Communication

Good COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT is an important component of any business venture and this is especially so for change and transformation projects. A carefully considered communications strategy and plan, prepared prior to the implementation of the project can help you to respond to difficult situations and may even be one of the most important contributors to your project’s success. In fact communications can be at the core of some transformation projects, especially those involving personal upheaval or changes to jobs.

The first thing to consider in change communications is the strategy. Clearly this should dovetail into the overall change project strategy that was discussed in the ‘objectives‘ section. Before articulating the details of your change communications strategy it is important to identify the relevant stakeholder groups for the project. I included a PDF list of potential stakeholder groups as part of my description of Value TRAI Interactions on the RiskTuition.com site (link here). This list may be a useful starting point when drawing up your own list of stakeholders.

Night time view of Mai Liao Complex Taiwan (photo courtesy of Formosa Group)
Many stakeholders for your project may be internal. When I built 3 chemical plants in this complex of 50 similar units many of these units became my customers, suppliers and neighbours. All needed to be considered as part of project’s communications planning (Night time photo of the Mai Liao Complex, Taiwan courtesy of the Formosa Group)

As well as identifying all the stakeholders (or communications recipients) for your project it is important to decide who will do the communicating. In the governance section I explained the need for a delegations of authority for the change project. Clear, well understood delegations of authority are essential for communications management. These should state who can communicate what, to whom, and whether any prior permissions or approvals are needed. In the joint venture agreements for building the 3 plants mentioned in the picture above my authority to communicate as president of the corporation was clearly defined (unlike the ducks at the top of this page!).

The role of leadership as a communicator for a change project can not be over emphasized. The leader needs to present the future vision to the other stakeholders, he or she must motivate the team to achieve the project’s goals and quickly respond in a well considered way when things do not go according to plan. Some leaders are made or broken by their ability to articulate themselves to stakeholders during a management of change crisis. The leader needs to clearly communicate what are the key priorities of the project and when appropriate involve other sponsors to demonstrate shared commitment to the goals.

FBPC President and Vice President present workers with shirts to celebrate a safe working milestone from Chris Dugglebys BIZCHANGERS site
In Asia one of our top communications priorities was worker safety. Here, as president of the company I presented, together with the manufacturing vice president shirts to the workforce in celebration of half a million hours worked without an accident (we were the senior representatives of the two main shareholders, demonstrating a unified approach)

For example if safety is one of your top communications priorities the plan should identify regular opportunities for leadership to reinforce this and publicise successes (see the photo above). If you hold safety related competitions (like a worker’s suggestions box) get the leader to present the prizes and publicize the events to the rest of the workforce.

The format of the communications plan can follow the same general format as the overall change project plan. Time should occupy one axis with the stakeholders occupying the other one. The plan should articulate:

  • the key message(s) for each stakeholder group,
  • the media for delivering these messages (in person, by e-mail, during town hall speeches etc.),
  • who will deliver the messages, and
  • when they should be delivered.

If the communication is dependant upon the prior completion of some other activity this should also be made clear in the plan. For example you do not want to communicate the successful completion of the project until this has actually occurred!

Depending upon the nature of the project you should consider getting expert input to the communications planning process. For example if people’s jobs or terms and conditions of employment are likely to change you will need human resource professionals and probably legal support. Environmental, safety and health experts should be involved if the project is likely to impact the environment or introduce health or safety risks. Where changes to markets are likely to be communicated you should consult with competition/antitrust lawyers to ensure the proposals wiill be acceptable to regulatory authorities. Similarly you may need to get professional advice to ensure what you present is ethically/morally appropriate and compliant with any other relevant legislation (for example bribery, corruption and personal data privacy laws).

It is a good idea to build into your communications planning a process to monitor communications effectiveness. Do your stakeholders actually understand what it is you are communicating to them? The nature of this process will depend upon the size, complexity and nature of your change project. At it’s simplest it could involve the communications manager personally checking with recipients that they have received and understood the messages. Where larger audiences are involved, for example in a major staff reorganisation project, questionnaires or surveys can help. In addition to communications effectiveness information this can provide recipients with a feedback process to air any views and grievances they have about the process. This can be an important way of gauging the atmosphere and provides useful information to structure future communications.

In summary, change project communications, should include:

  • A clear communications’ strategy that is consistent with and supports the overall change project strategy
  • A document explaining who is allowed to communicate what, to whom and how (a communications’ delegation of authority)
  • Strong involvement and commitment from leadership
  • A communications’ plan that dovetails into and supports the main change project plan
  • Expert input where appropriate (legal, HR, compliance professionals)
  • A process to monitor communications effectiveness and inform where improvements can be made.

In addition to communicating about the change process it is important not to forget the things around the project that are not changing. Sometimes the success of a change project depends on the rest of the business running normally. This is dealt with in the section on business continuity which can be found here.

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