How to Build a Communications Plan 

Communication Plan

Let’s firstly just understand what we mean when we say communication. This is about the messaging that you’re going to be sending out to the business – different functions, different populations – we’ll come on to that. But it’s basically your communicated messaging in order to help people understand what’s going on, in order to help them to be engaged and committed, and to ultimately adopt new ways of working and behaviours, as per whatever your change programme needs. It’s absolutely critical in really building commitment and understanding through whatever type of change you’re doing. You’re always going to need to communicate, and you’re always going to need some level of communications plan.

Here are some really key things you want to be thinking about in order to build an effective communications plan:

  1. Understanding your audience – getting that stakeholder assessment piece right (see other blogs for more detail on this). This helps to make sure you’ve tailored your messaging according to what your audience needs to hear. 

  2. Creating core messages – I would always advise for any change program to articulate upfront four to five really key messages that describe what the change program is, how it’s going to be delivered, what the outcomes are, the overall impact, etc. Keep those so that you can keep threading them through different communications. That allows you to be really consistent with your messaging, and it also means if you’ve got several people sending out messages, you’re all being consistent with how you’re articulating the program. You don’t want one person over here calling it something else and talking about different outcomes than something you’ve written in the latest email over here. You really want that consistency. So, get those core messages down on paper, give them out to whoever is relevant in the change team or other stakeholders so they can be weaved into all your messaging.

  3. Identifying impactful channels and frequency – really important. Obviously, you want to look at all the most useful channels that you can use in the business, but also considering whether you want to do something different. Let’s not just send loads of emails! Consider perhaps videos, podcasts, or other more digital methods. Really thinking about different channels to engage people, again depending on what your change is, depending on your stakeholders, different audience needs, etc. Frequency, of course, as well will depend on the timeline that you’ve got in your change plan and who needs to know what when.

  4. Governance- it’s also worth spending some time just thinking about accountability and governance. Communications tend to be one of those things that get held up with senior stakeholders wanting to review and change words, and everyone wants to have a go at the draft. Really agree on that governance upfront. Don’t let that become a delay because 10 people want to read every email that goes out. Agree on the governance, agree on who gets the sign-off, agree on what type of communications, key senior leaders need to see, and try to limit the governance there because you want to drive accountability and ownership through the communications team so that you can get going on sending your comms out.

  5. Creating impactful content- obviously goes without saying! You really want to engage people. Make sure you’re thinking about that end person that’s going to be watching the video or reading the newsletter. What is it they want to know? It can be helpful to set up an evaluation approach so that over time you can monitor and review what’s being read, what isn’t, what are people engaging with, do they like it.

  6. Two-way communication – could be key if you’re doing a big program – not just sending stuff out but asking for feedback back. You might create a mailbox for your program where people can write in and ask questions, that type of thing, so you’re really setting up that two-way communication.

  7. Senior leadership commitment – really a key role. Trying to use them as a channel when you’ve got a really important message to send. You know, you want to use that person who everyone’s going to listen to. So think about who those kind of people of influence are at the leadership level to get messages to land. I would always also see if you’ve got a communications plan and it’s fairly big and it might be a Microsoft Project or something, have that kind of one-page summary version that just looks out over broad time frames, gives a sense of what the messages will be, so that senior stakeholders who ask what’s going on on comms, you’ve got that to kind of show them to give comfort around what’s going on.

Best practice principles

Here are some best practice principles with regards to actually writing your communication:

  • Clear and concise

  • Avoid jargon

  • Tailor to the audience

  • Be consistent- repeat it and repeat it again!

  • Use channels that work, and use a mix of channels where possible

  • Cascade from leaders through to managers

  • Be transparent and treating people as adults

  • Tell them the most important thing first- don’t leave it until 5 paragraphs down!

  • Don’t leave a void: if you’re on a long-term change program and there’s a period of time where there’s not much to say, at least tell people there’s not much to say! Or ‘you’ll hear from us again in the next quarter’ – if you leave a void, people will fill it with the wrong information themselves

Change Journey

In terms of communications over a period of time and what to tackle when, always consider tying your comms to your overall change journey. Think about the following example: 

  1. Awareness: starting to make them aware, and not overloading with too much information upfront

  2. Understanding: beginning to get into the detail so that people understand the impact on them and what the change really means

  3. Belief: demonstrating the benefits and value to help people believe in the change and to see it for themselves (success stories can start to come in here)

  4. Commitment: reinforcing successes so far and the value gained, and demonstrating real leadership commitment

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