In this edition, fellow IABC member Jonathan Champ kindly provides a guest post on effective internal communications during transformation. It’s a ripper — succinct and super valuable. Flick it on to the project and change managers that you know!
Q “During a recent transformation, I was asked to assist in creating an internal communications plan. Does anyone have a template for an effective plan? External plans are quite plentiful; however, internal plans are hard to come by. Thank you for any assistance that you may be able to render.”
This recent request in the Organizational Change Practitioners LinkedIn group is one of the most common questions internal communicators face. (At the time of writing this, the WikiHow entry “How to create a communication plan” has had over 180,000 views.)
First, the bad news: There is no magic ‘template’ for internal and change communication planning. Sure, we know that a plan will have some common elements such as goals, timings, messages, tactics and responsibilities. But having worked with diverse organisations implementing many different changes, I’ve discovered there are some variables that make a single template hard to apply.
Even the format can vary from change to change: different Project Management Offices – and executive teams – have different documentation preferences. Use the layout that your organisation in literate in. If everything is prepared and distributed in Powerpoint, use Powerpoint. If everyone uses Project or Basecamp or Excel, use that.
Regardless of the format you will use to document your communications plan in, these simple process steps are essential to developing your plan.
The context for the communication is different every time. A change communication plan is a living document for the life of the change. We communicate to shift from as is to what needs to be in order for the change to be successful. The best change communication plans take into account the current situation, current communication processes, employee attitudes, leader communication skills – and gaps.
To steal a phrase from Stephen Covey, “begin with the end in mind.” Defining what will be different – and for whom – after the change is the start point. It drives everything from audience and stakeholder identification through to message development.
Define what communication outcomes will contribute to achieving the change(s). What knowledge, attitudes and behaviours are required in ‘the new world’, and by whom? Define these in measurable ways. Who needs what? As you would segment external stakeholders and take specific actions with each segment or stakeholder, so too it is necessary to get granular with internal audiences. The RASCI model used in change and project management is a useful tool here to determine levels of communication involvement.
Create the key messages for each group based the gap between the outcomes required and their current state. That sounds simplistic, but the emphasis is on crafting messages that address each of the needs.
Plan the approach based on the timings of the change, the audience requirements and the best delivery methods for the type of change required. Different types of change have different timelines – your planning needs to address the different stages of change (ADKAR or equivalent). There are communication approaches best suited for each stage.
The greater the scale of change, the higher the degree of involvement required from your audiences.
Assign roles, responsibilities and budgets. Govern the process. A change communication plan is not a ‘set and forget’ activity. It needs to be managed, reviewed and iterated throughout the change process. Audience feedback, issues arising from the changes, and stories of the change will mean there is shifting content throughout the process. Having regular reviews of the communication plan with the owners (change sponsors, project team, leaders and managers delivering messages) will ensure the plan is effective in achieving the goals defined at the outset.
Leaders, managers and supervisors can’t ‘outsource’ communication during change; clarity about who develops and who delivers messages, who manages feedback and who shares the stories of the change is an important part of the plan.
Make your comms plan a COMMS plan.
There are other substeps and different tools and processes, templates and frameworks for each of these stages. But at the core, if you follow these five steps for a COMMS plan, aligned to your existing successful project processes, you will deliver effective change communication for internal stakeholders.
Jonathon is the founder of Meaning Business — you can check out more value-laden posts on his site!