The Rule of 151: How to Move Knowledge Management and Business Intelligence from Margin to Mainstream
Originally published February 16, 2010
Impatient with modest traction in the public sector, knowledge management (KM) and business intelligence (BI) advocates say “better marketing and PR” are at the top of their wish lists. But marketing doesn’t work without a clearly defined offering, so knowledge management and business intelligence are at an immediate disadvantage. Ask any five government officials how they might benefit from these business tools, and you’ll get five different answers – or a blank stare.
Principle #1: ClarityHuman brains grasp concrete information 30% faster than abstractions. We’re wired to reject complexity. When you talk or write about your BI or KM initiative, be ruthless about weeding out vague benefits (“knowledge sharing promotes increased productivity”) and meaningless generalities (“BI will significantly improve the input quality crucial to key decisions and ultimately enhance our competitive stance”). Strip it down to something along the lines of “We’ll make better decisions and act on them faster.” It’s tangible, easier to grasp and easier to remember.
It is also important to provide concrete examples whenever possible. Show, if you can, how the decision to implement the latest rule on seat belt usage could have been made faster by using a collaboration portal for comments.
Clarity and simplicity go hand in hand. Skip technical jargon unless you’re talking to subject matter experts. Articulate your BI or KM value proposition in plain English, and remember that the words quality, value and service have lost all meaning. If you can quantify these hopelessly overused abstractions, great. If not, avoid them altogether.
Focus wards off confusion. Identify three tangible KM or BI benefits that resonate with your audience and repeat them over and over. Don’t drill down unless you’re asked: the only people interested in the myriad details are already on your side.
Principle #2: ConsistencyConsistency is tough to maintain with any group effort because somebody’s always got a better idea. When an idea or a campaign meets apathy or resistance, the immediate impulse is to try something different. Don’t do it.
There’s no perfect message, no perfect product, and no perfect solution, so don’t burn cycles trying to find one. Make informed decisions and stick to them. You’ll lose ground and credibility every time you shift gears. (Politicians, once again, are a case in point.)
Principle #3: FrequencyWhen you consider how many commercial messages bombard us every day (estimates range from 600 to 13,000), it’s not surprising how little we absorb. A memo from the CEO isn’t enough to build support for business intelligence, knowledge management, or recycling in the lunchroom. Constant repetition from a variety of sources, both spontaneous and carefully strategized – meetings, memos, word of mouth – is the only way to do it, and this brings us to the Rule of 151.
Scientific? Maybe not, but the Rule of 151 goes something like this. The first 50 times you talk about the business advantages of BI, nobody seems to hear you. The second 50 times you explain it, they don’t understand. And the third 50 times, they just don’t believe it.
Persist beyond this point, however, and you see progress. Colleagues, peers and bosses hear what you’re saying. They understand it, and more importantly, they repeat it. Fueled by word-of-mouth, even the most offbeat notions can evolve into conventional wisdom. Marketers call it branding, politicians call it campaigning, cynics call it brainwashing. Call it whatever you like: repetition works.
Keep in mind also that in the Federal government you must “sell” your initiative every time you submit a budget request or present a program for OMB or other approval. Your communication strategy has to both precede and be embedded in all of these submissions in one way or another. This may also force you to develop non-traditional avenues of attack depending on the context of the submission.
Shortly after Michael McCurry, Clinton administration press secretary, left the White House, a writer for the Harvard Business Review asked what McCurry says when people ask him how to become better communicators. “Know what you’re trying to say and say it precisely and simply,” McCurry answered. “And be committed to telling the story over and over again. You have to persevere.”
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