Communication 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 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:
- Situation analysis
- Key Messages
- Target Audience
- 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
This 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
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.
|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?