In the introductory post to this series, we defined lean communication as the ability to provide maximum value with minimum waste. I’ll define Value as anything the recipient wants or needs to hear and see.
Speakers deliver value through content and expression; the speaker must deliver the right content in the right way so that the recipient benefits. If you think of a communication opportunity as a product, expression is the package and content is the end product.
Let’s start with expression, because it’s the packaging of your content. Expression consists of making the content understandable without a lot of work on the part of the recipient. You know those products on the market today that are packaged in nearly impregnable plastic shells that endanger your health just trying to get them open? That’s how some presentations and explanations come across. Convoluted structure, meaningless buzzwords, and excessive verbiage are the hard plastic of that listeners struggle to get through to get access to the content.
An end product can fail to deliver the intended value if it’s the wrong product, does not deliver all the needed benefits, or delivers more than the user needs. It’s the same with communication: the recipient expects content that is accurate, sufficient, and relevant. You won’t communicate the necessary value if you have wrong information; or leaves your audience lacking crucial bits of the puzzle to make the best decision; or tell them far more than they need.
The relevance criterion is the most common violation. Assuming you are communicating in good faith, you probably have reasonably accurate and sufficient content for the listener, but it’s easy to give too much information. You may tell a story that’s fascinating but irrelevant, provide too much background detail to someone who is already familiar with the situation, or simply ramble on through undisciplined communication or lack of confidence. Too much information wastes time, but it can also detract from value by making it difficult for the listener to sort out exactly what they need to know—more is usually less.
How to ensure maximum value?
The surest way to deliver value in communication is to think before you speak. Be clear in your own mind what you want the listener to know or do, and why. If that means writing down your thoughts before an important discussion, it’s an investment that almost always carries a positive return, especially in terms of improving the packaging.
The what usually comes easy, but you can only be clear about the why through outside-in thinking, or seeing the situation through the other’s perspective and interests. That takes time, research, and preparation.
Even in a more casual communication, you can impart greater value by applying the So What filter to everything you say: what does this information mean to this listener at this time? The so what might be different for each particular receiver, depending on their needs, and their previous knowledge levels and attitudes.
Finally, you can create more value for the listener by being a listener yourself. Where communication differs from the product analogy is that you have real time control over the product as you deliver it. Pay attention to the effect your message is having on the recipient, and be prepared to add, delete or modify on the spot as necessary.
Tomorrow’s post will examine the many ways you can achieve lean communication by identifying and eliminating waste.
P.S. Although I usually add a picture to my posts, I could not think of one that would add any value at all.
 Listener, audience, or customer, depending on the type of communication.
Lean manufacturing is a production philosophy that seeks to deliver maximum value to customers with minimum waste. Companies using it have achieved huge increases in productivity and customer satisfaction.
I contend that you could achieve similar benefits by applying the lean approach to your communications. This article introduces the concept at a high level and subsequent articles will drill deeper into the specific detail.
What are the key concepts of lean and how do they apply to communication?
Value. In lean, value is defined as anything the customer is willing to pay for. By analogy, value in communications is defined as any information that your listener wants or needs to hear. Both approaches require a deep understanding of the end customer.
Waste. Any work or input that does not directly contribute to value. In communication, it may include unnecessary explanation or words, irrelevant details, unclear or ambiguous terminology, and inaccurate data.
Making work visible. Having a clear view of the work process and status helps to expose value creation and waste reduction opportunities. In communication, a clear structure for your message makes your logic easier to follow—for yourself as you think of it, and for your listeners as they hear it.
Pull. Production is driven by the customer’s specific need. For communication, this means two things. First, you prepare by anticipating the listener’s questions and their likely reaction to your message. Second, you don’t just get to the point quickly—you begin with the point and add detail as needed by the listener.
We will look at the specifics of each lean communication concept in individual articles next week