How To: 7 Steps for Crafting a Crisp Call to Action

Liz Guthridge

Want individuals to take action? Then you’ve got to create a clear, concise and compelling call to action.

You can’t wait for individuals to read your mind. Nor can you expect them to follow a long, involved process. It’s just not human nature.

Instead, you need to set people up to succeed, which will help them and you reach your target. More specifically, you need to give people very simple, crisply defined baby steps to follow.

Over time, I’ve honed my “call to action” especially as the third step of my three-part simple communication planning tool: 1) What? 2) So what? 3) Now what?

After recently participating in BJ Fogg’s Persuasion Boot Camp, I realized the value of making calls to action simpler and easier to do. Even if people have the will (motivation) and the skill (ability), it’s too hard for them to get over the hill and do it.

So how tiny, simple and crisp do these steps need to be? You basically need seven steps, as shown in this example. It’s a straightforward yet important request: collecting emergency contact information from employees. For this example, we want simple compliance rather than full commitment.

1. Articulate the outcome you want. We want to collect up-to-date cell phone numbers of 100% of employees with cell phones. This allows us to notify them via texting in case of an emergency.

2. Define the crisp, concrete behavior that you believe will achieve that outcome. Employees with cell phones will voluntarily type their cell phone number on the online “form” on the Intranet.

3. Identify the sequence of baby steps (or actions) that someone needs to take for this behavior. This request is a one-time behavior—except for those who frequently lose their cell phones and change their numbers. And it should be a familiar behavior—those of us with cell phones often give out our number. (Getting somebody to do a familiar behavior once is generally easier than getting them to commit to doing something new or familiar for a period of time or forever.)

So if you want your teams to use agendas at their meetings, ask them to try it for a month and revisit rather than asking them to do it for the rest of their career. Be content to start with baby steps and then you can start building on the new behavior.

4. Make each step as simple as possible. For this cell phone example and in most other cases, we want to collect the minimum information. This is probably their name, employee ID number and cell phone number.

Even though we might like them to update their emergency contact information, their beneficiary for their life insurance and a few records, we are going to resist the temptation.

Also note that at this stage, we’ll ignore the employees without cell phones. After we collect all the cell phone numbers, we’ll see which employees we’re missing and make a personalized plea to them.

5. Craft the call to action. In making this request, we also need to consider the skill (ability) and will (motivation) involved. This is a low-skill request—providing 10 digits people know. It’s also low motivation. Individuals have other things on their minds—unless we time the plea appropriately and appeal to the personal safety of them and their families.

So for this example, you may want to make the request right after a disaster in another part of the world—a flood, earthquake or tsunami. By linking your request to a news event, you ride its coattails and hope it will catch people’s attention more.

6. Choose the most appropriate channel for this call to action. In this example, we want to make the request electronically because that allows individuals to click on a link and go directly to the site. Some digital options: Send everyone an e-mail message. Post the request on the home page of the Intranet. Set up a meeting invite to take the action. Text the employees for whom we think we have up-to-date numbers.

7. Test, refine and release. Before you release your call to action, run your request by a few people and ask them what they think. Even better, ask them to follow through. Then follow up to see how they did. That lets you refine and improve your request so you’ll get better compliance. You’ll then be ready to make your request of the masses.

If these seven steps feel laborious, they are. You’ve got to put some time and thought into an effective call to action.


This article was written by Liz Guthridge, managing director of Connect Consulting Group, an independent coaching and consulting firm. She can be reached at [email protected].