What can a World War II general teach us about Internal Communication?


What does a crusty World War II general have to teach us about raising the bar in #internalcommunication?


A ton. Here’s why.




A man of blunt words, one of World War II General George Patton’s most famous lines was “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of the way.” 


Not only did Patton bring his soldiers to attention with this remark, he inadvertently created a universal model for #internalcomms segmentation.




Because in any internal communication situation, there are always a minimum of three distinct audiences that you need to reach – each of which have fundamentally different information needs and tactical responsibilities:


People who lead need to know a lot about what’s going on, particularly when it comes to organizational change or their role in leading crucial initiatives.  They need to know a decent amount of detail about the whole picture – and to be fully on the same page as the other leaders who are involved.


People who need to follow – say, those who are directly impacted by a change, don’t need to know everything, or nearly as much as the people who need to lead.  Mainly they need to know how they will be affected, and what they need to do differently, connected of course to the bigger picture.


Much of the time, the bulk of your population won’t be directly involved in a particular change.  And, while there’s a lot of pressure in organizations to be “inclusive” as a matter of principle, there are a lot of people who need to simply get out of the way.  


Rather than have them get involved in the tactical weeds about things that will only impact them indirectly, the main task is to reassure these people that these changes are for the overall best of the organization, that they are being handled competently, and, ideally, that they won’t put them out of their jobs.


An illustrative example would be a change in a hotel’s check-in system to make it more efficient and personalized – and help it regain some competitive advantage.  


In this case the staff at the front desk would see much of their process for checking-in guests change significantly, requiring training and considerable support, along with some positive reinforcement about why they need to embrace the changes..


The other main function of the hotel that would be impacted would be Housekeeping, where  adjustments to the process for updating the system to let it know when rooms were made up and available would need to be trained out.


Management at the hotel would need to know about the changes in regional hotel market share that drove the change, why the particular software was selected, what the timeline is for completion, and what challenges were being encountered both with implementing the software and training the affected staff.


Does someone working as a waiter in the hotel restaurant need the same information?  No.


It’s helpful if they know a bit about why their colleagues in housekeeping or at the front desk might be frustrated at the moment, and what the hotel is doing to make itself more attractive and competitive.  


But they really don’t need the steering committee minutes, detailed information about the check-in system, or analysis of regional hotel occupancy rates.


Though it may sound simple and obvious, shifting towards “Lead, Follow, or Get Out Of The Way” requires a change in mindset.  


Rather than trying to make all employees “engaged” about a change, it involves a hard choice based on what employees are actually supposed to do, and a disciplined approach to avoid overcommunicating with those less affected, or worse, dumbing down the content that goes to those who have more active roles.  


It also requires the willingness to challenge those stakeholders who demand that you overcommunicate – particularly when those stakeholders have an “inform all employees” tick-box in their KPIs that they don’t want to budge from, or who have qualms about being “un-inclusive.”


Want to turn Patton’s words into your new strategy?


I’d love to talk with you about how you can be more strategic in your #internalcomms – whether it’s about how you can segment more effectively, identify your internal influencers, improve your measurement, or generate more support from your senior leaders.


For a free 40-minute strategy conversation, book a time with me here.

Mike Klein

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a consultancy focused on internal, change and social communication. Mike has worked with organizations in the US and Europe for more than 20 years on pressing strategic communication challenges, and is a prolific writer and commentator on communication strategy topics. Mike is also the Founder of #WeLeadComms, an initiative to drive open recognition and in the communication profession. He holds an MBA from London Business School, and is a former US political consultant.




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