5 essentials every communication plan must have

Your plan isn’t complete without measurable goals, executive support, and three other must-haves.

I’ve been reading about strategic communication lately as I’m helping a client develop an internal communications plan. It’s a topic with which I’m deeply familiar, but it’s a good idea to go back and get a refresher now and then, just in case we become so focused on the work before us that we fail to remember the broader principles that guide it.

There are many models of strategic communication planning out there. The one I like to use is the one outlined by my friend and mentor Les Potter in his book “The Communication Plan: The Heart of Strategic Communication” available from IABC.

I won’t get into details of that planning model here. But as I’ve read and thought about strategic communication plans, I’ve noticed that successful plans must include these things:

1. Clear, measurable objectives that align with organizational objectives. If you aren’t clear on the purpose of communication and if communication activities don’t support the business’s goals, there is no reason to waste resources. If the objectives aren’t measurable, there’s no way you’ll know if communication is providing any value.

2. Research. Unless you understand the current situation, there’s no way to measure the effectiveness of a communication plan. You also must understand the audiences’ information needs, senior management’s expectations and current best practices in communication. All of this comes through research. I believe a communication audit is the best value in research.

3. Executive support and involvement. You are developing a communication plan to support the achievement of business goals. Your organization’s senior management must believe in the value of communication for your planning to happen in the first place and they must play a role in the plan’s development. In addition, senior management must be willing to accept a significant communication role in the implementation phase.

4. All-way communication. A successful plan must include strategies and tactics that promote all-way communication—up, down, and laterally. Communication today is about relationships and conversations that promote information and ideas flowing freely in all directions. This is a significant change brought about by social media.

5. Trust as a foundation. No communication plan will succeed if trust does not exist. In the context of employee communications, senior management must trust employees enough to share business-related information with them.

As employees demonstrate their trustworthiness (by using that information to improve productivity and business performance), business leaders must become more transparent and open. In return, employees will come to trust management enough to act on the information they are given. Trust takes time to build and only a minute to destroy. It is the most critical element of a healthy communication environment.

I believe these five things will enable a strategic communication plan to succeed. Do you have more to add?

Robert J. Holland blogs at Communication at Work where a version of this article originally ran.

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