Five Things to Stop Doing in Your Communication Plans

A communication plan is a typical deliverable for almost any transformation or technology implementation. However, all too often, the same tired and ineffectual communication approaches are put into these plans with little consideration of what really works or analysis of how to best reach intended audiences.

The following are a few of those typical communication approaches that we should change:

      1. Don’t simply rely on the “cascade” to disseminate your message. How many times have you seen a communication plan that primarily relies upon a communication strategy where the president communicates to the vice presidents, who communicates the message to the directors, who are supposed to communicate to the managers and so on down to the rank and file? Unfortunately, this “cascade” communication model has a history of failure. Perhaps the message is corrupted somewhere along the chain (like the old telephone game) or someone along the line forgets to pass the message along. Either way, the cascade breaks down and large segments of the target stakeholder population end up with an incomplete, incorrect, or no message.Solution: While the cascade can still be a component of communications, it should not be used alone. It is best to have multiple supplementary communication channels (from positional leaders in mid-level management, and influential individuals who can share messages peer-to-peer).
      2. Don’t try to “boil the ocean” to reach your intended audience. American folk philosopher, Will Rogers, reportedly quipped that the way to end the U-Boat menace during World War I was to boil the ocean and watch the German U-Boats feebly pop to the surface. Of course, he was joking, but his solution is reminiscent of many communication plans that squander resources on unnecessarily broad and undirected outreach methods that tend to lose sight of the real audience.Solution: Communications should be targeted and carefully tracked. With the right stakeholder analysis, you can define the most effective and precise communication channels to reach your target audience. Furthermore, this approach can better help you manage your limited resources.
      3. Don’t believe “once and done” is enough. Research shows that people need to hear a message approximately seven times to fully embrace it. In advertising, this is called the effective frequency.Solution: For stakeholder communications, the message needs to be recurring because we can’t be confident saying that we sent one email, or had one conversation and believe the recipients genuinely get it. Instead, the message should be repeated – using a varied assortment of complementary media or channels – to effectively get the messages heard, understood, and embraced. People make connections, triangulate, and piece together their understanding over multiple exposures to the message. This same concept is seen in learning and development where adult learners need to hear a new job concept seven times before fully understanding and adopting it.
      4. You can’t count on recipients always reading your email and the attachment. Email remains one of the prime communication channels used to engage employees. But, evidence from Microsoft sponsored research says that one in every four emails is deleted without being opened. Additionally, 62% of the time when people do read the email they still somehow lose the attachment (deleted or misfiled) and don’t have the attachments when they need them later. This isn’t too surprising since the average office worker sends and receives over 100 emails each day.Solution: If you’re hoping to share information via email with attachments, you need to consider and manage the risk that your intended audience may never have it. Alternatively, you might also consider some of the email marketing service providers (such as MailChimp) that provide advanced analytics to help you track email success rates. Another simple solution just could be to summarize the message of the attachment in a few bullet points in the transmitting email.
      5. Stop worrying about how the messenger sounds – focus on how the recipient feels. Communicators often agonize over the smallest word choices in an attempt to get the message to sound right and to reflect well on the sender. But, when it comes time for the recipient to read or hear the message, they are only thinking about what it means to them and they really aren’t concerned with how the sender comes across. Solution: Think about how easy it will be to interpret the message, how obvious the call to action may be, and how the message leaves the recipient feeling (confident, informed, trusted, ready to take action; or confused, irritated, ignored). So instead, ensure your message has a “what’s in it for me” that targets your audiences’ needs. This syncs with the old adage that people remember how a leader made them feel, not the decisions the leader made.

At North Highland we view effective stakeholder communication as essential to managing in today’s environment of rapid change and information overload. In addition, our marketing and communications division, Sparks Grove, brings deep expertise in human experience design for communications and can complement our consulting services.  Taking a hard look at how we’re all communicating with employees, customers, and external stakeholders is time well spent.

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