It’s standard practice in most organizations to build a communication plan as part of the overall project plan. Most companies understand that communication plays an important part in achieving the project initiatives. Not all communication plans are created equally, however, and many miss the mark. Communication should be more than just an occasional, sporadic activity. Here are some key points to remember in making your next communication plan more effective:
Mistake: Confusing communication with implementation
While a solid communication plan is extremely important, communication alone is insufficient. Generating sponsorship, developing a reinforcement strategy, defining the change, and developing readiness are as important—in fact, sponsorship is the single most important factor in achieving project success. Over-reliance on communication as the sole strategy is a common mistake in many implementation plans.
Myth: Providing information is the primary goal of the communication plan
In reality, the primary goal for project communication plans is to drive behavior change, not just to provide information-sharing. Even if you successfully communicate information to the target audience, you miss the mark if that communication doesn’t actively promote behavior change.
Mistake: Depending on one-way, top-down communication as the primary delivery method
One of the most common mistakes we see is a dependence on media like newsletters, emails, and even web-sites as the primary method for communication of large-scale, complex changes. Even in large, geographically-dispersed organizations, agents should rely much more on two-way communication than is often the case. We see many communication plans that do a fair job of information-sharing, but fail to have a mechanism for gathering data to be fed back to the project team and sponsors.
Must-Do: Include a feedback loop to check for understanding on every communication
Without some kind of feedback loop, you have no way to gather data on how people are responding to the communication, no way to answer questions, and no way to surface sources of resistance. No matter how sophisticated the delivery vehicle, if you haven’t built in a feedback loop, your communication is missing the “best practice” mark.
Myth: Expecting that the production of a large-scale, exciting launch event is the most important element of a good communication plan, or is all that is needed for communicating to the targets of the change
While it can be motivating to produce a creative launch event, or a series of cross-functional meetings, remember that communication is not a substitute for implementation. As Kenneth Klepper, President and COO of Medco puts it, “You can spend enormous resources on implementation-- but if you have failed to build the sponsorship for the change, you can’t spend enough money or have enough cross-functional meetings to be successful.”
Must-do: Put messages in the Frames of Reference of the targets
Keep in mind that messages must be constructed to align with the Frames of Reference for the targets, meaning there will be multiple Frames of Reference and therefore, multiple messages.
Must-do: Use multiple communication vehicles, and communicate on a regular basis
In order to better align with multiple Frames of Reference, a variety of communication vehicles should be employed. Regardless of the vehicle, however, there must be a feedback mechanism. In addition, communication should be planned and done on a regular basis.
By rejecting the myths, eliminating common mistakes, and following the “must-do’s”, you will significantly improve the effectiveness of your communication plan.
You can assess your own communication plan by using IMA’s Communication Audit tool, available for purchase online at www.imaworldwide.com. The Communication Audit includes a planning template, assessment questions, and a guide to the characteristics of a wide variety of communication vehicles. For more information, call 800-752-9254 or 303-996-7777.