Generally speaking, most employers do a poor job of communicating with their employees. The traditional dispassionate broadcast of important changes in strategies, policies and programs more often than not fails to properly manage expectations and often results in confusion, resentment or outright anger among workers. In crisis conditions the result can be far worse: Internal conflict leaking out to the media can blow matters out of proportion and damage a company's reputation (and even stock price).
Instead, communications between employers and employees needs to be two-way. But it can admittedly be unnatural for companies to open up their internal processes in a way that invites the participation and collaboration of more than a few decision makers and their advisors.
If you want to establish this dialogue you have to have a strategic communications plan, and execute it flawlessly. Without one it's impossible to manage internal or external communications proactively, or on-the-fly, as problems arise.
Here are some basics:
- Communications charter. Specify the communications scope: enterprise, business line, departmental, project-level. Clarify communications goals and issues. Identify stakeholders for communications messages (there may be many, ranging from senior, line, and project managers to customers/clients, contractors, competitors, distributors, suppliers, and former employees, to government, the general public, and the media). Determine who should be responsible for communications, which depends on scope (this could be enterprise, departmental, teams, individuals, consultants or most likely all). Prepare a high-level communications plan.
- Communications stakeholder analysis. Recognize the roles of the various stakeholders, their main interests, and the relationship between stakeholders. Determine each stakeholder's information needs, expectations, obligations, preferred communications method, timing of communications, communications mode (written, in-person, live, video, email, etc.), and who should deliver communications.
- Communications success metrics. Define how you will know if your communications plan and its execution is successful. This could be quantitative (e.g. reduced complaints, fewer support calls, new communications mechanisms where none existed) or qualitative (opinions expressed in interviews, focus groups, surveys).
- Organizational communications assessment. Individual and group assessments are accomplished via interviews, focus groups and surveys to determine specific communications needs, issues, modalities, etc. In this critical step all needs are surfaced (e.g., communication of new compensation or rewards plans; offshore outsourcing plans; corporate or departmental restructuring; performance management plans; benefits or stock option plans.
- Communications plan(s). Create the overall strategic communications plan and/or a set of communication plans covering various point strategies. An example of the latter would be an offshore outsourcing communications plan encompassing the following steps:
- Identifying supplier communications needs
- Communicating a workforce integration plan and progress in building the onshore/offshore team
- Communicating progress in training, deploying and redeploying personnel
- Communicating progress in organizational change management or transition
- Communicating the establishment of cross-organizational improvement processes
- Communicating methods for measuring results and allocating rewards to achieve results consistent with new offshoring activities and structure
- Communicating knowledge transfer and skills adoption
- Communicating phasing out of old structures
- Communicating offshoring continuous improvement plans.
After the plan(s) has (have) been constructed, implementation and ongoing plan maintenance requires constant vigilance, primarily due to the inherent discomfort most organizations --- and average persons -- experience with communication issues. But once a company can shed its poor communication habits and take into account the emotional and psychological needs of its stakeholders, it will discover that it takes less effort to be open than it takes to manage the predictable fallout from a more closed approach to communications.
Success factors include:
- Managing communications requires much effort and pinpoint expertise that is typically accomplished only with in-house communications specialists or experienced communications consultants who will show you how to do the planning, implementation and maintenance of a good communications program. Use outside experts or dedicate full-time in-house staff for vigilance and ongoing communications program maintenance.
- Align the IT communications program with the overall enterprise communications plan and programs. Ensure the participation of IT customers in communication plan development and maintenance.
- Use multiple methods for staying in touch and interacting with IT workers who are onsite, telecommuting or residing in other cities and countries (written, e-mail, telephone, in-person, live, streaming video, etc.).
This was first published in January 2006