The art of the tick tock doc
Let’s say you need to get a critical new message out to your team: like a teammate’s departure, or a significant change to the business strategy. It’s time to get familiar with the art of the communications plan: a step-by-step strategy for sharing new information throughout an organization.
A communications plan will help you avoid common pitfalls like being too opaque or convoluted, not having the answers to obvious questions, or forgetting to soothe folks’ core needs as you share sensitive information with your team.
—Resilient Management, Chapter 4
I learned the art of the “tick tock doc” from my former colleague Deepa Subramaniam. She ran Product and I ran Engineering at Kickstarter, and when something changed in one function, it led to a ripple effect in the other. It was crucial that we be in lock-step as we rolled out new changes to the way our organizations worked.
As I described in Resilient Management, a tick tock doc is a centralized place to game plan the who/what/when for a new, important message. As a leader, you shouldn’t YOLO big announcements. Create a plan in partnership with others communicating this news, or those who will deal with the ripple effects of these changes. This way, you can hone the messaging and the timing together.
Informing your broader team will go much more smoothly if you’re prepared and have a plan. By taking a tiny bit of time to partner with other leaders before making an announcement, you’ll:
Reduce surprise. During a time when change is our only constant, every little bit of surprise-reduction allows people more of an opportunity to process before reacting. This can help reduce on-the-spot, disruptive amygdala hijacks in a big way.
Get on the same page. When you are aligned with your peers, the leadership team is bigger than the sum of its parts. The united group can spot pitfalls that you couldn’t have seen before as individuals. You’ll have an opportunity to gut-check your reasoning. You’ll develop a north star that unites the individual teams, which is tremendously motivating and reassuring for folks.
Articulate the key messages. What’s the change? Why is it happening? You’ll need to get to the bottom line for your audience to keep things as clear and forward-focused as possible. This can help prevent you rambling as you make a nerve-wracking announcement. And you’ll probably need to repeat information, too; having your key messages clear will make them easier to repeat and remind as needed. It also means others will be amplifying and spreading exactly what you want them to share, rather than reinterpreting and sharing an unclear message.
Catch potential pitfalls. Your first drafts of messaging will be full of risks you can’t spot yet. You’ll inadvertently freak people out because you said something slightly different than what you mean, or there’s history that you aren’t aware of. Make sure you build time into the drafting process to gather early feedback from your peers or other folks you trust to retain confidentiality.
Identify potential questions. What are people going to ask after you make this announcement? What can you address head-on in your initial talking points? What worries will people express? How do you want to respond to their concerns?
I included templates and examples of how to create a solid comms plan in my book! But Cameron McCosh, CMO of Wherewithall, has also taught me the importance of repetition, the power of adjusting communications as you go, and documenting the feedback or lessons learned that led to those adjustments.
Cameron and I have created a new tool to help you create your own tick tock docs!
Build Your Tick Tock Doc
Make a copy of the tick tock doc template, then follow these steps to develop a clear and effective plan with your peers:
Draft the most important and straightforward version of what you need to share with your team. These prompts can help if you’re stuck:
- (The what) I need my team to know ______.
- (The why) This change is happening right now because ______.
- (The who and how) This will impact ______.
- (The when) The timeline for this change is ______.
Craft your talking points by threading together the key points from Step 1. These will be repeated throughout different messages, mediums, and audiences—which will ensure they get heard and digested.
Create a new row per audience. Each audience may have different concerns, may have access to different kinds of information, and may be impacted differently. An audience might just be one person, a team or function, or the entire organization.
Choose an order for your audiences. Prioritize audiences based on how much their reaction or input will affect your future messaging, how gracefully they can navigate confidentiality, and how much this new information will impact their day-to-day.
Assign a message, delivery medium, and communicator for each audience. Fit the right folks with the right medium. For example, if a tertiary group of people won’t be impacted day-to-day but will need this context, they probably just need an email. But a change in team leadership warrants 1:1s with those impacted.
Ask the other communicators for their feedback and concerns about wording, timing, and mediums—before you kick off the plan. They might remind you that certain wording carries baggage for the team, or share that two teams should be informed together.
As you execute your communications plan, make notes of any feedback or reactions you’re receiving and share this with the other communicators. Adjust and troubleshoot as necessary. For example, if a certain question keeps arising, it’s a clue it should appear in your talking points, so add it to upcoming messaging. If you send an email and then receive four urgent requests to meet about it, that’s a signal that you need to meet face-to-face with a larger group next.
The feedback that you receive as you run through your tick tock doc is also useful for future communications. Perhaps someone had a strong reaction in a public setting and others look to this person for a clue on how to react. Could you front load a 1:1 next time with that person and get them on the same page early? Maybe you learned that particular mediums worked better for different audiences, or you missed some obvious pushback that a part of the team had. Make sure to note these in your tick tock doc for next time!