The Communications Plan is the document that clearly describes:
- what needs to be communicated,
- to whom,
- how (see Figure 1 ), and
- when communications are to be made.
Think about how Bolton Council stressed, "the communication of the implementation plan to the staff is an extremely important phase" (see case example).
Case example: Bolton Metropolitan Council's use of a Communication Plan
In Bolton a council director sponsored an IT implementation project, called "Making Change Happen". The implementation project team was made up of a full-time project manager and a group of part-time managers from the departments that would be affected by the IT implementation. The team defined a very detailed implementation plan which established a statement of objectives, sub-objectives for each objective, measures for each objective, a description of how citizens would benefit, a description of how staff would benefit, and a description of how the IT system would help the council to meet central government targets.
According to Sue Devlin, Senior ICT Manager of Bolton Council, the communication of the plan to the staff was an extremely important phase. Having produced a detailed design and analysis the team was in possession of a large amount of very convincing and motivating information. It was critical that all this hard work from prior phases was fully used.
Therefore, the council decided to develop a series of workshops and team briefings followed by managers' talks to their respective staff. A special newsletter was also used to communicate the new developments.
Bolton made full use of content from their analysis and design phases in their Communications Plan to explain, sell, motivate, influence, convince and persuade all stakeholder groups to support their project.
Source: Sue Devlin, Senior ICT Manager and documents.
Who needs to be communicated with
The Communications Plan starts by listing all the stakeholders in the project. These will include all those stakeholder groups that are affected by the changes described in the business case, for example:
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Most importantly the stakeholder groups will include the staff whose job or department is involved in the business processes to be changed.
Identified stakeholders are best thought of as groups - not all the people in each group will have all the same informational needs but their questions will be more similar than those from other groups. Considering each group in turn is a useful way of brainstorming what information you will need to communicate to them.
What is being communicated?
After having listed the stakeholder groups, the plan will then be, for each group , to list what needs to be communicated at different points in the project. These are the communications goals and are different for each type of stakeholder and for each point in the project. For example, at the start of the project, all groups will typically need to know why the change needs to be implemented and what their role in the project is. As the project continues all groups will need to know what the results are. This highlights the need for different communications at different times in the project. The stakeholders need to be kept motivated and interested in the change project to ensure their ongoing support.
The best way to understand the communications needs of each of the stakeholder groups (at different times in the project) is to regularly ask representatives from these groups some of the following:
- have they heard about the change project? (a good first question - just to make sure)
- do they understand why these changes need to happen?
- do they agree?
- do they know what is happening in the project?
- have they heard about the (great) results?
- what do they think? (very open catchall question)
These types of questions will highlight communications needs and potential areas of opposition.
How to communicate
Having described the stakeholder groups, and what their communications needs are, the Communications Plan will then list the various media that can be used. These include:
- regular broadcast emails
- town hall or community meetings
- customer clinics
- a special project website or portal
- on-line chat room
- conference(s) or training courses
- desk dropped paper newsletter
- telephone help desk or email help desk
The choice of media depends upon the list of target stakeholder groups and the message to be communicated.
Some stakeholders may not have email access and some may prefer a face-to-face medium. For example, at Leeds , t he adoption of a CRM strategy was initially communicated to all staff. This communication was carried out simply, by having managers talk about it to their staff. No doubt the staff appreciated the directness of the approach.
Alternatively, in Bolton , the communication process was developed by a series of workshops and team briefings, followed by managers' talks to their respective staff. A special newsletter was also used to communicate the new developments.
The Communications Plan should also have a timeline that will allow for the change in communication objectives as the project progresses. For example, typically, at the start of the change project the stakeholders will want to know the justifications for the change and how will it affect them. As the project proceeds they will want to know if it is on time and if the expected benefits are being realised. Most importantly, the intent to make the change, and why, should be communicated as fast as possible (i.e. before leaks) in order to promote trust.
Two way communication between the change project team and all the stakeholders should be available. Feedback from the different stakeholders is not just expected by the stakeholders but is also valuable to the project team. This feedback will provide helpful advice (e.g. from staff with high citizen involvement), and give the stakeholders a 'say' in the change process. This is explained in more detail in Empowerment and Involvement.
The consequences of not using a communications plan will include:
- stakeholders are not convinced of the need for the change
- an increase in distrust of the change-leaders by the stakeholders
- stakeholders hinder the change project
- stakeholders do not help the change project
- stakeholders are not aware of the resulting benefits of the project
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