A simple, but effective tool, which improves the outcomes of any communication strategy or plan is the “communication pack”. In many people’s minds this will traditionally be associated with hours of work to produce volumes of paper. That’s certainly what may be required if your Department is launching a new initiative to the government, but is overkill in the majority of required communications for a records management campaign.
Typically, records management communication campaigns attached to projects such as the rollout of new software versions, major classification changes or digital recordkeeping will have two main communication requirements. There is also a third which is currently underused and used well will have a strong influence on the outcomes.
Standard Communication Requirements
- Reporting – to Executive, Steering Committees, and Business Units on the project progress against the project plan. Every Department has a process for this, generally using established document and/or PowerPoint templates and standardised processes. In addition there may be postings in a newsletter and/or on the intranet to update the general populace.
- Informing – to the same parties mentioned above, on the detail of decisions. This more comprehensive detail ensures people understand how a decision was reached, or the process by which a decision will be reached or implemented. Informing also includes how the change will impact groups or individuals. Frequently this information is delivered via presentation, and is often complex. The actual presentation will contain brief points, with the presenter summarising the detail of a plan or technical document.
- Promoting – specifically this is a tool of change management to introduce the benefits of new systems, processes or concepts. It is a sell campaign, often confused with informing, but which has a different purpose and desired outcome. Promoting uses language and actions which specifically address the blockers and motivators identified in the audience, to either harness them as a positive force or negate any adverse impact. Unless your records team come from a marketing background the level of discomfort and lack of ease in writing promotional material for recordkeeping projects will be high, and this communication is frequently not undertaken, and rarely followed through appropriately.
Each of these communication requirements benefit by developing a communication pack, but before this tool can be intelligently designed, the communication plan needs to have identified the outcome required for each communication that will be made.
Building Communications based on Outcomes
Communications identified within a project are usually defined as deliverables. Each report and presentation will be a deliverable. The communication plan itself will define each email and intranet post as a deliverable as well. To achieve the required results from any communications it is also critical to define the required outcomes of each deliverable.
The monthly progress report to the Executive is a deliverable, but the required outcome is the Executive assess and advise on risks associated with any project issues based on the information provided.
By defining the required outcome of the report, the report author (who may not be the person creating the communication plan) is aware of the need to present the information in such a way that the Executive will react to the communication and provide the outcome.
Using another example:
The presentation to recommend how a new BCS structure will be developed is a deliverable. The required outcome when the presentation and meeting is finished is agreement of the process for developing the BCS. To achieve this the communication will both have to inform, and promote the benefits of the recommended approach.
The outcome in this case identifies the need for the presentation to include a component of negotiation, rather than ignoring the fact some people will have objections. Of course you could define the outcome as “agreement on the recommended process”, but this would ignore the inherent challenges of this particular task, and result in a communication and change management failure.
Defining an outcome for each communication deliverable requires deep thinking on the part of the communicator, and an understanding of what actions will be demonstrated if the communications are successful (and the actions that demonstrate the reverse).
Driving Outcomes with Communication Packs
If you’ve already created a report, or developed a presentation, or posted information on the intranet, they why do you need anything else? Surely that’s sufficient?
Alas it rarely is. Reports may be long, and contain tedious detail and language only fully understood by a few of the audience. Your audience is likely to be busy, have many other reports to read, and (heaven forbid!) not be interested in your project. The detail and emphasis of presentations are lost as soon as the presentation is complete, and another matter grabs attention.
In most cases there will be a requirement and a need to cover a large amount of information. Although necessary, this leads to people missing the critical elements on which they need to focus in order to achieve the outcome. A lost, confused audience lacks confidence to make the correct decision and rapidly becomes a negative audience blaming you for poor communication.
The required structure of a communication pack to achieve a specific outcome will vary, and needs to take into account the parameters of communicating within your organisation. Focus on what communication tools will reduce negative reactions and assist in achieving the required outcome.
Simple ideas include:
- Reports of over two pages include a single page or less summary using traffic light symbols to highlight progress. After presenting the detail of the report this makes it easy to direct comments to critical issues.
- Presentations include a hand out of one to two pages of informational and promotional information. This can be used by managers to communicate with their business units and guarantees consistency of message beyond the initial presentation. The aim is to eliminate “Chinese whispers”. Additionally this information would be provided on the intranet.
- Managers may be provided with a version of presentations in PowerPoint appropriate for them to present in team meetings. This requires tailoring of language and concepts for the final audience.
- FAQ responses may form part of a communications pack. Provided to the audience during presentations they provide responses to known concerns, acknowledge to the audience you are aware they will have concerns, and reduce the opportunity for negative reactions. Provided after questions have arisen in the presentation they provide the opportunity to provide a consistent response to the wider audience.
Having defined the required outcome of each communication, you are now in a position to evaluate if your communication plan and pack is achieving success. If not, pause. Analyse the audience reactions. Reflect on the message, language and communication tools. Adjust where necessary. Taking the continuous improvement approach to communication guarantees you will become a better communicator and achieve your outcomes.