Planning Employee Communication

Excerpted from IABC’s latest publication: Essentials of Employee Communication.

Why plan employee communication?
A CEO would not make a business decision without seeking data to support that decision. The same should be true for your communication efforts. The plan is the element that enables everything else to fall into place. Communicating without a plan is like building a house without a foundation: At first glance, it may seem like it can work, but once the project gets rolling, you will find that things easily fall apart. Investing in careful planning at the start of a project will save you time, resources and heartache in the long run.

According to the Watson Wyatt 2005/2006 Communication ROI™ Study, following a formal communication process, including effective communication planning, can contribute 3.4 percent toward improved total return to shareholders.

A few things to keep in mind
As you develop your communication and project plans, the following concepts remain constant: Be flexible, keep people informed and plan early.

  • Remain flexible: As you build your plan, understand that you are not building a rigid document. Your plan is a living document that grows and evolves with your project. As you gather information on your particular messages and intended audiences, you should be willing to modify your plan to fit the new information and conditions.
  • Keep your team informed: Remember, it is important to communicate the need for a change to other team members before you actually modify your plans. Get their buy-in, and make sure team members always have a copy of the latest plan. While for some projects it may be necessary to change the plan several times, avoid “plan of the day” syndrome. Only make changes that are absolutely necessary; otherwise your plan becomes meaningless, and team members get confused.
  • Invest the time now, or pay the price later: If you are working on a project where everything needs to be done yesterday, you are no doubt thinking, I don’t have time to put together a complicated plan. Think again. The time it takes to put together a plan will be repaid exponentially by the efficiencies it creates during the process, and a communication plan keeps everyone on the same page, which ensures accountability.

A good communication plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be simple and easily created with a word processing program. In its simplest form, a plan needs to account for all the action elements of the project. However, the more complex a project becomes, the more likely it is that you will need to use a project management tool such as Microsoft Project™ or IABC’s MyComm.

Components of a good plan
Planning ensures that your project follows a process that is consistent, efficient, effective and timely. To be effective, communication initiatives must consider:

  • Key stakeholders.
  • Objectives: business and communication.
  • Barriers to success.
  • Critical success factors.
  •  Measures of success.
  •  Audiences.
  •  Key messages.
  •  Timing.
  •  Delivery channels.
  •  Measurable results.

Choosing Communications Methods and Media
There are several factors to keep in mind as you evaluate how to communicate effectively within your organization. As shown by the results of a 2002 SHRM study, employees and communication professionals agreed that a combination of frequent, two-way, interactive communication methods that provide honest assessments of the company is best for developing the company’s credibility with its employees. A combination of communication tools will be necessary to deliver and reinforce your messages.

Consider the following factors and review the strengths and weaknesses associated with each communication method to determine the appropriate communication mix for your audiences and messages:

  • Complexity/sensitivity of the message: Are you communicating information that will require behavior change? If so, how willing is your audience to assume that change? How will the message communicated impact the day-to-day efforts of your intended audience?
  • Timing: Is action required by the intended audience within a certain time frame? Will the audience be able to take action within the expected time frame? When will additional messages need to be communicated, and what will their impact be based on the timing of the initial communication? Are there other competing messages or activities that will distract from the impact of this message?
  • Access: What type of vehicle will be the most convenient for the intended audience to use in order to learn about and act on the new information? Is your audience going to be given the information, or are you going to require the audience to come to you to receive the information? The “push” method of communication is one where the information is created, packaged and delivered to your intended audience. The most common forms of push communication include print, e-mail and voicemail. The “pull” method requires your intended audience to perform some sort of action in order to access and use the information you provide. Pull methods include bulletin boards and web-based information.
  • Interest: What will motivate the intended audience to focus time on this message? What method of communicating is most likely to get and keep their interest long enough to convey the message in a meaningful way? It is important to consider your target audience’s preference of media as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each medium. Using media that employees value will improve their attention and interest in receiving the message.

This article is excerpted from Essentials of Employee Communication,  available from the IABC Knowledge Centre.