Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Five Steps to Creating a Simple Employee Communications Plan

Creating a strategy that helps employees communicate better and ultimately feel good about where they work may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little research, creativity and patience, it can not only be accomplished, the improvements have the potential of enriching a company’s culture. I share from my experience what has worked for me, as a communications professional.

1. Determine your goals and objectives
Research what the desired outcomes are. Talk to the CEO, management and as many employees as possible. Who is not getting what messages? How is the company presently communicating? Talk to everyone you can at the company and get a feel for what is needed. Take a look at the company’s mission statement and strategic plan to ensure you align your communications strategy at every step.

2. Know the company culture
This ties into the first point. Whether you are the new kid at the office or are working as an outside Communications Consultant, it’s important to know who you are dealing with. When I was new to this company, I took a couple of months to know and feel the company culture as I researched their goals and objectives. Do a communications audit– conducting an anonymous employee questionnaire is one option. I prefer to talk to as many people as possible in person. It’s important to know exactly who you are dealing with and what the issues are when you’re starting out. Geography may be one issue you will face, even within Canada- what works for employees in Vancouver may not work in Montreal.

3. Decide on the best communications vehicles to use.
When I was first determining what communications vehicle to use at this company, for many reasons I knew an old fashioned newsletter would work best (very little budget, limited technology). I was told by one naysayer employee, “we did that before and it was impossible to keep it up.” I disagreed, stuck by my decision and have been able to keep it up for over four years. Believe in your decisions. Other communications vehicles I chose were a quarterly newsletter from the CEO, a CEO book club and regular town hall meetings. Our monthly newsletter features an interview with one employee each month on the cover with a follow-up by CEO with a hand-written note sent to the employee’s home. Other features include a “welcome” section for new employees, a mention of employees quoted in the media, our marketing update, an IT update, upcoming holidays and regional news to keep the rest of the company apprised of what is going on across the country. This has been become our “intranet” and our source of non-urgent company news. I also started a private Facebook page where employees take turns blogging.

4. Believe in your ideas.
Change can be slow process. It probably took about a year of begging before employees were sending me information to include in our monthly employee newsletter. Along the way there were times when I thought about throwing in the towel, but I stuck to it because I knew it had the potential of being a good vehicle and would meet their needs at that time. Don’t expect anything to be embraced right away– in my experience, it takes time and patience. Just stick with it.

5. Measure the results.
After a period of time (I have found that annually is a good time to do a review), go back to step one. Decide ahead of time how you will measure results, and keep your planning notes from step one to refer back to. Have you met the goals you set out to meet at the beginning? Are employees seeing an improvement in how information is communicated throughout the company? An anonymous employee questionnaire is a great tool at this stage should result in honest feedback and discussions with the CEO and senior management will provide additional insight. Think about ways in which you can improve upon the work you have already done. Consider new challenges that need addressing. For me, four years have brought a slew of challenges to the business due to economic upsets and advances in technology so fast, it's often a challege just to keep up. Regularly take stock of what's working, what isn't; research new methods of communicating and make any needed changes. Check out what others are doing. The work we do as Communications professionals is an evolving process that's both rewarding and challenging, but with a little creativity and patience can net results worthy of the work.


craig said...

Your blog takes me back to my consulting days. I actually worked on (even led one) major communication plans for large investment banks. Your thoughts really hit on the major points.

From my experience, I'd add 3 minor points.

1) Frequency. You need to know/decide how often you need to send what messages to what target audiences. Some need to hear it often.

2) time for approval. Wow, to send something across to a whole org can take a few reviews by corporate, legal, etc... Know who needs to approve each or any message and build in approval time on the plan.

3) owner. also it is critical for support on certain communications to come from certain key members of the org. need that buy in on messages. can be critical.

Ah, Wendy, when your business takes you to the states, look me up if needed....maybe I'll be available to contract.I love communicate messages. Hopefully my blog does just that.

stay adventurous,

WendyPGreene said...

Craig, I'm just reading this now! I apologize.

You are absolutely right in the points you make. Sometimes frequency can be frustrating.. I expect people to hear a message the first time but also know how unrealistic that is! I think I even read somewhere that a message needs to go out seven times, hopefully through various vehicles before it is heard and understood. I have to keep reminding myself of this.

Thank you for your point on approval. I am fortunate to work for a company where I report directly to a CEO who fully supports the work I do. This definitely helps with the approval process.

And you are absolutely correct on your comment about the owner. We have a couple of ways the CEO communicates to the company on a regular basis and all seem to be pretty effective.

Can't say this particular company will likely branch out to the States, but who knows where life will take me.. thanks again for weighing in.