Dennis Schrag/Tree Full of Owls

Penny. Knock, knock, knock. Penny. Penny. Knock, knock, knock. Penny. Penny. Knock, knock, knock. Penny. He repeats it. Over and over.

Sheldon Cooper, the brilliant, dweeb physicist lives across the hall from sensuous and evocative neighbor Penny. He ALWAYS gets her to come to the door on the TV series ‘The Big Bang Theory.” Repetition works.

Advertising historians say the one word that crafted the most profit for the personal care product lines is simple. It is found on the label of shampoo directions: “repeat.”

Reggie Jackson, the dependable New York Yankee’s hitter says, “A baseball swing is a very finely tuned instrument. It is repetition, and more repetition, then a little more after that.”

Any person who has trained a puppy knows your message has to be simple and frequent.

It works in comedy. It works in advertising. It works in baseball. It works in training. Now, proof… it works in management. Repetition works.

We have hard evidence that shows repetition as a management tool works. Repeated communication get projects completed quickly with fewer errors. Research by Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley and Northwestern University’s Paul Leonardi and Elizabeth Gerber have studied repetition of messages. The conclusion: Repetition works.

Their research is just what nerdy Sheldon Cooper would expect: want your staff to complete projects faster and smoother? Repeat. Reminding staff to do something numerous times, in person or with technology, is widespread for managers who are under severe demands to complete projects. Managers who deliberately send similar messages using a variety of media moved their projects forward faster and with less effort. Repetition works.

The three academics studied the communication processes of 13 project managers in six organizations from three different sectors. They chronicled a total of 256 hours. The findings: 21 percent of project managers with no direct power over team members used additional communication more frequently. Ms. Neeley says. “Managers without authority enroll others to make sense of an issue together and go for a solution. Those without power were much more strategic, much more thoughtful about “greasing the wheel” to get buy-in and to reinforce the urgency of the previous communication.” (Harvard’s Working Knowledge, April 18, 2011.)

It worked for project managers who had direct supervision of staff. It also works for those who do NOT have direct influence. There is a pattern. These successful managers sequence first and second communications close together. It usually started with a phone call, the message is repeated face-to-face. Next an e-mail. These managers were able to get projects completed faster and with far fewer re-works.” Repetition works.

For both groups of managers, the clarity of the communication was less important than the repetition. Spouses will tell you, and now academics confirm, nagging equals action. It’s the rate of recurrence of the message that gets the job done. Repetition works.

Jack Welch, the lauded chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, communicated persistently. Clarity of message coupled with frequency was a Welch trademark. His expectations for people and the GE companies were tough. He communicated those aspirations clearly and frequently. He once told a reporter that he had to repeat the same message seven times to the GE company presidents before they really believed him. Mr. Welch repeated himself purposely. “In leadership you have to exaggerate every statement you make. You’ve got to repeat it a thousand times… Overstatements are needed to move a large organization.” Repetition works.

Mr. Welch stood behind his overstatements with action. For example, when he spoke of getting rid of people who achieved but in the process trampled on other people, he meant it. He rooted them out of the organization. They knew he meant business, because he told them over and over.

There is always a point when spamming people back-fires. Use common sense and good judgment. Persistent messages using a variety of media with a direct but kind tone, works.

Ask the gifted Sheldon Cooper. Ask the esteemed Jack Welch. One is brainy; one is wise. Both are smart. Repetition works.

Dennis Schrag is president of the Longview Group of Iowa City. E-mail him at dennis@longview-group.com.

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