As a professional communicator and amateur chef, I am frequently surprised by how often my two worlds collide. Usually this happens in the kitchen when I’m following a new recipe and wondering how the recipe creator could have been so vague (my personal favorite: “cook until done”).
How many employees suffer from the same problem when trying to follow their company’s “recipe” for success? According to one study in the Harvard Business Review, 70% of employees surveyed were unclear about company strategy—and that’s in high-performing companies with “clearly articulated public strategies.”
So imagine my surprise at finding the perfect example of clear communication during a cooking class in Provence, France. Chef Jean-Marc is a Provençal native who travelled across continents to perfect his art and now teaches cooking classes out of his home in Maubec. He’s a world-class chef with a gift for breaking down complex dishes into understandable (and repeatable) instructions.
Here’s his recipe:
Speak your audience’s language
Even though Chef Jean-Marc’s native language is French, he teaches all his classes in English. That’s because most of his students (a mix of native French and tourists from around the world) understand English. Speaking in your audience’s language helps them grasp unfamiliar or complex topics. And the easiest way to do that is to ban corporate jargon and simply speak to employees in a friendly, conversational voice.
Provide step-by-step instructions
The recipes Chef Jean-Marc teaches are the same ones he cooked in professional restaurant kitchens. He makes these recipes approachable to amateur chefs like me by breaking them down into precise, easy-to-follow steps (“peel and finely slice 3 medium baking potatoes, then mix with 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and 2 teaspoons cornstarch”).
You can do the same for employees by giving them clear next steps. For example, my Davis & Company colleagues and I created an e-digest for a medical diagnostics company that focused on just the top three things managers needed to know and do each month. By keeping the e-digest tightly focused on actionable items, we broke through the clutter and provided a clear path for managers to follow.
Remember the old proverb, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? This was never the case in Chef Jean-Marc’s kitchen. He gave each of his students a clearly defined role to play for each recipe. (My friend Cathy got to whip cream while I was assigned to puree raspberries for our dessert.) So before you launch into writing that announcement on your company’s next big change initiative, ask yourself what matters most to your employees and what specific roles they will be required to play.
Set clear-cut expectations
For Chef Jean-Marc, cooking is only half the story. His food also needs to be beautiful. After we finished making each dish, he showed us how to plate it by creating one perfectly Instagrammable example for us to emulate. For employee communication, you might try using real-life employee scenarios of various roles and ratings to help employees understand what they need to do in order to meet their performance goals.
From an employee’s perspective, internal communication can often feel like a seven-course meal with everything dished up at once. Whether it’s benefits, HR policies, company strategy or corporate initiatives, messages are difficult to convey and hard to grasp. But if you follow Chef Jean-Marc’s recipe, you can take even the most complicated content and serve employees communication that is clear, simple and actionable.