planning

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.

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.

 

 

The Spring communication health check

It’s spring, the days are warmer, and things are growing! In preparation for summer,

Time for a check up...

The grass has ris...

people are back at the gym, and healing the winter lawns. Winter bodies and gardens aren’t the only thing that benefit from some care and preparation for the seasons ahead. Like all natural systems, an effective communication strategy requires time and focus to grow.

We are quickly approaching the last financial quarter for 2011. Taking time before the new year to ensure your communication system have all the levers in place will be essential to delivering the 2012 business strategy for your organisation.

Take this 30-second health check to see how prepared your communication function is for the new year.

Business performance can be improved with effective communication in your business.  As a communication leader, you need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to communicating strategy.

If any of these levers are not in place, you may not get the results you are aiming for from your communication efforts.

We have a spring special on communication health checks for small and medium size businesses. Contact us on +61 412 504 252 to discuss how this special offer can help your business, or email us via this spam-safe link http://scr.im/meanbiz.

Pause for progress

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” Ferris Beuller

I recently ran a planning session with a group of senior communicators. Working in a challenging environment, they have a great record for delivering innovative solutions that meet their client’s needs. The list of team achievements over the past few years was impressive. They do this in a complex, time-poor environment that has undergone major change over recent months.

The middle of the calendar year is filled with symbolism. The half way point between the aspirations of January and the crunch of Christmas. It is the heart of the story – the ‘middle’ where the most ‘stuff’ is happening. It is a credit to this group that they were prepared to stop for a day to look at where they have come from and what is ahead.

Mid-year ‘planning’ is a way of gathering the collective intention, resources and capacity of a team to ensure that progress is recognised and priorities are clear. As almost every workplace has discovered over the past few years – things change. Whether through global, economic, political or natural forces, change happens. By ‘regrouping’ mid plan, leadership teams are able to confirm the priorities, agree the messages and stay agile for the months ahead.

Have you planned your mid-year strategy conversations?

Whatever size your business, this is an essential process to ensure your direction is consistent with changes in your business environment and to make sure the story ‘makes sense’ of what needs to be done for the remainder of the year.

Holiday Bonus, Introducing The Eleven Things

The Eleven ThingsSometimes a top ten is just not quite enough. In 2011, Meaning Business will be launching a new sister site, The Eleven Things.

The Eleven Things will publish collections of useful resources around the themes of communication, leadership, creativity, innovation, performance, culture, technology, story, mind, community and science.

As a preview, and following on from the last post about the ‘blue sky thinking’ that can happen on holiday, here is a preview.

The Eleven Things Holiday Edition

The Eleven Things Holiday Edition

The Eleven Things Holiday Edition (Low Res)

Meaning Business will be back in 2011.

Is instruction or direction better for engagement?

Do you return from holidays full of direction or full of instructions? One is better for engagement.

Direction or Instruction

Where are you going?

A leader I knew used the summer holiday as his ‘blue sky’ period. He would return from his trip refreshed and with a full to do list. His team had come to dread the return, as it frequently marked a change of strategy. In some cases this meant new efforts, change of direction, or even substantial reorganisation.

For his team, there was an important step missing. While he had given himself the time to think through his ideas, to internalise them and to create a to-do list at the end, his team would be frozen, waiting for the action plan. Four weeks of iterative thinking would be downloaded in an hour. In the months leading up to the break, they would shut down their thinking on new ideas or directions, knowing that there was little certainty of priorities on their return. And once the action plan was presented, there was a feeling that even if they agreed with the solution, they didn’t feel a sense of ownership as their input was missing from the actions now dictated.

The leader had come to believe that it was important that he take this time to make sure he provided clear instruction. But by doing all the thinking for them, he was missing an important opportunity to engage them in the problem and the solution. While there is great strength in aligning people behind a target, there is even greater motivation when people have context, information and an understanding of the problem or situation that they are seeking to solve.

What could he have done differently?

  • Balance destination, direction and detail. When it comes to implementation, people work with details. But before you get there, use the big picture to set the destination and establish direction. Your people might know a better route!
  • Provide clear context. Why is the number one thing, the number one thing?Customer, competitor, political, technological, social. What are the factors that informed your thinking?
  • Build the capability. Creating an environment that supports shared problem-solving, open communication, an outcome focus and clear decision-making takes time at first, but becomes a habit and can be done very effectively over time.

By giving up some control, and creating an environment with open communication, clear context, and strong sense of purpose, leaders can help their teams achieve results they may not have imagined on their own. There are times, such as during a crisis, when instruction will still be important. There is substantial evidence that during these times an engaged workforce goes beyond simply complying with instructions and commits to the outcomes.