Why develop a communications plan?

A health warning – why I’m writing about this, and who this post is for

This is another post I’ve written as I work towards developing a "professional" communications plan for myself. I expect that part of that plan, will involve a consideration about what I want to do with this blog, as part of a general communications strategy.

However, until I have examined those questions in detail, this blog is mostly written for me:

  • to have a context to structure my thoughts around this process;
  • to get some practice in the mechanics of posting content;
  • to collect and archive for me the resources I’ve come across that I’ve found useful while doing this work, together with comments I’ve made on them;
  • to collect and archive documents/artefacts I use in this work that might be useful for me (and perhaps others) in the future, in a way that provides some context to how those documents/artefacts have been (and could be) used. I’ve found that providing such context usually makes the documents/artefacts more valuable to me in the future;

I feel it’s important for me not to spend much time polishing these posts, or attempting to make them particularly well researched – if I do that, the barrier for putting something up is likely, I suspect, to be too high, so I won’t do them at all.

Thus the language isn’t particularly good, the review of relevant literature meagre (as I tend to stop looking once I’ve found sources that give me what I feel I need at the moment), and it’s not aiming to be any kind of compelling narrative.

Just wanted to warn you!

The communication plan I’m currently working on

Currently I’m working with the Korcsmaros Group to build a communications plan.

To kick this work off, I made a short presentation to the group about our motivation for developing such a plan – why we feel it’s a useful thing to allocate a reasonable amount of our scarce resources to building one. Note that the presentation is strictly utilitarian – a guide for me why talking to the group, and somewhere to put quotes and instructions, not meant to look good.

To prepare for writing this presentation, I was interested to read more about best practices for building communication plans, and to think more about why we do the work in the first place.

Why plan?

First question I wondered about is "Why do we bother with planning in general?" – because part of the reason why we want to build a communication plan, is for the general benefits one gets from planning.

While looking for inspiration on this topic, I found the following article: "New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory" by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham.

This described that planning with more specific, relatively ambitious goals, has been shown to lead to better performance (i.e. completion of more of the required tasks) than otherwise.

Particularly interesting I found its first paragraph:

‘Goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990, 2002) was developed inductively within industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology over a 25-year period, based on some 400 laboratory and field studies. These studies showed that specific, high (hard) goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to "do one’s best." So long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it, and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive, linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance. Because goals refer to future valued outcomes, the setting of goals is first and foremost a discrepancy-creating process. It implies discontent with one’s present condition and the desire to attain an object or outcome.;

Thus, the hope is that by building an "appropriate" (one associated with goals of the kind described in the above quote) action plan as part of our communication plan, we will be able to achieve our goals more efficiently and effectively.

I also like the structure that this quote uses to describe the process of planning as being about identifying where you are, where you want to go, and thus also acknowledging in the "where you are" things that you perceive as problematic/discontent-inducing. These feels to me like a useful structure for building a collaborative process around identifying appropriate goals i.e.:

  1. describe current situation
  2. describe aspects of current situation we are discontent with
  3. identify possible activities/goals that we could work on to resolve this discontent

If I have more time, I look forward to reading more about understanding how and why we plan in more general terms, and what are features of more effectively-framed "goals".

Why plan collaboratively?

For all cases – including my own personal communications – I’d like to do do my planning with input from other people, collaboratively.

I looked around for discussions and research about the benefits of doing communication planning/strategic work in general collaboratively – the only resource I found that addressed this topic directly was Sherry Devereaux Ferguson’s book "Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach". When discussing this topic, she quotes from a speech from 1990 by Ingstrup:

"Ownership in the plan is of paramount importance. The senior executives are responsible for the development of the plan, but a plan to which only a handful of people are committed has little chance of becoming more than a piece of window dressing to which people, at best, will pay little attention, and which, at worst, will contribute to the image of the executives as unrealistic, uncommitted, or unable to do what they plan".

Additional advantages of doing such work collaboratively, that I can see, include:

  • by having more people considering the questions, we are less likely to miss something important – partly just because more people are involved (more effort/resources are allocated to the activity), also because of increasing the diversity of different viewpoints
  • the process of collaborating can help the group involved get to know each other better

Again, if/when I have time, I’d like to explore the literature around this topic in more detail. Firstly, because I find it inherently interesting, secondly because it would help build my knowledge around these issues, which I expect would make me a more confident proponent of these kinds of activities.

Why write a communications plan?

I also looked around for articles talking specifically about the benefits of writing a communications plan.

This post by the Wainer Group lists, and gives some detail on five reasons it’s useful to have such a plan:

  • Reason 1 – Clarity of Purpose
  • Reason 2 – Audience Definition
  • Reason 3 – Staff and Stakeholder Alignment
  • Reason 4 – Smarter Use of Resources
  • Reason 5 – A Way to Measure Success

My feeling is that all of these reasons are aspects of the deeper reason, which is that having an explicit plan helps us achieve our (communication) goals more effectively and efficiently.

Short summary

Reflecting on the above, I think the following are some of the most important reasons why I think it can be useful to allocate resources to building a communications plan:

Firstly, it brings us the benefits of planning as described above. This is linked to the desire to get what we want done more effectively and efficiently.

Secondly, if done collaboratively with diverse people in diverse roles in the organisation, at different levels of seniority, it is an opportunity to learn about the organisation from many different viewpoints. In addition, if (as one would hope) the collaboration is carried out with a view to enable the contributions of these different people to have a clear, visible impact on the planning, then it’s an opportunity to build buy-in and trust for the communication plan, and in general throughout the organisation – to increase alignment between staff and other stakeholders.

Finally, if the strategy and plan that are developed are specific about measurable aims and targets, then it provides a context to assess the success of the communication plan.

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