7 Steps to Writing an Internal Communications Plan

Communication-PlanCommunication is critical within any business setting, but most importantly within a manufacturing facilities − where the right communication can really impact change and translate into business success.

What’s the best way to communicate?  How much should you communicate?  How do you make sure your messages are heard?  This guide will take you step-by-step through the communication process.  It has simple, practical, easy-to-follow information you can put to use immediately.

In another Channel Instincts post (4 Steps to Building an Internal Communication Plan), we laid out the planning side of an internal communications plan. Now that the pre-work has been completed, it’s time to write the plan.

Step 1: Background

Establish the need for the communication plan

Mission-vision-goalsThis section seeks to establish the need for the communication plan and focuses on the background or history of your location.  This section enables you to understand how the organization reached the present situation.

It is important for this section to include a discussion of the organization’s mission, vision and values.  The statements contained within the mission, vision and values impact all aspects of communication.  For example, if part of your plant’s mission is to improve safety, this message should make its way into the communication plan.

Examples of things or events that may shape your current situation are:

  • A merger or acquisition
  • Downsizing
  • Union strike
  • Attitude or behavior of management

Include in the background:

  • Bullet point format list of major events leading up to the time you write the plan—the events and issues that have determined the need for the communication plan
  • Mission statement—all communication should be linked with the mission or goals of the plant
  • Statement of vision and values—all communication should reflect the thoughts contained in these document

Step 2: Situation Analysis

Get to the heart of the problem or opportunity

Planning and CommunicatingThe situation analysis is an analysis of the root cause of the issues within your location.  When creating your situation analysis, first examine the issues to be addressed in the plan.  Then next to each issue, list the facts that support it, both positive and negative.  This activity helps you get to the heart of the problem or opportunity.  For example:

Issue Facts, or Effects of Issue
The merger between XYZ and ABC companies is not complete, and the two cultures are not fully integrated. 1. Low productivity
2. High turnover
3. Redundancy of various functions
4. Greater market share
5. Positioned as industry leader
6. Insecurity among employees—lots of rumors
Recent downsizing was handled poorly, resulting in heightened mistrust and insecurity. 1. Low productivity
2. Loss of key customers
3. Lower operating expenses
4. Communication department was not involved in downsize planning

Now that some issues have been identified, examine the root cause.  In this example the root cause may be:

Employees are perceiving the company’s aggressive growth agenda as a threat to job security.

Until you treat this cause, you will continually deal with its effects.  Once you determine the cause, you can formulate communication strategies that effectively treat the effects.  The final component of the situation analysis is to identify the root cause.

Step 3: Key Messages

The best messages are simple, straightforward and easy for employees to grasp and personalize

Employee CommunicationWhat are the major overall messages you need to share?  These should be aligned with the issues raised in the situation analysis as well as the agenda of company, business unit and plant leader.  The best messages are simple, straightforward and easy for employees to grasp and personalize.  It’s usually best to have about five key messages–too many can cause a loss of focus.

Example:

  1. The new re-engineering process has full support of management and the board of directors.  We are committed to making this program work for the good of our shareholders, customers and employees.
  2. The gain-sharing, restructuring and training teams have been created with full support from both union and management and will contribute to the overall operating efficiency at the plant.
  3. Safety is a top priority at the plant.

Step 4: Target Audience

Who are you trying to talk to?

Communication-PlanningIdentify to whom your plan is directed.  You may have more than one audience, or a primary and secondary audience.  For example, in a plant environment, your primary audience may be the primary employees, but many of your key messages should also be communicated to the company headquarters or peer plants.  They should be listed as your secondary audience and different tactics may apply, however the key messages should be related.

Step 5: Objectives

What are the outcomes you expect?

Here’s where we get to the “guts” of the communication plan.  What do you want your plan to do?  What are the outcomes you expect or want as a result of the plan?  This section should reflect your key messages and business objectives.  It should also be aligned with the feedback received from the data gathering portion of the plan.

Objectives vary from key messages in that key messages are what you want to communicate.  Objectives are how you want your key messages used.

For example:

  1. Promote an understanding of the re-engineering process throughout the primary and salaried workforce levels.
  2. Communicate the components of the gain-sharing, restructuring and training teams.
  3. Educate employees on the importance of safety within a manufacturing environment.

Step 6: Tactics/Implementation

What is it you actually want to DO?

communications plan stepsNow it’s time to put it all together.  Using your key messages and objectives, what is it you actually want to DO to make your plan work and fulfill your goals.   What are you going to do about the issues raised in the data gathering or background sections?  Use a grid like the one below to physically outline your tactics.  You may want to organize according to date to create a calendar of events.

Message Audience Delivery Responsibility
Why re-engineering is necessary Primary workers Plant-wide presentation Business leader
Small group Q&A sessions Plant leader
Shift meeting – examples of other re-engineering efforts and results Shift supervisor (organization development leader to supply info.)
Explanation of  gain-sharing All plant employees Distribute gain-sharing brochure Plant communication team
Plant wide email with bullet points of info Plant finance leader
Presentation to union Gain-sharing team
Safety in numbers program All plant employees Program kick off celebration Safety leader
Show safety video Safety leader
Testimonials from those hurt in the past Coordinated by safety leader

Step 7: Evaluation and Assessment

Evaluation and assessment phase is critical in determining the overall success of your communication plan.

employee engagementEach tactic or implementation item should have a corresponding assessment tool.  The evaluation and assessment phase is critical in determining the overall success of your communication plan.  Often, communication is considered non-quantifiable and difficult to measure.  Your communication plan must be carried through this stage if you are to prove its effectiveness.

There are several ways to evaluate and assess:

  • Surveys—surveys are used wherever there is a need to explain the motivations and attitudes driving behavior, to anticipate likely reaction to an announcement or establish a baseline of information in order to measure the effects of a communication plan.
  • Focus groups—a focus group is usually made up of 10 to 12 carefully targeted participants who are questioned extensively on their thoughts and feelings about a particular issue, product, service or communication tool.
  • Interviews—go out and talk to people.  Find out what people think or feel face-to-face.

The final component of this phase is stating the correction action based on the evaluation.  If the assessment uncovered constructive criticism, include this is your plan and the steps you will use to correct the situation in the future.

Any thoughts or ideas on what’s worked for you?  Share your comments with us!

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4 Steps to Building an Internal Communication Plan

Effective internal communication is critical to your manufacturing successCommunication is critical within any business setting, but most importantly within a manufacturing facilities − where the right communication can really impact change and translate into business success.

What’s the best way to communicate?  How much should you communicate?  How do you make sure your messages are heard?  This guide will take you step-by-step through the communication process.  It has simple, practical, easy-to-follow information you can put to use immediately.

This post also discusses strategic planning − why it’s done, how it’s done, and why it’s important.  But it’s not all strategy.  You will also find information about developing and implementing your communications plan, assigning responsibilities and mapping out your tactics.

Why strategic communication planning?

If you are to succeed and prosper in your industry, then you must contribute significantly and measurably to strategic management.  You must think, act, and manage communication programs strategically, recording measurable results that contribute to the accomplishment of the organization’s mission.  Remember, the only reason organizational communication programs exist is to achieve measurable results that help the organization realize its mission.

What is a communication plan?

A communication plan should be closely linked with the mission, goals, objectives, strategies and tactics of the organization in a measurable wayA communication plan should be closely linked with the mission, goals, objectives, strategies and tactics of the organization in a measurable way.  A communication plan is a written statement of what communication actions you will engage in to support the accomplishment of specific organizational goals, the time frame for carrying out the plan, the budget and measurable results.

A suggested model for a communication plan has the following elements:

  1. Background
  2. Situation analysis
  3. Key Messages
  4. Target Audience
  5. Objectives
  6. Tactics/Implementation
  7. Evaluation and assessment

How long a time period should the plan cover?

The period your plan should cover depends on several variables, such as the issues your plant is dealing with.  It is suggested that your plan be updated on an annual basis.

How to begin building your internal communication plan

1. Form a plant communications committee

How to begin building your internal communication planThis team will be responsible for creating the plant-specific strategic communication plan and then executing the tactics. Your plant team should consist of the following:

1 Plant leader
1 Salaried employee
2 Primary employees (senior employee and newer employee)
1 union leadership member, if plant is unionized
1 communications employee (person currently responsible for plant communications)

Your team should be representative of the plant workforce. It’s important to involve all levels of the organization in the planning process. Employees must feel a part of the process to take ownership in the plan and execute it enthusiastically.

Team members should be chosen based on the following:

  • Willingness to take part
  • Show an interest in improving plant-wide communication
  • Willingness to take responsibility for executing parts of the plan
  • Have a good understanding of plant dynamics. Pick employees who tend to know the latest hot issues in the plant and who have insight on how their peers prefer to receive information
  • Enjoy working as part of a team

Purpose of the team:

  • Improve communications throughout the plant.
  • Serve as an advisory counsel for the plant manager, union leaders or others who wish to share information within the plant.
  • Develop new vehicles for communicating.
  • Improve existing plant communication vehicles.
  • Be a liaison between organizational levels to relay information both upwards and downwards.
  • Improve two-way communication between management and primary workers.
  • Serve as a resource for all plant personnel to use when needing to share information.

Choose a communications committee team leader. It will be the responsibility of this person to delegate assignments, schedule meetings and basically, keep the team on track. Often, it will be this team leader who will serve a direct liaison between the committee and plant management.

Finally, once your committee has assembled and a leader is chosen, a team charter needs to be drafted. Clearly define on paper the purpose of your team. What do you want to accomplish and by when? It is then imperative that plant management supports this charter and agreement is reached on the expectations of the committee.

2. Review the business plan

Analysis is the first step to communication planning.What business are you in? What’s the plant’s mission? Who are your customers and markets? What’s the current outlook and forecast for the plant? Who’s the competition and what do you know about them?

Analysis is the first step to communication planning. You must know where you are now before deciding which way to go next. It is important to understand all factors of the business that impact communication. In addition, it will often be the business objectives and forecasts that will need communicated throughout your location.

It will be important not only to review your plant’s mission and goals, but also the business unit in which you work. Next, identify communication themes based on business goals you will choose to be communicated at your site. For example, you may feel it is important to stress the company’s core values, but also drive messages on operational excellence, customer intimacy or product leadership.

3. Gather data

It’s important to have the right information before beginning your plan. There are several things to identify in the data gathering part of communication planning that require information from your audience–the employees at your location.

Information to be gathered:

  • Effectiveness of existing communications
  • How employees prefer to receive information
  • Current “hot issues” in the plant
  • Things that impede communication
  • Suggestions for improving communication

How to gather data:

  • Surveys—Give employees a list of questions to be answered, either written or verbally.  Survey participation is usually greatest when it is anonymous and confidential.  If it is a written survey, include a self-addressed stamped envelope.  However, response rates tend to increase dramatically when you allow employees to complete the survey during working hours in a confidential environment.  Phone surveys are also an option.
  • Focus Groups—Focus groups work best if they contain between 10 to 12 people and the groups consist of employees at relatively the same organizational level. Focus groups are an easy way to involve a large number of employees over a short time. Holding a focus group prior to issuing a survey is also a good way to make sure your survey addresses the right issues.
  • One-on-one interviews—allow employees to share their views quickly and candidly. Interviews are more time-consuming, but produce instant feedback.

4. Analyze the data

Review the data gathered and understand the attitude and concerns of the employees. Look for recurring themes or issues – your communication plan should address them.

Use a SWOT analysis to look at the data. SWOT focuses on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a given situation.  Perform this exercise using your current communication system, plugging in the data gathered.

Performance Area Now Future
Strengths—what communication practices are working?
Weaknesses—what weaknesses need to be overcome to improve communication?
Opportunities—what communication opportunities exist that haven’t previously been recognized?
Threats—what threats must be overcome?

That’s it for the pre-work.  My next post will focus on the 7 steps to writing an internal communications plan. What ideas and examples do you have?

9 Simple Principles To Avoid Badvertising

How to avoid badvertisingBadvertising, or bad advertising, is all too common. Companies know they should be advertising to get their brand or product in front of potential buyers, but too often they miss the mark.

Sometimes it’s an effort to cram too much into one ad (I explore this problem in my post 5 Simple Tips for Creating More Effective Advertising). Other times it’s just creativity run amok.

“This is going to go viral” must be in someone’s head. Perhaps it does, but only by bloggers who watch for examples of badvertising. (Yes, they are out there. Let me know of your site if you’re one of them.)

Follow these simple principles to avoid bad advertising.

1.    Don’t pay to talk to yourself.

Media costs real dollars. Don’t waste them patting yourself on the back. Your prospects aren’t sitting around waiting to hear, act or believe anything your company has to say – especially if you’re busy talking about yourself.

2.    “You can’t bore people into buying your products.” – David Ogilvy

Why pay to blend in? Campaigns based on “quality” and “service” as well as other cliche ideas are guaranteed not stand out from the babble of the marketplace. Challenge yourself by translating USP’s in a new and interesting way.

3.    Don’t target your audience.

To comprehend this you must understand the “missing moose theory.” Come September 1st, the first day of moose hunting season, Tom Bodett doesn’t see any moose in Homer, Alaska. It’s because their being targeted. In other words, don’t target your audience or they’ll run, too.

4.    Don’t talk out of both sides of your media at one.

Establish a brand personality and stick with it.

5.    Don’t promise the moon, unless you’re NASA.

People know hype when they see it, and it turns them off. The best ads are about real situations with real benefits being addressed.

6.    Acknowledge that nobody roots for Goliath.

Nobody cares if you’re number one if your product doesn’t benefit them. So don’t flaunt you market position, even if you are number one.

7.    Eat jumbo shrimp.

There are no rules in advertising. Ads that break out of the norm are winners.

8.    Swing for the fences.

Nobody remembers Babe Ruth as the “Strike-Out King.”

9.    Fail.

Don’t be afraid to miss once-in-a-while.

Great advertising communicates powerfully. Badvertising is shouting for attention.

Avoiding badvertisingUltimately, you want to create advertising that will do one of these three things:

  • Build your brand
  • Generate leads
  • Drive sales

The temptation is to have it do all three.

Work to make your advertising meaningful by telling your story in an engaging and relevant way that will activate a relationship to create a customer (hopefully for life). The provide a simple, clear call to action.

Do you have other ways to avoid badvertising?  One of my favorites is this post from Miriam Hara in her Hoop!a blog: Bad Advertising: It’s Not In The Brief.

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