Do-Know-Feel: Relevance Trumps Awareness

Having built my communication career mainly on the learnings I have obtained on the job, first as a political consultant and then as an internal communicator,  I have largely been spared a lot of the models and paradigms delivered through formal communication training. 

So, about 11 years ago,  while I was managing the internal communication for an airline merger,  I was a bit taken aback when my client, having recently completed some internal comms ninja-training course, cited a long-standing model and wanted me to apply it in my work.

“It’s about ‘know, feel, do’, Mike,” she said.  “What people should know, how they should feel, and then, what they should do.”

For some reason, that never sat well with me.  It still doesn’t, and when I heard someone say “it’s not ‘know, feel, do,’ but ‘do, know, feel,'”* it made perfect sense to me.

(* I apologize for forgetting the individual who shared this insight–please feel free to claim credit if you are reading this)

Do-know-feel is actually the basis for selective engagement and the kind of internal communication based on social analysis–where messaging and message volumes are channelled on the basis of driving relevance, action and performance rather than increasing awareness and approval for the sake of awareness and approval.

“DO”

The first step is to determine what the various individuals in the audience or organization actually need to do: what tasks they need to accomplish, what roles they need to fulfill.  

Such roles can range from:

Sponsor

Change Leader

Project Manager

Someone whose day job will incorporate related activities

Someone who will not be directly involved but will need to accommodate related activities

Someone who will be affected by a change but will otherwise not participate in its implementation

Total bystander

“KNOW”

The next step:  assess the factual content required to allow these individuals to fulfill their roles.

Having already assessed the “do” for each individual, it becomes much easier to ensure that the right people get the right level of detailed information, and that people who are less involved don’t get inundated with information that they are likely to find excessive, irrelevant and, often, irritating.  

While that may sound obvious,  such an approach often faces opposition from senior managers who insist that everyone must know everything about their “top priority” initiative because it is their  top priority, even when it clearly is not each employee’s top priority.  

While I once successfully challenged a CEO when he demanded a specified frequency of articles on his top project when the content relevance and ripeness did not warrant it, documenting that communication approach is based on relevance rather than awareness makes such a challenge easier to deliver.

“FEEL”

Aside from the general inability of internal communicators to successfully and sustainably dictate employee emotions,  another reason for making emotion the third level of the do-know-feel approach is that the desired emotional response is different for people with different tasks.

It may be sufficient for a total bystander to get a robust sense of the context and rationale for change,  but people who are more directly involved with specfic responsibilities and impacts will face a broader range of triggers for their emotional reactions.  

For instance,  where there are personnel changes, the senior managers deciding the scope of the changes, the managers and HR staff implementing the changes, the employees whose roles would disappear and those whose roles would face reconfiguration will all have different emotional needs and require highly distinct messaging and support. 

NOT JUST SEGMENTATION

Some may look at do-know-feel and just see an alternative approach to audience segmentation.  But I would argue that there is more to it.  Do-know-feel is also a clear basis for driving more selective, efficient and effective approaches to internal communication, employee engagement, and change communication, based on relevance rather than driving awareness.  It not only offers a means for driving communication focus on those who can have the most impact, but also on reducing the sense of overload and over-prioritization felt by employees who actually have better things to do.  By doing so, do-know-feel changes the terms.

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