It’s a decade since journalist and trend-spotter Malcolm Gladwell introduced us to the idea of the 10000-hour rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell contended that amongst a range of factors practice is the most common denominator in outstanding success. While even Gladwell himself acknowledges this is an oversimplification, the principle applies to many fields including communication management.
One challenge communicators describe is getting into the practice of effective communication planning. This topic comes up frequently in communication training that I facilitate, both at the level of emerging practitioners and for more senior communicators. “Our organisation just wants the outcome, they don’t value the planning.” Or, “We have to have a plan for everything but then it goes into the drawer”. The approach for many practitioners is to find an example of a plan that has worked and to try to adopt that into their organisation.
The risk with this ‘template-led’ approach to communication planning is that frequently a communication plan documents an approach but does not display the thinking that has been applied to ensure that approach is right for that environment.
Too often, communication plans are based on ‘here’s one we prepared earlier’ rather than developed through a consistent process.
Building the communication planning habit
It’s not just Malcolm Gladwell who encourages the idea of practice to achieve mastery. Across fields as diverse as science, the performing arts, personal fitness and writing – whether to achieve greatness or for pure enjoyment – habit-building is an important foundation.
For communicators, treating every communication, regardless of scale or of how ‘business as usual’ it might seem, as an opportunity to build the planning habit provides a number of benefits.
Challenging our ‘first thinking’. While many communication decisions are based on sound instinct and applied experience, testing our thinking each time can help challenge assumptions.
Building awareness of the function. While it can be rewarding to have the skills to improve communication, showing how the process works demonstrates to stakeholders that communication planning is a professional process, not just an intuitive talent.
Amplifying capability. By showing others how something is done, we do not diminish our own capability as communicators. Rather, we grow the skills across our organisations or client groups. In contemporary organisations, everybody is a communicator. Giving people a process to challenge their own thinking is a valuable contribution to improving communication across the board.
We get better. Using a consistent approach allows for communicator’s creativity to come to the fore in the way that solutions are developed in response to the needs and outcomes required.
The COMMS Planning approach provides a simple five steps that can be applied to every communication activity to challenge ‘first thoughts’ and helping get better outcomes from your efforts.
A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.
Communication planning does not have to be difficult. In the first in a series of simple checklists and tools from the Meaning Business COMMS Plan toolkit, here are seven essential factors for an effective plan.
Thanks to all the wonderful clients, collaborators, partners, and communicators for a wonderful year in 2018. Meaning Business will be taking a little break from 20 December until 2 January. See you next year.
Earlier this year I was working with a Head of Communications in a government agency that has undergone significant structural transformation and operational change over the past two years.
She was working on deepening the engagement between leaders and employees in different areas and had asked for some advice on how to ensure communication was flowing two ways. I asked, “What business as usual channels do you rely on today?”
“We don’t use the term BAU any longer. Transformation is going to continue. Change is business as usual and we now adopt a continuous improvement approach” she said.
It was a moment of absolute clarity for me. How many of us think of ‘BAU’ communication as distinct from the projects and initiatives that come through the door, or into the inbox.
BAU is dead. What now?
As part of the IC Kollectif IC In 2017 Project, I had some thoughts at the start of the year about how communicators can work with other areas to learn, innovate and adapt. But this realisation, half way through the year, made me consider what communicators can do in times of perpetual change, not just to service their organisations, but to ready themselves for ‘no more BAU’.
Strength in shared practices. Continue to talk about what works, not just with other communicators, but across disciplines. Ask the questions like “why did this work in this environment?” But don’t just ask communicators. Ask marketers, change managers, leaders and innovators.
Invest in development. Don’t wait for your company to value you. Skill up, both communication skills and non-traditional skills: design thinking, user experience and business acumen.
Change what you can. Look for the opportunities to add the value that our profession can deliver. Be brave.
“It’s not me, it’s you.” Know when to stop pushing the rock uphill. There are amazing organisations that foster and grow innovation. If yours is not one of them, find one that is.
Keep the faith. As a communicator, a great day at the office or in the field is a humbling thing. Bank those experiences as a reminder of why great internal communication matters.
What does a great day in the office or the field look like?
When did your communication activity lead to an outcome that furthered the organisation, the employees and the leaders? Creating connection, improving performance, perhaps just a moment of insight quoted back to you. Share what your ‘great day in the office’ looks like below.