MANAGING CHANGE – COMMUNICATIONS – MAKING YOUR PLAN

A recent post talked about building and maintaining active support for your initiative among those who can make a real difference to your outcomes! This is imperative for change programmes and projects.

Making sure that your colleagues and key stakeholders are aware of the activities you are undertaking, is vital to ensure your success. It helps to maximise opportunities for synergies,  allows people to learn from each other and wins you support.

When you have analysed the people and groups around you, you will be ready to develop your communications plan.

A communications plan is a written document that describes

  • what you want to accomplish with your communications (your objectives),
  • to whom your communications will be addressed (your audiences)
  • the ways in which those objectives can be accomplished (your key messages, strategy and tactics)
  • when you will accomplish your objectives (your activity schedule),
  • how you will measure the results (your evaluation)

Keep it simple. Your communications plan doesn’t need to be pages long – just clearly presented and easy to understand.

Make it focussed. Don’t try to do everything, be realistic about what’s achievable.

Every communications plan will be different but most should include the following key information.

Objectives

Be clear from the outset about what you are trying to achieve – it is the vital first step in creating your plan.

When considering your communications objectives, ensure that they complement the overall objectives of your initiative.

Make sure your objectives are SMART

Are they:

  • Specific?
  • Measurable?
  • Achievable?
  • Realistic?
  • Timely?

Target Audience

This is where the work you have done already to identify your stakeholders comes into play. The success of any communications activity depends on knowing your audience.

Once you have identified your target find out as much as possible about them.  This will help you to ensure you are using the most effective routes to communicate with them.

Once you’ve got an initial list, try to identify some overall priorities.  This will help you ensure that the majority of your time, energy and resources are concentrated on the most important audiences.

Key Messages

Once you have identified your target audience, think about what messages you are trying to communicate.

Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of your overall plans? You can download a template for a SWOT analysis at this link. See how you can turn your weaknesses and threats into strengths and opportunities even before you begin your communications plan.

Developing key messages will help you to be clear about what it is you want your target audience to ‘hear’ or understand as a result of your communications activity. The messages may well be different for each of your target audience groups, although there will be many that are common for all.

Avoid statements that are too complex. Cutting the waffle and aiming to be as succinct as possible is the best way to create messages that work. A good way to try your messages out is to see if they pass the ‘elevator test’. Imagine you are in a lift between floors and only have a minute to explain your message to a companion beside you. Would they understand what you are trying to say?

Strategy

Now you are ready to consider the overall strategic approach that you are going to take to achieve your communications objectives. Your strategy should be about what you are going to do to achieve your objectives, rather than how you are going to do it.

The strategy provides a unifying ‘big picture’ into which all of your individual communications activities fit. For, example, are you going to actively engage with your key stakeholders at regular intervals? Perhaps you are going to promote the achievements through your company websites or will you publish a regular newsletter!

Set out the principles of how you intend to communicate!

Tactics

The tactics are the specific communications activities, tools and techniques that will make each part of your strategy a reality. Some of the most popular include:

  • Newsletters
  • Press releases
  • Information packs
  • Seminars
  • Leaflets, stickers and posters
  • Websites and social networking/blogs
  • Videos/DVDs
  • Advertising
  • One-to-one briefings
  • Direct mail/email
  • Exhibitions

The communications activities you choose should fit into your overall strategy and be driven by your objectives, target audiences and key messages.

Budgeting and other resources

How much money do you have available in the budget? How much time and other resources do you have available?  The answers will dictate the size and scale of your communications activity.

If you find yourself having to cope on a shoestring, remember that it is possible to do effective work with a small budget as long as you are realistic and well focussed.

Keep in mind your key stakeholders.

Activity schedule

Once you have decided on your tactics you will be in position to put together a simple activity schedule. This should outline how you plan to roll out each set of activities over a period of time.

Make sure you think carefully about other key dates or events that may impact on your timing and the milestones in your overall activity. At this stage you should also consider specific roles and responsibilities. It is useful to circulate your communications activity schedule to your colleagues so they can see what is coming up and identify potential synergies or conflicts at an early stage.

Evaluation

It is crucial that your activity plan outlines the criteria that you will use to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of your communications activities.

How will you know if you are making an impact? Build into your plan a method for measuring results. Your evaluation might take the form of a monthly report on work in progress – a formalized writtens report or a presentation to the governance board, the programme team or another management meeting.

Remember – communicate clearly and simply – be honest!

Start early and make sure people know where and how to get access to good information.

But one warning, if you have promised any particular communication, for example, a monthly newsletter, make sure it is actually produced on time and has good quality of information!  Nothing is more frustrating than something that doesn’t arrive or looks good but doesn’t actually tell you anything about an initiative that impacts directly on you!

If you are just setting out on a change, and have not done this before, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions or if you have experience and tips to offer, I would love to hear from you.

Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy –  she can help you – email her at wendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

King, Queen or Pawn – the Joys of Office Politics – Part 2 – Winning Support

A very good friend of mine had a lot of experience of both supporting and reviewing high profile government programmes. We worked together on a large complex programme that was beset with issues of office politics and complex (and often competing) stakeholder needs.  He read my post on office politics and here is his response – he is happy for me to share it with you.  It includes some very important advice for interim managers and consultants in particular. Thank you Howard!

“Inevitably large programmes have a number of stakeholders. The first thing to realise is that not all those stakeholders regard the programme as having the same priority-rating on their own “To Do” lists. A simple example is a major Change Programme which one stakeholder sees it as a major opportunity and another as a major threat.

The next thing to realise is that simply following process, e.g. PRINCE2 and/or MSP will not guarantee full control. I reviewed one big programme (via OGC) where for two years it was being reported as well on-time for delivery, then suddenly, as if out to the blue, it was announced 6 months behind schedule. The reason? While the monthly programme update reports from the front-line all arrived on time, they did not tell the whole truth, as those reporting only wanted to give the good news, not the bad. Pro-active reporting similar to audit would have prevented that.

The third major action is to be actively supportive, while not trying to grab the credit and the glory. When it comes to making presentations to senior management, e.g. the Permanent Secretary, Government Minister, make sure you always take a purely supportive role. Let the person who engaged you take the credit for doing so, not the blame for having to do so. Just remember that cartoon of the two cows standing in a field. The cow on the left says “Moo”. The cow on the right shouts “You b*****d, I was going to say that!”

Getting people on-side and supportive is what brings success – and lasting friendships”

Howard and I did form a very strong friendship after we had been through our baptism of fire and I am very grateful to him for contributing to this post.

 

 

King, Queen or Pawn – the Joys of Office Politics

Politics – activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organization Oxford Dictionaries

I don’t play chess.  I admire those who do but for me the game is too slow to enjoy.  But I do know the rules!

For me Office Politics is just like that.  You may decide not to ‘play’ but you need to know how it works.

This is particularly true if you manage a project or a change programme.  If you don’t manage your stakeholders, your project or programme may be shot down in ways you never expected.

Stakeholder management doesn’t work if you don’t make sure you understand the politics of the organisation.

Wherever you have a group of people you will have a degree of politics operating.  People will usually jockey for position, form alliances, decide who they do like and who they don’t!  People will come to the group with different personalities, sets of values and opinions. Over time a group develops a set of norms or standards and ways of working. They develop a pecking order – a hierarchy of status and influence.  This will not necessarily reflect the organisation chart.  For example, the person who controls the stationery cupboard can have quite a lot of power to disrupt their colleague’s day, if they choose to do so!

If you don’t understand the influence hierarchy you can find it difficult to get things done, particularly if you are new to an organisation.  And the hierarchy will change over time, as people strive successfully and unsuccessfully to achieve greater influence.  You need to understand the office politics even if you find the concept distasteful. You will be very lucky indeed if someone actually tells you the rules of the game!

It is far better to adopt some useful strategies to keep the effects of office politics on you and your work to a minimum.  At the same time it will be useful to be classed as inside the influence group, as opposed to being on the outside looking in. What you are probably best to aim for is to manage any effects of office politics that directly relate to you!  Then turn them in your favour, or at least minimise their effects on you and your work.

Office politics in its crudest form usually occurs when one, or more than one, person holds (or is seen as holding) a significant amount of power within the office.  This may be formal power – the CEO’s private office is usually a hotbed of office politics – or informal power.  Formal power is pretty easy to read.  Informal power is much more difficult.  Informal power can arise in a number of ways! Someone with depth of knowledge of the organisation, the key subject matter expert, PAs to top managers,  may all wield considerable power and they are fairly easy to discover.  Far more challenging are the ‘office bully’, those in a relationship with someone holding formal power and unscrupulous players of the office politics’ game.  You need to listen and observe the group you work with and its surrounding organisation to find out more about these!

What can you do? Try to get to know the politically powerful within your organisation.  Don’t be afraid of them – they are often much, more receptive to people who aren’t intimidated by them!  Make sure they understand what you are trying to achieve.  Deal with their reservations and make sure they understand that you are taking on board their views.   If someone does try to undermine you, don’t get drawn in. Simply be bold and assertive, but not aggressive.  Make your points clearly and offer good will.  If their negative behaviour persists, then ring fence them – make sure they have as little as possible to do with your work.

People often play office politics because they are unsure about their own abilities and achievements.  They try to conceal what they believe are their shortcomings behind a façade and to make others feel they are less worthy. Don’t let them undermine your self-esteem – be proud of your own accomplishments and make sure that your efforts are recognised by those who matter.  But don’t get into direct competition if you can avoid it – it’s a waste of your time! If people know you are doing a good job consistently there is far less opportunity for you to be undermined.  Forming alliances with senior managers and using them as sponsors and champions for your work can increase your own informal power.  If you have a formal sponsor, make sure they are well informed and really up to date with your project or programme and can talk about it fluently to their colleagues.   As with all stakeholder management – targeted communication of  good quality of information is key to you and your project or programme’s success.

If you want to know more or do want to play the office politics game then here are some books that might be useful!

‘Office Politics: How work really works’ by Guy Browning   http://amzn.to/efTzjO

‘100+ Tactics for Office Politics (Barron’s Business Success)’ by Casey Hawley   http://amzn.to/hkBR6r

For the really evil!

’21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win at Office Politics’ by Mike Phipps, Colin Gautrey http://amzn.to/fFMHQ4