The Action Categories
The holy grail of messaging is finding a way to make your message actionable. The problem is that most of us aren’t able to take a high-level concept like a Change Statement and figure out what that looks like in our own life — we can’t draw the examples out of the “rule” or overarching concept. Because most people learn by seeing examples (but can learn to see the rule, too), we need to give our audience both: the rule (which is the Change Statement) AND the examples (the Actions).
The challenge is that we’re not necessarily giving our audience the specific examples or actions they need. A C-suite member and one of their team members are going to listen to you very differently, so the examples need to match the mindset of those you’re speaking. So what do those actions look like? The three that work best are process, category, and criteria.
The process is the most obvious one: you give your audience a series of steps to take, one after the other. Categories, on the other hand, show you the different areas where the change can apply: to your sales team, your marketing team, your customer service, etc. Finally, there’s criteria. Unlike process, it’s things that don’t necessarily have to happen in order but have to be there for the Change to happen. Mix and match these three to take care of everyone.
- EP 022: The Two Learning Styles You REALLY Need to Master
- EP053: Focus on the GOAL: Why Your Audience Needs an “Irresistible Outcome”
- EP054: Focus on the PROBLEM – Why Your Audience Needs Both Context and Contrast
- EP055: Focus on the IDEA – The Difference Between “Understandable” and “Inevitable”
- EP056: Focus on the CHANGE – Defining the Intent That Guides Action
- The Red Thread Worksheet
– “Make it actionable.” It’s the holy grail of messaging, isn’t it? Or of life. How do we find and define the specific actions, the products, the services, offering skill sets that represent how we our business our our messages are different than everything else that’s out there? I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
If you’ll remember the episode we did on rule learners versus example learners you may remember that most of us are not wired to take up high-level concepts like a Change Statement and immediately figure out what that looks and feels like in my own particular life. We can’t draw out the actions from the Change, we can’t draw the examples out of the rule. That means as we’re putting together a message about our about our business ourselves about some initiative that we want to have happen. We need to make sure that we make it concrete, that we make it actionable, that we give people very specific ideas and steps they can take in order to make that Change happen and we already know that just because we tell people what the best steps are doesn’t mean they will take them. And that’s why we make sure that we have that Change Statement we talked about in the last episode. We give them the Commander’s Intent, we give them that overarching rule but still, because people need those examples, we need to make sure that they get them enough of them so that they get the sense of, “Oh I get it; I get exactly what this means for me.”
Another challenge here is that when we give those steps sometimes we’re mismatching the kind of actions that people need, we are giving people step-by-step instructions when really they’re much more interested because of, let’s say their position and how this might apply in one area versus another. And that’s because the situation that someone is in, that your audience is in, that your listener is in drives the mindset through which they’re listening to your message.
Here’s what I mean: someone at the C-suite, for example, is going to be thinking much more strategically by and large about how all the pieces of what you’re talking to fit together. Whereas someone who’s one of their team members, for instance a mid level-manager, is thinking about, “What does this mean day to day? How do I actually implement it within my own department?” So what this means is we need to make sure that we’re matching our Actions to the mindset of the audience that this message is for. It’s one of the reasons why starting with that question of who are you for so important to figuring out the best Red Thread for a particular message.
But what do those actions actually look like, what are some ways to think about the actions to make sure that we match them correctly?
Well, I found that three work very well and they are process, criteria and category, so let me explain what each of those are then I’ll talk about how you can mix and match them to add both detail and, in certain cases, length and time to a message or presentation. So let’s back up, let’s start with “process.” Well the process is the most obvious kind of Action step, it’s the one where you say, “Do step one, and then after step one do step two, and after step two do step three.” It’s kind of like the scientific method, right: you observe, you hypothesize, you experiment, you analyze, you retest. You do those steps in that order and there’s lots of messages, lots of Changes where that makes the most sense based on not only the Change itself but also who you’re talking to.
Now that second category is something I call “categories,” and that’s the different areas in which the Change can apply. So back to our business example. Think about it this way: the categories can be how does this apply to your sales team, how does this change apply to your sales team, how does this change apply to your marketing team, how does it apply to your operations team? By explaining to an audience different ways that the Change can appear, they can start to see how that all fits together.
But that’s kind of a C-suite look at it. How do these big categories look but if we’re talking, again, about somebody at a more mid-management level they’re looking for something a little bit more tactical. So they’re probably looking for categories like, “Well what does this mean for my processes; what does this mean for my interactions with employees?” What does this mean for these specific things that that audience is doing and thinking about everyday? But the categories are still how does this apply.
The third category of action is something I call “criteria.” Now, criteria can feel a little bit like process, but criteria is less stepwise. It’s not necessarily stuff that happens in order but it’s stuff that has to be there in order for the Change to happen. In order for, let’s say, an employee engagement program to be successful you’re going to need certain things to be in place like feedback mechanisms and a clear champion in the leader. Maybe there’s something else that you can think of but you see what I mean, there needs to be specific things present in order for the Change to be possible. That’s what I call a criteria-type of Actions.
Now you can probably already start to guess that the process, the categories and the criteria can get mixed and matched, you can say here’s what the Change is, here are the categories, here’s what it looks like in sales, here’s what it looks like in marketing, here’s what it looks like in finance, for instance, and then you can say across all of them these criteria need to be in place. Or you can say, well in the sales department the process can look like this step one, step two, step three and in the marketing department it might look like this step one, step two, step three. You can do them in any order, you can do any combination but that mixing and matching can help you round out and make much more concrete the specific actions that you’re trying to take.
Now one side note here if you’re using your Red Thread to build out, let’s say, a marketing message about a specific product or to build out your sales message or an elevator pitch. Your Actions are likely your specific products and services so that’s another element of it but that’s one of those elements that’s what I would say criteria. These are kind of the things that we need to have happen, so there is this shadow category of Actions of products and services, either way they still are the ways that add up to the Change that we’re talking about.
So, when you’ve gotten all the way through those pieces of your Red Thread, you have found the Goal and the Problem and the Idea, you have figured out how those add up to a Change that you want to represent or you want to have happen. Then make sure that you make those Actions concrete, think about whether a process or a category or a criteria approach or product makes the most sense for you and how to mix and match them.
One other thing I mentioned was about how you could add for length. Well, that mixing and matching obviously is a way you can go into more detail. So if you’ve got more time, if you need more time or if the people that you’re talking to need more detail, have prepared what each of those different categories of Actions might look like. So that is how to get through each of the pieces of your Red Thread and I hope this deep dive was helpful. And if you stay tuned to next week there’s going to be one extra bonus deep dive, and that’s something I call the Goal Revisited.
I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and I hope it’s obvious I love doing this kind of work. So if there’s help that you want or that you as an individual or you as a company need in order to make your ideas irresistible. Take a look at my homepage at tamsenwebster.com/consulting and see the different offerings that I have maybe one will be right for you. In the meantime have a great week finding your Red Thread and I’ll see you next time.