Hair, Teeth, Shoes. Hair, Teeth, Shoes. This was the phrase I found myself repeating over and over again, every morning when I was trying to get my two young children out the door for school. You would think after a few years of the same morning routine – brush your hair, brush your teeth, put on your shoes – they would have been able to do these tasks without much prompting. Yet, every morning my frustration would mount when I found that someone had yet to brush their teeth or still didn’t have their shoes on to be ready to leave the house on time. It had to stop. And so…our morning mantra was born. One day, I was tired of all the talking and cajoling and decided to make my instructions more simple. “Hair, Teeth, Shoes. Hair, Teeth, Shoes.” In fact, sometimes I would sing the words more than say them and it caught on. The kids started to sing along. My older child would roll his eyes and say, “Yeah, I know Mom – Hair, Teeth, Shoes.” He rolled his eyes, but it started to work!

Research from the NeuroLeadership Institute reveals that “Brain scientists call our recall of sounds echoic memory, and it lasts for only a handful of seconds. It turns out that if a statement takes less than three seconds to say to yourself or say out loud, it is significantly easier to recall and use. Any time you craft an idea that you want people to remember easily, if the idea can be said out loud in under three seconds, the chances of usage go up dramatically.”

This is also true for leadership principles, company values, organizational diversity statements, learning and development, and so much more. In our strategic planning and organizational development work with clients at ADR Vantage, we often find that leaders struggle with getting their employees and teams to commit and “live” the core values they’ve worked so hard to craft in their mission and vision statements or strategic planning documents. In fact, when asked, many employees can’t recall the mission statement, values, or strategic goals of the organization they work for. It’s rarely that they don’t care, but rather that those highly detailed, and often wordy, concepts are just too difficult for them to remember. And, if they can’t remember them, how can they put them into action in the workplace?

When it comes to leadership principles and company values, Dr. David Rock, Co-Founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, shares that “They only really exist if employees are thinking about them, saying them to themselves, bringing them up in conversation with colleagues. The principles have to get stuck inside their heads like a pop song.”

So how can you and your organization learn to maximize the brain science behind helping individuals more easily recall and act on important concepts?

Start with breaking things down. Take a look at the principles or ideas you want to focus on and see if you can reduce them down to what’s at the core. What is most important and what do you want them to remember? (Tip – take a look at the verbs in your longer mission statements or strategic plans and try to focus on the ones that have the most action connected to them. For example, words like “deliver”, “create”, “innovate” are great to promote action and accountability in your workplace. For example, at our company, we “deliver the best”, “innovate every day”, “create opportunities”, etc.)

Next, involve your managers and employees. Reintroduce them to whatever principles or concepts you want them to remember and act on. Ask them what they think is most important about those ideas and see if you can shorten the ideas to a memorable and meaningful phrase. Phrases like “Safety First”, “Create Clarity”, “Think Big”, or “Deliver Success” can be said in less than three seconds and are more likely to be remembered by employees. These are concepts that can be quickly repeated, easily recalled and used as reminders for everyday workplace decisions. Is what we are doing “delivering success” for the client? Is this project plan “creating clarity” for the team? How does this design idea put “safety first” for the public we serve?

Lastly, make it visible and highlight successes. Once you’ve decided on your three-second concepts (e.g. – At Company XYZ we “Create Clarity. Think Big. Deliver Success.”) make sure they are visible to your employees, your partners and your leadership. Values and principles shouldn’t be hidden in an employee handbook or buried on a website page where no one sees them on a regular basis. One of ADR Vantage’s clients lists their core concepts on the back of everyone’s office key card to make sure they are visible day in and day out for every employee. Think about where you can post and integrate your core concepts and then make sure to acknowledge and celebrate when employees are using the concepts and putting them into action in the workplace. Positive acknowledgment is a terrific way to show employees that living your values and principles is a measure of success for everyone!

Tara B. Taylor, MPA
Managing Director