WHY HAVE A COMMUNICATION STRATEGY?
By Shirley Haddock
Managing Director: Workinfo.com
Tel: +27 (0)861 967 5463
Cel: +27 (0)84 456 8346
Workinfo.com Communications Manual (Available to purchase on www.workinfo.com)
A well defined strategic communication plan is possibly the best manner in which to create a consistent corporate culture. It encourages a sense of identification, on the part of staff, with the goals, mission and procedures of the organisation. This can have direct impact on effort and efficiency whereby staff feel that they are involved in the life of the company and are able to make a difference.
Furthermore, open and transparent communication has the potential to reduce day-to-day conflict. Many conflict situations in organisations are generated by conflicting ideas on what is considered important to the organisation and this indicates that the staff may not share a common vision or understanding of the company’s goals and values.
PLANNING A COMMUNICATION STRATEGY
There are a number of steps that need to be followed in order to develop a communication strategy for an organisation. Simply put, they can be summarised as follows:
Step 1. Analyse your organisation’s communication requirements.
Step 2. Identify your stakeholders
Step 3. Identify the correct communicators
Step 4. Communicate the message via the correct medium
Step 5. Drawing up the communication plan
Step 6. Measuring and evaluating your communication
Step 1. Analysing our organisation’s communication requirements
It is always advisable to determine what the communication requirements are in the organisation in a manner that is objective and democratic. We recommend a paper based or electronic Communications Needs Assessment. The purpose of this assessment will be to understand the specific communication needs of the stakeholders. The assessment should survey the types of messages in the organisation, the preferred communication channels and timing of the communication. It is always advisable to interview the management in order to gain an understanding of their expectations in terms of communication.
The following are common questions asked in a Communications Needs Assessment.
- Which communication channels do you use / read and how often?
- How do you prefer to receive communication on various issues?
- Please rate your line manager’s communication skills.
- Please rate the written communication in your workplace.
- Please rate the communication skills of leadership in the organisation.
Step 2. Identify your stakeholders
An effective communication strategy consists of messages that are delivered to all the appropriate audiences. For this to happen, you must identify the key stakeholders. Stakeholders are any people or groups of people with an interest in the communication.
Here are some examples of stakeholder groupings:
- Staff members
- Middle Management
- Senior Management
- Investment community
- Government and regulators
- Communities in which the organisation operates
The following simple questions will assist you in identifying, prioritizing and planning communication for the various stakeholders by analyzing their communication needs, their attitudes, their role in the communication and their preferred communication channels.
- To which stakeholder grouping do they belong?
- Where do they work?
- What do you need to communicate to them / what do they need to know?
- How are they likely to receive the communication?
- How important are they to the success of the communication and its objectives?
- How likely are they to support the initiative?
- What is their referred channel of communication?
Step 3. Identify the correct communicators
Now that you have identified who you should be communicating to, it is possible to identify who should deliver the messages to the relevant stakeholders. Audiences need to hear the messages from a person that they perceive to be credible and trustworthy therefore you need to choose your designated communicators with care.
The choice of the key communicator/s is influenced by the following criteria:
- They should have knowledge of, and show support for the messages
- They should have knowledge of and credibility with the groups to which they communicate.
- They should have good interpersonal skills and the ability to listen and gain the confidence of the audience.
- They should have the ability to convey regular, clear, concise, timeous and focused messages to avoid distortion and miscommunication.
- They should be honest and encourage open two-way communication.
- They should be change agents.
Step 4: Communicate the messages via the correct medium
Choosing the correct communication medium for your message is crucial. Even though we are now a new era of rapid and instant communications, e-mail is not always appropriate. Delicate messages are sometimes best delivered in person. Videos can be appropriate where visual imagery is important. In short, selecting the proper communication medium is just as critical as choosing the correct communicators.
Sometimes you may want to tailor the message for different audiences and place the message in the communication mediums of their choice. It is very important to realise that it is often not enough to only use one communication medium. It is very unlikely that your audience will see or read the message if it is disseminated only once. Repeat your messages as you see fit, but try to use different approaches in order to avoid repetition or boredom.
Different Communication Mediums:
Presentations, Meetings and Workshops
Step 5: Drawing up the communication plan
Once you have ascertained your organisation’s communication requirements, identified your stakeholders and the bets possible communicators, and decided upon which communication mediums you will be using, you are in a position to begin drafting your communication plan.
A comprehensive communication plan should cover the following areas:
- An executive summary for the management who will approve the communication plan.
- A section identifying who your primary stakeholders are and why they have been identified
- A section outlining what actions or initiatives should be taken based on the issues, key messages and outcomes outlined in the communication strategy.
- An outline of communication channels that will be used for your communication strategy and when they will be used.
- A detailed plan on what actions are planned for each communication issue, listing the key messages, desired outcomes, actions, communication channels, stakeholders, timing and budget.
- The communication budget should outline the budget required in order to execute the communication plan.
Step 6: Measure and evaluate your communication
Communication measurement and evaluation is key to the strategic management of communications and no communication strategy can be deemed successful unless its success has been measured.
There are a number of methods to measure workplace communication, for example:
- General employee surveys
- Climate studies or staff moral surveys that measure the level of happiness of employees.
- Communication audits whereby you measure all elements of communication in the organisation
- Readership / viewership surveys whereby you measure the effectiveness of a publication or TV broadcast.
- Focus groups or interviews with staff in order to ask in depth questions about their preferences and opinions.
- A 360 degree measurement can also be used in order to measure the service levels within the communication division and those delivered to the primary internal clients. This measure helps to determine the actual service levels of an individual and is highly recommended.
Remember the following critical success factors of any communication strategy:
- Aligned the content and timing of communication with the overall business strategy of the organisation.
- Messages should be clear and consistent
- Only designated persons should communicate messages
- Repeat the message - people accept and adapt to changes at different rates of adjustment. In many instances, although a communication was well crafted, delivered to the appropriate audience through the proper medium and delivered by the proper sender, the message may not be not heard or internalized. As such, repeating critical messages is vital to the overall success of strategic communications.
- Check for understanding - it is your responsibility to ensure the message has been properly understood by the audiences. Feedback is critical. This can be gathered by using focus groups, surveys or face-to-face communications. This process will allow you to determine what parts of the message were heard and what to focus on in the next round of communications.
- Management must actively demonstrate support for the communication events. Line management must be used to provide legitimacy to the communication process. This can be achieved by communicating the messages to them before the rest of the staff so that they are prepared to handle staff queries or concerns.
- The correct communication channels should be used for the messages – e.g. email would not be appropriate if the message is sensitive or likely to cause unease.
- Gain support and assistance from different divisions and key persons within the company such as Human Resources and Union Representatives.