What Would Joe Friday Do?

Nov 21, 2010 1 Comment by

I encourage Change Leaders to use Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) as a great way to pass along concise, accurate answers to their stakeholders’ most common questions. As I’ve shared over the past few days, FAQ’s have some great advantages: they’re inexpensive, easy to distribute and easy to target in the direction of potential resistance to change.

What Would Joe Friday Do? Just for fun, I’ll wrap up this series by returning to my inspiration for the first article: Detective Sergeant Joe Friday from the old television cop drama Dragnet.  Below are a few creative research techniques that were employed by the legendary Jack Webb – the Producer and Lead Actor on the Dragnet series.  See if you can apply any of these as you gather the FAQ’s for your big project:

1. Ride a few miles in a squad car. Webb knew many members of the Los Angeles Police Department and often rode all night with cops on the beat just to make sure he was being true to the context and subject matter of his show. Most people will recognize the difference between an FAQ that’s written from their frame of reference and one that’s written more from the point of view of the executives or the sales team.

Of course, it will be easier to think like your target audience if you spend a little time in their shoes. Go visit the shop floor. Go meet the field-level folks.  Ask them what they want to know and you’ll have a good idea what most stakeholders are curious about. Sadly, it has been my experience that while direct interaction with the field is one of the easiest things in the world to do – it’s unfortunately becoming more rare.

2. Speak the Local Dialect:Jack Webb used to listen for hours to police officers describing their work in person or on their radios.  He’d read copious stacks of actual police reports and inject parts of these descriptions into the narrative for almost every episode.  He’d take note of the way officers approached their work and he’d slip genuine police lingo into the Dragnet script to make his cop drama sound more realistic. (He even used the actual names of LAPD officials in some episodes… I wonder if he could get away with that today?)

The lesson for us? We need to listen closely to what our people say – and read what our people write. Watch for clues on how different group leaders get messages across in different ways. (It can be very effective to engage local leaders to help share the content of your FAQ’s in their own way – as long as they don’t “stray too far from the script”).

3. Watch the Buzzwords! Webb often invited real cops to look over his drafts – especially to get their feedback on how accurately he had mimicked conversational dialogue and police processes.  Not only did Webb make a lot of friends on the inside by engaging cops, his communication product was made better for the effort.

What can we learn about buzzwords from Joe Friday?

Learn the jargon of your change and recognize when you’re using it. Run the standard project description by a few real people and ask them to make note of the buzzwords. Keep a running list of the new terms and names that are going away.  Offer a translation matrix to show which new words will replace old terms. Update it from time to time as new buzzwords pop up.

4. Above All – Be Honest.  Fans of the show know that Sergeant Joe Friday always got his man – but on the show (as in real life) the bad guys didn’t always pay for their crimes.  There were episodes in which a known criminal was released on a technicality or even escaped from jail.  Webb tried his best to be honest about these negative realities of cop work.

The difficult lesson for us: stakeholders involved in change generally appreciate it when change agents are up front with them.  In fact, everyone does.  Don’t sugar-coat it if the change is actually going to be negative for someone. (like adding work, cutting staff, increasing responsibility with no raise in compensation, etc.) Be careful not to whine in your FAQ’s or offer to commiserate – that will just build more unnecessary resistance.  Just do what Joe Friday did: be honest and deal with the facts as they unfold.

FAQ’s are a good idea.  As I mentioned yesterday, I have yet to see a project or a change that couldn’t benefit from using them.  They’re cheap and easy to do.  They return a great bang for the buck.  Detective Joe Friday was onto something when he asked his witness for “Just the FAQ’s Ma’am” – and he also had a lot to teach us about how to do that.


Question for Chatter:

  • What other creative ways have you seen to do research and collect FAQ’s?
  • How else can direct field interaction be used to improve the acceptance of your communicated messages?
  • What listening tools have you seen as being the most effective for gathering feedback on your change communications?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “What Would Joe Friday Do?”

  1. Change Agent Tip #12: Don’t Let Buzzwords Get Lost in Translation | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] an earlier post I wrote about how the late, great producer and actor Jack Webb would spend hours riding in cop cars […]

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