all into words?  How about words that inspire?  If you're struggling to find a greater purpose in what you do, you will never be able to motivate others to give it their all.  
Workforce messaging is not just  a matter of relaying do's and don'ts.  We lead people, not machines.  People need purpose.   
How will you, as the boss, articulate the mission to your employees this week?  Or do you even know what the mission is?  Do you first need to define it to yourself?  If so, book some time on your calendar this week to get off by yourself and get cosmic.  Ask yourself the potentially earth-shaking question:  Why does it matter?  Your answer will fuel, not only your communications to your team, but your own commitment to your dreams.
The Convoy Of Hope trucks have left town, but my Health Services team of local volunteers is still here.  I'm wondering where all that energy of last Saturday will next manifest itself in our individual lives.  Something tells me that the purpose    we shared that day will keep fueling our performance in our everyday lives, and sparking ideas for future volunteer service.  To which I say: Bring it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Fundamentals: Short Sentences Beget Longer Attention Spans

This week's Friday Fundamentals entry is very simple:  Writers, keep your sentence length short.  Like much good advice, though, it's easier to say than put into practice.  Here we present ways, and reasons, to boost sentence brevity.

In the past decade, texting has become the main form of social interaction for a huge number of people.  Technology has spawned  new rules of behavior:
1)  Avoid casual conversation and eye contact with others in immediate proximity.
2) Choose instead to engage in distance-talking to disembodied people via a small screen in your hand.

It's old school to chat with strangers while waiting for the elevator.  People whip out their cell phones instead.  In fact, the very term cell phone seems archaic.   A friend recently mentioned to me that, after two months of dating, she and her boyfriend had had their first phone conversation the previous night.  Before that, their distance communication had all been via text.

While there are many implications for civilization embedded in this phenomenon -- some of them scary! -- I want to concentrate right now on one of the characteristics of the texting form of communication:  short sentences.

You can't go on and on with your thumbs.  It's essential to edit.  And this, I believe, is an aspect of texting that makes it so attractive.

Most people don't have the energy or devotion necessary to decode long strings of eloquence.   They are in the middle of life.  Your message has to coexist with a multitude of other input that they are simultaneously sorting.  So to keep their attention, keep each sentence simple, brief, and  focused. Sentence length is the one pivotal factor in keeping an average audience's attention.

Short sentences require discipline.  As Frank Luntz says in his book, Words That Work, "This is less about self-restraint than it is a matter of finding exactly the right piece of the language puzzle to fit the precise space you're trying to fill."

So it's work to keep sentences short and pithy.  And that's as it should be.  Because in essence, you are taking on the work of decoding, rather than forcing your audience to do it.  The very labor that you engage in to tighten your words is the labor they shy away from when confronted with convoluted clauses and stretched out sequences of thought.  Your editing buys you engagement.  So do it.

Most people go long because they have a lot to say, and once they have their audience cornered, they go at it full bore because they want to unload.  But that's exactly the way to lose an audience.

Staring at a huge block of solid text is off-putting to people.  So is reading a sentence that requires you to keep score on a number of fronts, or lose the thread of thought.  You know which sentence that is.  It's the one you have to go back and read again because, by the time you get to its last word, you've forgotten what its first phrase was trying to say.  Those sentences are engagement-killers.  They build annoyance and destroy good will.

So don't get fancy. The right way to say something is, in Goldilocks parlance, neither too long or too short, but "just right."   If you need to say something complex, break it down into separate thought elements, and house each element in a sentence of its own.  Build your bright ideas with solid bricks of stand-alone concepts.  Organize them architecturally.  Your end punctuation marks are like sturdy columns that support the vaulted ceiling of your lofty subject matter.  If you don't have enough of them, your roof of rhetoric will collapse.

Don't make the mistake that your audience is following your trail of lyrical language when they have long since whipped out their cell phones and started texting their friends. Learn from the competition.  Want to be heard?  Tell your tale like a texter.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Manager Mondays: Messaging In A Crisis

Last week I had a last-minute showstopper threaten one of my projects.  It involved a regulatory glitch that suddenly surfaced.  We were advised that all freelance workers scheduled for a certain job needed to fulfill a certification requirement.  It appeared that we had less than two weeks to contact everyone and find out whether they had documentation to show that they were duly certified to perform the work. It was too late to sign up other workers. If this was indeed a deal-breaker, we would be forced to reduce the size of our crew,  meaning we would probably fail to reach our project goal due to lack of manpower.

Things were still sketchy, though.  There might be a loophole.  More authorities needed to be consulted.  It was like we were playing telephone with a string of bureaucrats, and each message we got from them raised more questions.  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.

A problem comes up, and you need to alert everyone immediately, but you don't know all the details yet.  What do you do?  If you manage people, you have nightmares about developments of this kind.

Here's what I've learned after being in this hot seat on a number of occasions.

1.  Start Communicating Right Away

When bad news breaks, it usually doesn't help to sit on it.  Prepare the affected parties right away with a warning message.

In the story I mentioned above about the regulatory glitch, we were in a no man's land of uncertainty.  We were hoping for a reprieve when all the experts weighed in.  Nonetheless,  we still elected to send out an email to all of our freelance workers, advising them that a problem had just come to our attention.  We didn't want to wait for a final answer and risk losing more precious response time.  So we put the wheels in motion as soon as we had enough basic facts to write about.

2.  Address The Worst Case Scenario

Don't hedge.  Make your warning message terse and to the point.  State the problem, then state the worst thing that might happen.  People need to know what they're up against.

We explained the regulatory issue briefly in our warning message.  We did not shade our messaging for the various groups involved.  We used  forthright language to frame the problem, and we identified the level of risk that it brought to the project.

3.  Make Your Response Strategy Clear

Before you send out your warning message, have a strategy in mind -- or at least have a strategy for determining a strategy.  Explain what you will be doing to address the problem.  Give enough details so that your teams can understand what they may be called on to do.

We said that we were still finding out details, but for now we were asking our team captains to contact each of the workers who reported to them, tell them what documentation might need to be produced, and get their certification status.  We explained that we would be researching further and would send out more details as they became available.

4.  Provide Details, Rationale or Talking Points as Needed

In crisis situations where there is a risk of bad PR or negative reactions, you will need to communicate internally (within your organization) deliberately and consistently.  Your goal is not just to deal with the crisis, but to contain the damage to your organization's goals and reputation.  One of the ways to do this is to present the main action steps to your people in bold font and bullet points, then in a separate paragraph offer more details to help affected parties paint an accurate mental picture of the situation, both in their own minds and in their ripple-out conversations with friends, family, and the inquisitive media.

I have a motto about this.  It goes, "When there's a gap in information, people will fill it with their own information -- and it's going to be negative information."   In other words, you need to message the situation appropriately to manage the spin.  So make sure you send enough knowledge out there to cover any gaps that could spell trouble.

For the certification issue, we gave a bit of background about why it became a problem, and why it was only surfacing now.  We also provided some context for the issue.  We did this purposefully so that we could answer objections preemptively and sustain as much of a positive tone as possible.

5.  Promise Continued Communication -- Then Deliver

Once you tell people about a problem, you MUST keep telling them progress reports until you can report a resolution.

We promised more info when we could be sure of it.  We have since sent out two messages to our antsy team captains, letting them know the status of negotiations with the certification authority, and an approximate timeline for resolution.

We are still in the middle of this crisis, so I can't tell you the end of the story -- but it looks like we've minimized the damage because of prompt messaging.

When you have a crisis on your hands, all your prior relationship-building efforts with your team really pay off -- assuming you have done any.  That's when your troops will repay you by going the extra mile.  Healthy teams react to bad news with with loyalty, disciplined actions and positive intentions.  Are you going to wait for a crisis to start inspiring confidence and good will in those who report to you?  Or are you going to begin now to forge a work relationship that goes beyond mere appeasement and earns your employees' trust?

Will they follow you into the fray?  Or will they just fray your nerves in a crisis?  You pretty much get to choose their response now, by sowing respect and integrity into your everyday workforce interactions. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Fundamentals: Here's Where I Write the Manual For Writing Manuals

Welcome to Friday Fundamentals, where we present basic wisdom for communicators everywhere.  This week, the subject is manuals -- a topic every writer should know about, because like root canals or car accidents, we can all expect a few of these to show up in our lives eventually.

 One of my most enjoyable jobs ever, believe it or not, was revising a large company's hopelessly-outdated procedures manual.  I say "enjoyable" only because:
a) I already knew most of the subject matter down cold
b) I had a fluid, open-ended deadline
c) Putting together 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles appeals to me
d) My boss was so desperate to get it off her own desk that she gleefully let me write it pretty much any way I wanted.

In doing this mammoth project, I received my own practical education about the art of manual writing.  So I present here my takeaways, in case you, my fellow writer, ever land a similar dumb -- er, I mean plum -- assignment.  Oddly enough, these tips are organized into 12 steps -- perhaps intimating that you may be ready for another sort of 12-step program by the time you're done.

 So here we go!  You've been asked to write a manual!  First things first...

1.  Put your prize-winning author aspirations on hold.  This will not be Shakespeare.  In fact, a manual is the exact opposite of the Great American Novel.  It is not supposed to elicit any powerful emotions.  Actually, it should not inspire any feeling at all in your readers, except maybe a mild sense of bafflement mixed with apprehension, as in: "Geez, I've been doing that procedure all wrong for the last six years. I hope it doesn't come back to haunt me."

2.  Grimly accept that your efforts will largely go unnoticed. The term "reference manual" is an oxymoron.   People really don't refer to their manuals.  They sit in plain sight on shelves or credenzas, but they only get pulled out when all other possible sources of information have been consulted and exhausted -- including old email threads, Google searches, archaic publications, water cooler grapevines, and repeated voice mails to Shirley, the office gossip who formerly dated the guy who originally designed the procedure in question back before the Y2K scare changed everything around.

3.  Take whatever is provided to you as source material for your manual (if anything), and mentally draw a black line through everything in it.  Only use these text snippets/photos/diagrams/images as loose guidelines for figuring out what topics are expected to fall into the project scope.

4.  Find a manual whose design you like -- it can be the manual that came with your cat carrier, your clothes dryer, or your car -- and plan to copy its format shamelessly.  Hey, if it worked for Ford Motor Company, it can work for you too, right?  The difference is, Ford paid some people big bucks to come up with a nice design.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Just use theirs.  

5.  Having said # 4 above, let me do an instant partial retraction and say that whatever format you use, it better fit into an 8 1/2 x 11 portrait page layout, or you will get a nasty jolt when you need to price it out for printing.  I'm just giving you the brutal reality here.  In the same vein, your beautiful Word document will need to have fonts, margins, and image file types that are industry standard, that is, they do not burst through into new design territory.  Best to have a talk with your print vendor beforehand to find out what the most cost-effective specs will be.

6.  You may think that you are finally ready to start writing, but you're not.  First, you need manual writer's insurance.  To get it, make a list of everything "they" want you to include in the manual.  Go into merciless detail.  Then, send the list to your project owner via email and say "Are you sure that's all?"   He will say "yes," then two months from now you will find out that he meant "no," but at least you will have his old email reply to show him when you tell him that due to the added scope of the manual you now need another X days/weeks/months to complete it.

7.  Armed with your list of subject matter experts, or SMEs, the source of which is your "project owner" above, schedule a fact gathering session with each one.  Take a hard copy of your relevant source material (double-spaced, if possible), or whatever other source notes you have, to each SME session.  Also take along a sharp pencil.  Go over each instruction with your SME and ask, "Is this still true?  Is this the exact way we want them to do it?  Is there anything else we need to tell them here?" etc.  With your SME's guidance, make careful and legible notes on all the changes you need to make.  (I underlined the "legible" part there from bitter experience.)

8.  Don't start actually writing your manual until you have done all your SME sessions.  This is because, once you have all the corrected procedures in hard-copy format, you might begin to see frequencies, discrepancies, redundancies, similarities, and other -ies that need fixing.  For instance, in one manual that I got from someone to revise, he had started every chapter with the words "Log in to the site: Click on the portal link on the desktop.  A log-in screen will appear..."  After eight repetitions, it began to sound like the old folk song, I Know An Old Lady (Who Swallowed A Fly), in which each verse is a tedious repeat of all prior verses: "..she swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat..."  Needless to say, I had a lot of condensing to do before I actually even understood that manual's basic drift.  So again, conclude all your SME sessions before you frame out the big picture. At some point, you do need to actually start writing, and you will be itching to begin -- but to do your manual justice, you need to organize it well.  And organizing a manual's information is a lot like projecting election results.  Do yourself a favor and wait, as they say, until "all reports are in."

9.  Another thing to wait for is -- and this is my firm rallying cry whenever I deal with IT people -- final screen shots.  In other words, don't waste your time plying through an involved system application and wrestling all of its steps onto paper, only to hear back from the developers that they have since streamlined that particular function and now it's only two clicks.  It's okay to get an approximate feel for procedures or applications from preliminary outlines, pilot Visio graphics, or "sandbox" sites -- but do NOT fill in all your blanks until they've filled in all of theirs.  Otherwise, you will be Finding and Replacing ad nauseum.  Instead, keep a list of things that are still "TBD" and leave those manual sections entirely blank.  Report back to your project owner when you are getting stonewalled.  Listen, it may be their manual, but it's your reputation if you get something wrong because of some new change they forgot to tell you about -- so hold your sources accountable, and send out emails (which you will save for posterity) if your questions go unanswered and endanger your timeline. (This is a variation of the principle in step #6 above about scope changes and manual writer's insurance.)

10.  Okay, now you have all your final correct, pristine, expert-certified material. Go ahead and put it all in order now, mimicking the beautiful (see step 4 above) manual  you have chosen for inspiration.  Write everything down in sequence --  then gut it.  That is, go back through every page and delete every non-essential word to make your manual as lean and mean as possible. This is to make it as usable as possible, in case anyone ever really does decide to use it.  Remember: No persuasive opinions -- no subtle shades of meaning -- no congratulatory asides.   Peppy comments like "You've finished your physical inventory! Good job!" are why so many manuals get accidentally tossed into incinerators.

11.  Done putting together your full draft?  Ri-i-i-i-ight. Now send your "finished" manual back to your SMEs for review. Also ask your project owner for the names of any other entities that need to get a gander at your spanking-new procedures, and send it to those guys as well.  Because lawyers, HR directors, controllers, auditors, janitors, various vice presidents, and Shirley the office gossip may all need to weigh in, too.  Not a problem!  Shoot that manual draft out to anyone who needs to review it -- but be sure to include this all-important sentence in your cover letter:  "If we do not hear back from you by [such-and-such a date] we will assume that you have no changes and we will proceed to finalize and go to print."  That should get their attention.  Or their inattention.  Either way, your relentless march toward your release date is safe and on track.

12.  When you've gotten your reviewers' changes back (or not) and added them in (or not), it's time for final polishing. For this step, I earnestly say:  if you're not an expert in Microsoft Word, especially its Style and Page Numbering functions, try to pawn off this final formatting to someone who is.  If you can't, schedule an extra week or two to wrestle with your manual's headers, footers, section breaks, hyperlinks, book marks, Table of Contents, and especially (shudder!) its Index.  Do some internet sleuthing to get some cheat sheets and insider tips about Word's Tweety-Pie-on-the-outside, Tasmanian-Devil-on-the-inside formatting "aids."  These are components that used to be done by whole armies of guys in the old days of publishing, but now are done by, well, you.  Sorry, I would insert my own tips for these functions here, but by the time you read this, they may already be out of date.

Which brings me to my final words of wisdom: after you've created your Master Official Final Final Version of your manual, stored it on a hard drive somewhere, and sent a copy off to the printer with your order for umpteen thousand copies, expect a phone call the very next day.  It will go something like this:  "We have revamped the entire [whatever] procedure.  When can we meet to discuss changes for the manual?" 

So much for your manual labor.  Sisyphean in nature (hey, there's a Google search for you!), it is nonetheless  a rewarding challenge for the rare pleasure that results when you meet a target user who says, "You wrote that manual? Thank you!  It's saved me on so many occasions!"

That's where the last of the 2,000 puzzle pieces falls into place, and we manual writers tilt our heads modestly, smile, and revel in the admiration of our under-appreciated artistry.

Right before we head out to our 12-step meeting.