Do you want people to give discretionary effort? If so, stop communicating in digital and go with analog

Last week, I held an exclusive event at the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields for an extraordinary group of small business CEOs and solo entrepreneurs. Our purpose there was to discuss innovation and ways to take our businesses to new heights. 

One of our most powerful discussions occurred at Little Round Top. On July 2, 1863, the 20th Maine Regiment, led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, defended the extreme flank of the Union position. The regiment held off repeated confederate assaults until they were nearly out of ammunition. As the next assault came, Chamberlain ordered his troops to fix bayonets and charge the attacking enemy.

His unexpected counterattack caught the confederates off guard. They broke and ran, thus ending the largest threat to the Union Army. The 20th Maine saved the day, and, perhaps, the Union.

Vital to the 20th Maine’s success was the addition of 117 soldiers on the eve of battle. These troops from the 2nd Maine Regiment were detainees, accused of desertion. They thought they had signed two-year enlistments instead of three and demanded to go home. Talk about disengaged employees!

The Union generals gave Chamberlain custody of the accused, with permission to shoot them if he wished. Chamberlain had about 300 soldiers in his command. Guarding a large company of deserters would deprive him of team members for the upcoming battle.

Chamberlain could have ordered them to stand in the ranks during the battle or face a firing squad. That’s the digital, on-off-on-off, approach: do what I say (on) or you’ll suffer the consequences (off). Based on what we know about employee engagement and the behavior of soldiers under fire, those forced to face confederate rifles, cannons, and bayonets would likely have broken and run away. The cascading effect would have doomed the Union Army.

Chamberlain used a different approach. He gained their trust, heard what they had to say, treated them respectfully, and talked about why he needed their support. He let them decide whether or not to fight. Persuasion is an analog approach, using a continuous signal to gain buy-in. Of the 120 deserters, 117 agreed to take up their rifles and fight, increasing Chamberlain’s capacity by over one-third. 

Too much communication today is digital. Leaders issue policies and demand compliance. You provide mandates with carrots and sticks. People yell at one another over social media. Your top lieutenants urge you to use stronger language and more drastic sticks. Skeptical employees dig in their heels or leave. Is it any wonder that there’s so much polarization in society and disengagement at work?

The analog approach to communication focuses on the ABCs: provide clarity, gain buy-in, and promote 360-degree accountability. Let people know what you need them to do and the desired results and outcomes (the Why). Let them figure out the how. Who’s helping you with the ABCs?


The next FOCUSED program begins in September. This 8-week group program is for principled leaders who want to grow their businesses using the right focus, the right strategy, and the right team. 

The magic is in the implementation. We meet for 90 minutes each week. You do assignments that help you gain the right focus, strategy, and team. You eat the elephant one bite at a time using a 7-step process that helps you make the second half of 2021 your best six months, ever, and turbocharges 2022. 

Click here to see if the program is a good fit for you.

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

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