Bridging the Communication Gap: Creating a Communication Plan
Can you guess the most common problem I hear about with change initiatives that are already in progress? Is it a lack of resources? Is it resistant staff? Is it a failure to consider alternatives? Is it a lack of research, data, or expertise?
Nope. Although those elements may arise as problems during change initiatives, there is one thing I hear over and over again.
What is the Real Problem?
The problem I hear about over and over again is that there is a lack of communication. When I dig deeper, I often find out there is no commitment to communication AND no real plans for communication. At best, there is some vague sense that communication needs to happen. At worst, the people enacting the change initiative are completely unaware that there is a problem they need to do something to resolve.
I remember sitting in a conference room with one client and asking, “how are you communicating this to employees?” They indicated they were not responsible for communicating to employees because Directors involved in planning teams *should* be taking communications back to their respective employees. So I asked, “is there a communication plan?”
Why Would We Need a Plan?
How are the representative Directors expected to know what/when/how they are to communicate the changes with their employees if there is no plan and no clarity around these questions? In fact, more fundamentally, how are they to know they are even responsible for doing the communication if this is not stated clearly and unequivocally?
In response to this common problem, and based on my own prior experience in organizations that were not communicating well, I developed a workshop called “Communication in the Midst of Change.” It covers interpersonal communication, communication plans, and communication tools, among other things.
I have been presenting this workshop to library staff throughout the state of Washington for the last few months. In my most recent presentation of the Communication in the Midst of Change workshop, during the Q&A section one of the attendees asked me if the “Basic Communication Plan” questions I gave them could be found on my website. I said to her, “no, but that is an excellent idea!”
In thinking more about it, I decided to write up this News and How-Tos post and share some of the Basic Communication Plan questions here. The actual document I provided to attendees is chock full of questions to consider, which might be a bit overwhelming in a post such as this. However, I will soon make it available as a download (keep an eye out for it).
Begin with the Basics
Therefore, I will give you the basic of the basic here. It boils down to what many of us learned in writing classes: Make sure to answer the Who, What, When, Where, and How.
Wait, What About the “Why?”
First, though, you need to begin with a Communication Goal. The big “Why” question. Not only do you need to consider your goal(s) for the change in question, you need to consider why you are communicating at all. What do you hope to get out of the communication? Are you trying to get on the same page with everyone? Are you trying to get “buy-in” for the change? Are you trying to create pathways for two-way communication to make sure the change is successful? Dig deep into this question before you move on to any of the others.
The Other Questions
The following are the basic questions that contain a variety of complex sub-questions and variants with which you will need to grapple. You may have to create several sub-plans because once you identify the goal(s) and start working on the following questions, you will likely find this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Communication will need to differ depending on the who, what, and when.
- What do They Need to Know?
- When do They Need to Know?
- Where Would it be Best to Reach Out to Them?
- How Will You Put This Into Practice?
Now that you have answered all the basic questions, created a plan and maybe some sub-plans, it is time to run your ideas by a trusted colleague (or, better yet, colleagues plural). Ideally, you would have been working on this collaboratively with others already, so this trusted colleague is an additional set of eyes to catch things you may have missed.
Are there any missing stakeholders? Are you making inaccurate assumptions about how people want to receive communication? Are you having trouble putting yourself in the shoes of the people who will be impacted by the change, thus missing some important elements they will want to know?
Next, enact your plan! It will never be perfect, so get it as good as you can get it and then enact it. Request feedback, adjust accordingly, and improve as you go. The worst thing you can do in this age of transparency is to be opaque about upcoming changes.
Go forth and communicate!