It’s Not Nagging: Redundant Communication Works

In a paper forthcoming in Organization Science, Harvard Business School professor Tsedal B. Neeley and Northwestern University’s Paul M. Leonardi and Elizabeth M. Gerber delve into why many managers tend to send the same message, over and over, via multiple media to team members. At first blush, this strategy may sound like nagging or a waste of time. But as it turns out, asking multiple times gets results.

An excerpt of their research was recently previewed on the HBS Working Knowledge website. Key concepts include:

  • Managers who are deliberately redundant as communicators move their projects forward more quickly and smoothly than those who are not.
  • Project managers lacking direct authority will work harder at communication, trying to enlist support from team members. They time first and second messages close together, typically starting with a phone call or face-to-face meeting followed up by an e-mail.
  • Project managers with power delay communication, typically sending an e-mail, assuming that is enough to pressure employees to do the job—only to find themselves later scrambling to do damage control.
  • Clarity in messaging matters less than redundancy. It’s not the message; it’s the frequency of the message that counts in getting the job done.
  • Managers with and without power met deadlines and budget goals with the same frequency, regardless of their communication strategy. But managers without power got employees to move more quickly, and with less mop up needed later.

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