Dummy Down: Making BCM Communications Understandable

I had an interesting chat today with a person in my client’s corporate communications department.  They were asking about some of the BCM awareness and training strategies that BCM was thinking of putting together.  So, a few of us were chatting about it and just giving off some ideas that would work within this particular organizations corporate structure and culture.

Now, I’m a big believer in strong communications and what they can offer a BCM program – heck, what they can offer a corporation in general.  But the Director had an interesting comment – almost insulting really.  They said they’d have to “dummy down” everything so that others can understand the message that BCM was intending to get across to the general staff, management and executive management.

I thought this an odd thing to say.  It was almost as though they were saying that everyone was stupid and wouldn’t understand what it was we’d be saying.  Now, I’ve helped develop many awareness programs for various levels of corporations and each one is specific to the audience – the audience of the message(s) being disseminated.  What I might tell an executive will be different that what I may be communicating to the general populace.  What I won’t do it make people feel like they are insignificant and stupid by ‘dummy-ing down’ the message.  How do you dummy down the message that people’s lives are priority one when the building has an explosion…or some other catastrophic event?  You can’t.  Of course, you word it so as not to cause panic, but you certainly can’t dummy down the central point: people first!

They went on to say that many of their employees don’t understand the communiqué’s they send around anyway and I even found that I didn’t understand a couple of them.  They were so child-like in nature that there was no central message being conveyed.  They’d over simplified everything to the point where there was no longer a central message being presented.  In fact, it was useless.  It was like having soup for lunch that has been so watered down that it has no flavour left in it.  I even had the person that sits beside me state one day they had trouble with half the communication because it seemed as though they were insulting their intelligence.  ‘Dummy down’ indeed.  I’m aware that messages usually need to be at a lower level – or a general comprehension level – but to consider it a dummy-ing down was downright insulting and I got the validation of this from a co-worker.

Our conversation continued and I was flabbergasted to find that as a communications expert, this ‘expert’ was full of myths and mistakes in their thinking, behaviours and view of communications.  They were more intently focused on formatting than on content.  So that got me thinking about communications and some of the mistakes corporations make with regards to communications during a disaster or crisis situation.  I’ve read enough books, attended enough conferences, and sat through many webinars – and personal experience – to have a grasp on some of the mistakes made.

Here is a list of some of the Common Crisis Communication Mistakes I’ve put together:

  1. Over/Under Loading of Messages – Usually there isn’t enough and people are wondering what the heck is going on.  Or there’s always the fun side where the messages are coming so fast and furious that half of them aren’t received by people because they’re still digesting the last one.  There have even been moments where internal phone line messages were updated on an hourly basis but the initial message said to check back in 3 hours.  So now we have people who have missed 2 updates.
  2. No Prior Testing of Messages – You can do this during your various BCM exercises and see what works and what won’t.  You can also help develop some templates statements – a kind of fill in the blanks sort of thing – to help get some communications started.
  3. Bad Timing – Nothing like sending out a communication about an explosion when it’s already on the news. Or it’s something that everyone knows and has known for some time.  Think Tiger Woods and his three-month delay in being seen by the public.
  4. Lack of Transparency – When people are injured or severely impacted, why do corporate executives hide themselves away in a boardroom?  Why do they try hide what they are doing in response?
  5. Mixed Messages – You tell one thing to the media – another to shareholders – and tell something completely different to employees… Or, you say one thing and do another.  Nah, no confusion there.
  6. Not Using All the Delivery Channels – Let’s put a notice on the internal website for employees to get status.  Oh, wait most of our employees – except for special management reps – don’t have VPN to get into the internal systems.  D’OH!  So maybe a corporation should have more than one method with which to communicate.  A internal phone line might be nice but it can’t be the only method of communicating with them.  At some point they are going to want to speak to someone and hear a ‘real’ voice.
  7. No Comprehension of Your Audience – Using internal acronyms and terminology will only compound confusion.  Know that most won’t understand what the heck you’re saying.  This isn’t dummy-ing down, it’s simply understanding your audience.  Give them credit, they aren’t as stupid as you think but don’t use your own special terms because that’s what causes confusion.  Understanding your audience is like going to a convention for Funeral Home Directors and doing a presentation on how to ‘liven’ up the workplace.  Um, heeellooooooo….
  8. Not Communicating At All – Isn’t communication one of the things that’s key to a disaster or crisis situation?  Not communicating will help how?  It won’t make the situation go away in fact the demand for accurate and timely communications goes up, not down.
  9. No Corporate Face to the Communications – You can have a Public Relations person or a Corporate Communications representative chat to the media for so long.  Eventually the public and media are going to want to know where the ‘face’ is; where is the President or CEO?  What do they have to day?  Are they hiding from the issue(s)?  Maybe it’s a guilty conscience.

I went on to talk about this with the group and they tended to find that some of what they’d been doing in the past wasn’t working for many of the reasons I noted above.  It wasn’t a case of having to dummy-down anything, it was a case of understanding the message being conveyed, when it’s conveyed, how it’s conveyed and the audience needs in receiving and being able to comprehend the message.

It will be interesting to see what the next communication looks like – or at least the one that is developed by this particular Director.  I wonder if I’ll understand it or if I’ll feel like a dummy.  Hhmmm…


The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at www.stone-road.com **



One thought on “Dummy Down: Making BCM Communications Understandable

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Heads in the sand • Supply Chain Risk Research and Literature Review

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