It’s a little like when the Christmas music starts playing in the malls the week after Labor Day.
Months before the New Year, internal communicators and others in most businesses begin planning next year’s strategies, calendar, projects, and budget.
Such preparation can be a challenge. Some don’t hold the purse strings, and most face roadblocks to getting the tools they’d like, a Newsweaver and Ragan Communications survey of 615 communicators and other professionals reveals.
The survey, “Exploring the Use of Email for Internal Communications,” shows that 73 percent lack the ability to measure email engagement over time and 61 percent wish they could email only relevant content based on employee preference.
But solutions lie outside the hands of many, with a majority—60 percent—saying their email system lacks the capability for the features they want. Thirty percent said “we don’t know how,” and other 27 percent don’t have the time.
“Need IT involvement to drive it and do it; they are way too busy,” states a communicator from a U.S. health care organization.
As people head into 2015, not everyone even controls their financial fate. Corporate communications, both internal and external, holds the purse strings in 52 percent of responding organizations.
With the New Year on the horizon, what’s stopping people from getting the email features they need? A majority—60 percent—say their email system lacks the capability. (Survey respondents were allowed to choose multiple answers.) Thirty percent selected the choice “we don’t know how.” “We don’t have time” drew another 27 percent.
Clearly, communicators have to be strategic as they get ready for 2015, whether they’re planning for upcoming initiatives or trying to win leadership support for new tools. Here are some tips for preparing for 2015:
1. Consider what went well—and what didn’t—in 2014.
Richard Goins, director of corporate communications for KBR—a global engineering, construction, and services company with 25,000 employees—says that when planning for 2015, it helps to look at the current year.
“Look at what worked and what didn’t from an internal standpoint, whether it’s town hall meetings once a month, or the newsletter,” he says.
Such assessments often focus on the negative, says Ryan Williams, partner with Tekara Organizational Effectiveness and president of TWI Surveys in Vancouver, B.C. But it’s perhaps even more important to look at the wins.
“Look over the last year and identify the times where your programs or your processes or your communications were effective,” Williams says.
Those will probably be the areas where you succeed in 2015 as well, he says. Did those town hall meetings go over well? Did you score with a series of features on safety? What worked in those campaigns or in your regular news updates?
Why did your audience grow in one area? Why did they do something new with the information? Why did behaviors change? Figure that out, and keep it up.
2. Do a competency review.
A number of articles lately have suggested that communicators should perform competency reviews before they finalize their budgets, says Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology. This means assessing whether you have the staff skills to execute the strategy you set.
Will you have internal communities? Great, but you have someone with the skills to manage them. A competency review allows you to budget for training, staffing, or outsourcing—or, when all else fails, to revisit your strategy.
“How many companies have just hired millennials or college graduates because, hey, they get Facebook,” Holtz says. “But they really don’t have the tools to manage digital elements and social elements of a communications strategy.”
Don’t be that guy. Assess what staffing you need, and budget for it.
3. Plan for mobile.
With the New Year coming, it’s time to think about that migration to mobile, says Derek Mooney, director of public affairs and communications at Brussels European Employee Relations Group.
“What immediately comes to mind is layout and formatting to ensure comms can be comfortably viewed on laptop, desktop, smartphone, tablet, etc.,” says Mooney, who divides his work time between Dublin and Brussels. “And recognize that most will be viewed on handhelds.”
4. Find the money for training.
Communicators should ask themselves whether they are spending enough time providing people the skills they need, online and off, Williams says.
“Are we equipping and enabling people to communicate well?” he says. “Are we doing enough communications training of our staff or managers?”
Possibly you’ll need to bring employees up to speed on the shift to social business, or to launch an internal ambassador program, Holtz adds. If so, budget for that.
Often people try to launch such programs on a shoestring or with no funding at all, Holtz says. Some organizations hold events and conferences for internal ambassadors. Will you need airfare to bring them to your headquarters, money to serve lunch to your ambassadors?
Adds Holtz: “The point is, [communicators] need to think about that now, and if they identify expenses, they need to plan for those now, rather than halfway through the year say, ‘Gosh, what would’ve been great is to get all these people together in one room, but we don’t have any money for that.”
5. Check out the strategic plan.
When all else fails, figure out what your leaders are actually trying to achieve. Then plan accordingly for 2015.
“Get your hands on your organization’s strategic plan, and determine how your communication efforts can measurably help drive action toward helping your organization meet its goals and objectives,” says Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications.
Too often, she says, communicators don’t match what they do with the broader goals of their organizations, she adds. If you don’t know what your senior leaders are concerned about, how can you know whether you’re helping move your company in the right direction?
6. Figure out your metrics—internal and external.
Williams’ best clients regularly field-test their various channels, he says. They want to understand their reach and penetration, and whether they are achieving certain levels of understanding. For example, do can you check basic things like open rates and click-throughs on the emails you’re sending out?
“How are your current channels working, and who are they reaching and when?” he says. “Before you go into the budgeting cycle, do that check.”
Holtz wishes every organization were distributing email through some kind of package that enables communicators to gather metrics, open rates, and read rates. If they’re doing email internally and not getting those metrics, such software would be worth considering.
First, start with the IT department. Many communicators don’t know what metrics are already available through their own tech folks, Holtz says.
7. Consider your internal platforms.
It’s not just email. If this you are considering revisiting your intranet platform or the means by which employees can contribute, now’s the time.
Some companies are going to an “indie” Web approach, under which every employee owns a little publishing platform, Holtz says. This allows them to retain control over everything they share and determines where it gets shared.
Maybe it’s time to do an audit to determine what tools you should be using, Holtz says. Or perhaps you should budget for a mid-year audit in 2015 to determine what is working and what isn’t.
Many organizations decide they want to do this, yet when the time rolls around—oops—they haven’t built in the funding.
“If you’re going to look for an audit, budget now,” Holtz says.
9. Page through your organization’s 2015 calendar.
KBR’s Goins says it’s important to compare your upcoming calendar against your staffing needs.
“Make sure that you get the right workforce, whether it’s full-time or contractors in place, so you can plan,” he says. “Because you may have, say, a special company anniversary—like a 100-year anniversary—that you should start planning now.”
Don’t just limit that to the internal calendar. Make sure you’re aware of external events as well, so you can see where an internal campaign might be appropriate.
10. Prepare both short-term development and long-term performance.
Your successes next year will come out of your strengths—what you know you do well already, Williams says. But are you reserving some of your budget for where you’ll be a year or two out?
If you’re going to try something new, minimize the cost and the risks by planning and budgeting for pilot programs in 2015. These would be limited to smaller groups, such as a single department, to see how they work.