Effective communication is the process of sharing information, thoughts, ideas and opinions in a clear and focused way so that it is received and understood in the way that it is intended. It is carefully planned with a clear understanding of the emotions and feelings that sit behind it. It is about exchanging information and being able to listen and respond to what people say.
A communications plan is a structured document that outlines how you plan to convey information to different audiences. It provides a framework for clear, organised, and targeted messaging to achieve specific communications goals and objectives. We have created this Communications Plan Process Diagram to highlight the key steps involved in developing an effective communications plan:
First you need to assess the needs of your audience. Who is being impacted?, how? and what do they need to know? You should answer these three questions before each and every communication activity. By answering these questions each time, you can be sure that your communication aligns with your case for change and includes key information about why the change is happening and what it means for the audience.
Contextualise your case for change, so the 'what's in it for me?' question is answered and communicate your case for change regularly and consistently throughout the change process, to encourage support and buy-in.
Use your stakeholder analysis and impact assessment to help you identify your different audiences and change points throughout the change cycle. Remember, change doesn't happen overnight. People will take incremental steps towards the desired change, so effective communications at change milestones, decision points and before carrying out people focused activities ,will help you to bring impacted people along the change journey with you.
The Marketing, Communication and Engagement Team has created this Communications Plan Template to help you structure and capture your communications plan.
What's included in the plan?
- What are your communication goals?
- Communication goals are different to project goals and should directly address audience needs.
- What are the specific and measurable outcomes you want to achieve through your communications?
- Create objectives for each communication activity to help ensure each activity has a purpose, adds value and id delivered how intended.
The SMART framework is a helpful tool to help you structure your communications objectives. Your SMART objectives should describe in detail how you plan to achieve your communication goals.
Image source: Minesota Dept. of Health (state.mn.us)
Here's an example of a SMART communication objective: Host a meeting with impacted team A once a week to gain a better understanding of the problems relating to new process part C and to identify practical solutions to ensure the desired change is achieved by the end of this academic year. Share information from actions log with Team A during these meetings to encourage regular feedback. Evaluate quality and performance improvements to new process part C to determine success of communications.
Your key messages are the key pieces of information you want your audience to remember. The following questions can help you identify these:
- Why does your message matter?
- What value will it bring your audience?
- Are there any actionable steps you would like your audience to take?
- Do these key messages differ between audience groups?
- How will you tailor the message to the unique needs and interests of your audiences?
Approach this from the point of view of your audience.
The Know, Feel, Do framework is a simple tool, which helps you to think about different audience needs and communication requirements:
Choosing the right communication channels is critical to ensure that your message reaches its intended audience effectively. When selecting your communication channel(s), consider factors such as the nature of the information, the audience's preferences, urgency, and accessibility. Effective communication often involves using multiple channels to ensure your message reaches its intended recipients.
Here are some examples of the Communication Channels available at the University:
- Staff Portal
- In Brief
- Department Newsletters
- All-staff emails
- All-staff briefings
- Your manager
- Information shared by peers or colleagues
- Staff networks
- Community of Practice
- Team Meetings
- Formal communications are necessary but not sufficient. You must include informal communication methods and activities to create more opportunities for people to hear about the changes and ask questions.
- Communication goes both ways so make sure you include one way and two way communication methods to allow people to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
- One size does not fit all. Tailor your communications to suit the needs, preferences and requirements of your audience, if possible. Think about audience availability and capacity and pick communications methods accordingly, to increase the chances of achieving your communication goals.
Now that you have an effective communications plan, you need people to help you deliver it!
It is important to identify the right individuals to help you deliver your plan. We tend to trust those we are most familiar with so identifying the the most suitable communicators is key to building trust and acceptance during change.
University Leaders play a key role in communicating about changes, reinforcing them and influencing others to accept and adopt them. Line Managers of those impacted are usually in charge of delivering local messages, so they must be equipped to communicate about the changes and answer questions like why, and how, and must understand and accept the reasons for the changes, in order to communicate about them in a confident way.
Steps to support communicators:
- Evaluate communication capabilities.
- Define and agree roles and responsibilities: make sure to include peer and senior influencers and supporters who can advocate for the change.
- Create feedback mechanisms so you can check in with your communicators regularly and make sur they understand the objectives and what you are trying to achieve.
Who can help?
- Local leaders are individuals who carry significant influence within different teams.
- Their familiarity with team dynamics allows for tailored messaging.
- Change advocates are people who actively support and promote your change initiative within your organisation. They can help you to keep momentum going and create a sense of urgency to make changes happen quickly.
Line managers of impacted people
- Line managers can help in delivering actionable steps to their teams.
- Clear communication from line managers gives a sense of direction and helps colleagues understand the change impacts on their day-to-day work.
- They are often most trusted and can help manage resistance and encourage acceptance and adoption of change.
Peers and Colleagues
- Encouraging communication within peer groups can encourage a supportive environment.
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
- SMEs bring in-depth knowledge to the communication process. They can help explain the technical or specialised aspects of your project or change initiative and the rationale behind it.
Marketing, Communication and Engagement (MCE) Team
- Experts in delivering effective communications.
- They can ensure that the communication aligns with the organisation's overall messaging strategy.
- They can help you to create an effective communications plan.
- They can help you choose the right channels, tone, and timing to maximise the impact of the messages and maintain consistency throughout the change process.
Staff and student communication and engagement: firstname.lastname@example.org
Social media: email@example.com
Design and print: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web content: email@example.com
Media inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
You are now ready to deliver your communications plan!
Regularly evaluating your communications approach, plan and activities is essential to understand if the actions you have taken are getting the desired results. It can also help you highlight whether your communications have been fully understood and whether those affected are becoming fully engaged in the process. Improvements can then continually be made to future communication plans and activities. Please refer to the Managing and Evaluating your Approach Module for more information on monitoring and evaluation.