When we think about drafting a communications plan for a project, some criteria that come to mind are fairly obvious, such as messages, audiences, media and perhaps the timing of our communications.
However, there are a few elements that are often missing from communications plans, that can make communications so much more effective and efficient. A few minutes spent on defining these three components can save a lot of time later on and avoids any confusion.
A project never occurs in a vacuum, and neither do the messages it generates. Many communications need to be vetted before they can reach audiences within an organization. If you think about the vetting process beforehand and figure out who the approvers for certain messages are and now much lead time they need, this will allow you to release your communications in a timely manner.
On a recent project I needed to generate a message that would inform all of the computer users in the organization about a rollout of new PCs for them. I cleared the message to send with my project sponsor and with the CIO of the organization and contacted the person responsible for IT communications to have our message posted, only to find out that the process had changed and that a corporate communications officer needed to vet the message before its release. She proceeded to re-write the whole piece. My project sponsor and the CIO were not pleased about the new communication as it actually misstated the facts. Between the back and forth between the communications officer, her boss, my sponsor and the CIO we ruffled a lot of feathers and lost nearly a month before the message was finally released.
Knowing your approval process, the approvers themselves and the chain of command ahead of time will allow you to plan sufficient lead times for your critical communications. Therefore inform yourself about the process and document it in your plan as soon as you can.
While everyone knows about the importance of communications media, less thought is often spend on the person or entity a message should come through. Choosing the wrong person to deliver a message can be just as detrimental to its reception as picking an inappropriate medium.
During a communications class a taught a few months ago a project manager vented his frustration at the low level of compliance he got from some of his stakeholders who he needed to poll for information that was vital to his project. He had sent out emails, which were rarely answered, announced phone conferences, which were poorly attended, and left numerous phone calls, which were seldom returned.
When I asked a few follow-on questions, it became clear that he was employed by an outside vendor and was not known within the organization. His project was also never formally announced to the stakeholders he needed to communicate with. So the people he tried to contact did not know who he was or why he was asking for their help.
I advised the project manager to get his project formally announced and its value explained. He should also find someone who his stakeholders reported to in the organization and have them introduce him and explain why his request for information was legitimate and important.
This is a typical example of using a channel to deliver your message. Using someone who has standing among the stakeholders and who is in a position of authority will ensure people listen and comply. Therefore when you think about your messages and your audiences, also put some thought to who needs to do the talking. Quite often it should not be you!
When you communicate, communicate with intent. In order to be effective and not waste people’s time, plan your communications as interventions that should change reality in a measurable way. Those reply-to-all emails that clog your inbox, those innumerable conference calls you attend where you could not make a single contribution to the discussion, all of these are badly-planned communications that serve absolutely no purpose.
Spell out your goal when you think of a message. Do you want to share information? Then pick your audience for whom this information is vial, i.e. no reply-to-all, unless “all” is the group that needs to know. Include mechanisms for feedback to ensure that everyone has understood the information correctly.
Do you want to get people’s input? Formulate clear questions and only poll people who can make a valid contribution to the discussion. Spell out what you need from them and why and how they can give you feedback and information.
Do you want someone to do something for you? Give them sufficient information and guidance in order for them to be able to comply and understand what they are supposed to do and why. You will also need to ensure that your audience is willing to perform what you require of them, therefore determine how you will find out about questions and objections.
If you spell out our objections for a particular communication it will be much easier for you to then pick your appropriate audiences, channels and media and to formulate appropriate feedback mechanisms to ensure that your communication has hit its target.