Picture the scene. For better or for worse you need to make some redundancies in your business. To rid yourself of a tranche of the production process. To move some of the workforce on to economic inactivity.
Turns out, these lay offs are actual people. People with lives, wives, husbands, children, mortgages and commitments. So how about you treat them like plankton? How about you obfuscate and mask the severity of the situation by sucking all the emotion and humanity out of your very tricky announcement. How about you are a leading UK car manufacturer. And how about you do it like this. (The brackets are all mine, by the way).
“As we previously communicated (to whom, in what format and when?), we are transitioning (doing WHAT?) to a new range of power-trains (come again!) over the next year. As we make the operational changes required to support this (support what? What is a power-train and what does the new range look like? totally lost now!), we will be managing a planned short-term reduction in power-train supply and plant volumes (what the heck does this mean?) in line with our 2018 Business Plan” (as a member of the public do I really care about a business plan?!) We are now discussing these operational changes with our employees.”
I think what they’re saying is that they need to make some job cuts because there’s been a drop in demand for their cars. Or perhaps they didn’t. I’m not sure.
Whatever the situation, why not actually say it? I appreciate that some corporate messages need to be constructed in a confident and reassuring way in order to persuade your investors the business isn’t about to go off a cliff. Trouble is, Carillion tried that – and look where it got them. In the annual report published in March, they said there was no reason to think the company would have financial difficulties in the next three years. Or at least, that’s what I read on the BBC News website. I’m not sure they said it quite like that. It probably sounded more like: “the longer term assessment of the asset management and liquidity of the viable construction opportunities going forward is likely to lead most investors to assume that the…” etc. You get my point.
So why is it so hard to be direct? To deliver clarity and an unequivocal position. Surely, the car company would hardly have been criticised if it had written its news release in plain English? Struggling with the perceived formality of written business language always causes us a challenge with our Media Training. Say it out loud first, imagine you’ve only got the time it takes to drive past a hoarding to make your point…then write it all down. If it’s not working, slow down a bit. Imagine driving past the hoarding at 10mph instead.
The point being: straightforward conversational English is the best language to use when trying to communicate with people. Trying to use anything else risks misinterpretation, misunderstanding and at worst, ridicule.
And to cap it all, no one believes you. Or wants to buy your cars.