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Building the planning habit

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.

 

FindReplaceCommsPlan

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.

7 Essential Communication Plan Success Factors

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.

THE 7 ESSENTIAL COMMUNICATION PLAN SUCCESS FACTORS

A global perspective on the state of internal communication

IC Kollectif has launched a unique addition to the internal communication canon. The ebook, Disrupting the Function of IC, A Global Perspective featuring contributions from 30 global internal communication leaders.

What is impressive is the degree to which editor Lise Michaud has facilitated diversity in the conversation about practice. This is truly a global communication guide. With voluntary contributors from every region, the guide has captured the differences in the current state of how practitioners need to respond to their organisations.

Diversity brings difference, and a particularly exciting aspect of the project is the range of different opinions. There are few places (outside Twitter) where there is such representation of views and practices that span all the IC practitioner tribes; IABC, Global Alliance, CIPR amongst others.

There are divergent views on how to approach the ongoing symbiosis between IC and technology, on engagement, on the most important skills and the biggest challenges. Communication and communications.

Some of the common themes include:

  • Change is constant, so skills and experiences in responding to changing environments continues to be essential for the communicators.
  • Technology has been and will continue to be a factor for communication practice.
  • The need for the profession to hold the line in terms of ethical practice, dialogue and creating accountability.
  • Liam Fitzpatrick’s key takeaway stands out for me as the common sense that is far from common – stop looking for ‘the next big thing’ and focus on the outcomes.

I feel privileged to be in the same company as the other contributors and applaud all the authors for bringing current and new thinking to one place.

Let the conversations begin!

The 222 page ebook can be downloaded from IC Kollectif (free subscription required for download).

http://www.ickollectif.com/single-post/2017/06/11/Disrupting-the-Function-of-IC—A-Global-Perspective

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Making CSR Communication Pop

Cutting through the noise and getting people to engage in your CSR program can be a challenge. Here’s six tips in two minutes for making your message have greater impact.

These tips and more form part of the next Shorter COMMS Plan workshop being held on 22 June. If you work in community engagement, at an NGO or charity, or simply want to improve your communication results, the workshop will provide you practical tools and tips.

 

When the Kotter change model creates a disconnect for mid-size change

Applying the Kotter eight-step model indiscriminately to project-level initiatives and operational change leads to challenges.

Generating a ‘sense of urgency’ for mid-level changes creates unnecessary competition for share of mind.

In a typical large organisation undergoing transformation, there are likely to be dozens of project-level initiatives and concurrent operational change.

The paradox of change urgency (1)There is a paradox. Urgency at an organisational, strategic level provides momentum for the projects and initiatives that are necessary at the deeper levels of the structure. However, at an operational level, the sense of urgency translates into confusion and an inability to absorb the change impacts.

The underlying need for change at the project or operational level needs to be rolled up to the overall strategic imperative. Creating urgency around the detail of the change creates noise. This manifests itself as an increased request for project branding, change-specific communication channels.

Solutions include:

  • Ensure that the narrative of urgency remains at the enterprise level
  • ‘Bundle’ change impacts across programs
  • Implement at an operational or individual level as rapidly as possible based on the capacity for change

Institute change by designing for action

Consider the broader world beyond organisational life. As citizens and consumers, we conduct all kinds of complex behaviours and transactions ‘online’. The online environment changes constantly. Yet there is no change management plan for ‘the internet.’ Methodologies such at UX and User-Centered Design ensure that (successful) apps or sites or technologies are intuitive and based on making action easy to complete.

These disciplines do not apply only to online and technological change. The ability to design the ‘pointy end’ of change within organisations in a way that enables action at the right time without requiring substantial training or commitment becomes an opportunity for making continual concurrent change something that is easy to digest.

As Bill Quirke writes in Making the Connections, “Organisations are short changing themselves by not seeing communication through to the end – converting awareness into action. The real value of internal communication is to help business ends by enabling employees to turn strategy into action” (Quirke, 2008).

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce.

3 Keys to managing multiple change projects in changing contexts

Why change is complex...

Why change is complex…

Writing in Accelerate/XLR8 (2014), Kotter recognised complexity and the shifts in organisational structure and networks, and the need for agile methods of mobilising people within the organisation.

In practice, change at the project level has three qualities that can complicate the effective management and delivery of benefits or the desired outcomes.

Concurrent – there are seldom single projects underway in an organisation. Depending on the degree of internal organisation and prioritisation, these initiatives may or may not be coordinated.

Continuous – while individual projects come to an end (and ideally deliver their targeted benefits), there are typically a sequence of projects being rolled
out. There is no fixed future state, only a series of iterations. The idea of ‘versions’ of the future state is a powerful metaphor for this: change version X.X.

Compound – change impacts from one initiative have flow-on implications for other initiatives. When delivered top-down, the aggregate compound impact of change can be miscalculated. This can be an overestimation of the ability to absorb change at an individual level, or it can be a failure to calculate capacity for the impacts of accumulated incremental change.

In the most effective organisations there is coordination of impacts across the range of concurrent projects. There is strategic value in effective governance that provides alignment of the intention of transformation with the operational reality of the ‘current state’ organisation.

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce, a free resource packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

So much information, so little time

Remember a little while back when you couldn’t go to a workshop or a conference on change, leadership, strategy, innovation or communication without the keynote quoting the Shift Happens/Did You Know? research?

I certainly used those numbers on more than one occasion with leaders trying to understand the shifting nature of communication in the social era, and the #futureofwork in a post-global economy. The 2015 version from Erik Qualman has updated references to social marketing and we see the exponential scale of social shift.

But if you want to immerse yourself in the real-time version of this, then interetlivestats.com is your go-to resource.

Watch this number rise for each social platform, realtime.

Watch this number rise for each social platform, realtime.

Here you can watch the sheer overwhelming volume of online activity tick over.

With so much data being created, accrued, shared and stored, it prompts a few questions:

  • how do we focus on the most useful things instead of getting carried with the current?
  • how do we add value to the volume, through interpretation and insight?
  • how do we maintain a voice while recognising ours is one of billions?
  • how do we make sure we are not just adding noise?

These aren’t questions just for communication professionals. They are core questions for us as people in the age of mass data.

Making your message work for everyone

There is a well known Indian folk story that describes how a group of blind men who encounter an elephant all have very different descriptions based on their individual experience of the parts, rather than the whole. When we communicate, it is important to break down ‘the elephant’ into the parts that make the most sense to the most people.

The 4C Communication test ensures that your messages are clear enough to describe the whole to four very different people.

4C Communication Test

  • A colleague: This tests clarity and depth of understanding. It is the ‘fact check’ version of a message. A colleague will be able to understand the concepts and the detail of the message. Framing your message for a colleague tests for credibility.
  • A child: This forces us to use the most essential elements to create a simple message. Simultaneously conceptual and concrete, the ‘for a child’ test is a challenge of eliminating all but the core. Framing your message for a child tests simplicity.
  • A customer: This message test asks us to focus on the ‘so what’ of a message and to consider the relevance to the ‘other’. How does this help me? Why should I care? Framing your message for a customer tests relevance.
  • A cab driver: Be prepared to explain yourself and to hear a counter-perspective*. Does your message stand up to the scrutiny of a stranger? Framing your message for a cab driver tests for opposition.

There are other variations of this. Consider the personas that would be useful tests in your environment.

*In no way am I suggesting that cab drivers are essentially argumentative. However, my unscientific sampling spread over many years would indicate that many are conversationalists who have a sense of public opinion, often based on talk radio. 

Get the foundations right for 2015

How many times have you heard “I can’t believe it is December already!” from colleagues or family lately?

The end of the calendar year provokes responses ranging from shock at the speed of time passing, through to satisfaction at the achievements of the year, to mild panic as people look to their plans for 2014 and realise what is missing.

For communicators, December is a time to be able to reflect on the achievements of the waning year, while setting up for success in 2015.

Capture knowledge from the year

  • Take time to capture the lessons, issues and achievements of the year. If you already have a reporting process, pull out the highlights.
  • If communication projects didn’t have a formal post-implementation review, take time to capture successes and the areas that needed improvement.
  • Consider an annual ‘communication report’ to key stakeholders.
  • Consider whether to seek recognition for quality work. The IABC Gold Quills are open for entries until 7 January.*

Plan for the year ahead

  • Understand the priorities for the businesses, teams and clients you support for 2015.
  • If they do not have clear plans yet, use the opportunity to schedule communication planning sessions with your key stakeholders.
  • Determine how to address any gaps or improvements from past communication projects.

Prepare yourself

  • Take time to assess your capabilities based on what was achieved and what will happen in the year ahead.
  • Plan development options such as participating in professional associations, seeking coaching or undertaking skills training to fill any gaps.

Keeping plans simple

The pace of change in organisations requires us to be adaptive. Plans change, often. Focus on tools and processes that enable flexibility, that are simple to use. Using a common approach across your organisation builds skill and consistency. The Shorter COMMS Plan is a simple methodology to support better outcomes from all types of communication; whether small projects, business planning or team management. A new one-day workshop designed to help apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is being held in Sydney on 4 February.

New Workshop to apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is now available.

New Workshop to apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is now available.

 

* Disclosure: I am Co-Chair of the Gold Quill Blue Ribbon Panel for Asia Pacific.

 

 

New change management presentation added to the library

The Meaning Business Presentations page has a few new additions, including the PRIA webinar on change, and a super short guide to the Shorter COMMS Plan.