Getting the Word Out

When I begin a new project, I include a Communication Plan as part of my team work. That is, we take the stakeholder list and think about who we need to be in communication with, as we move through the project phases. Some of you may do this based on an ARMI exercise (Approvers/ Resources/ Members/ Interested Parties) or Stakeholder Analysis exercise (List of key stakeholders and their estimated level of commitment to the project). We include activities like face-to-face conversations, presentations in department meetings, newsletter articles, postings on the web site, etc.

But even though we try to heed the mantra, “communicate 8 times, 8 ways” it seems like we always have a gap in our communication.

For example: Our team invites a key department leader to our project meeting; we discuss our project and get agreement as to next steps. We plan an elevator speech and ask the leader to discuss it at his/her next department meeting and get agreement to do that. We talk about possibly sending an email or posting information on the department’s bulletin board for those who can’t attend the meeting. All good so far!

Then, a week later – after the department meeting, and having seen for ourselves that the information is posted on the bulletin board, a few team members stroll through the department to gauge the level of buy-in. And – do they find that everyone is informed, interested, and enthusiastic about the project? Or, do they find that people are negative toward the new process that’s coming their way?

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Why, no! We find that most people remember vaguely hearing something about some new process, and others just give us blank stares. When the bulletin board is mentioned, we get the response “Oh, I know it’s there but it never changes so I don’t look at it.”

So, what are our learnings from this type of situation? We only communicated once or twice, one or two ways – so obviously we would need to keep our communication plan active! But are there other ways that you have been successful communicating outside ofyour project team, as you make progress? Thanks in advance for sharing!

Comments 6

  1. Elyse Nielsen

    Great Post on communications. I find that in today’s busy environment the main issue with communications is resonating with the receiver. Often communications are given in department meetings, team meetings, department newsletters and similar methods. Unfortunately, these communications get lost in the mix because they do not resonate with the receiver.

    A common successful technique I find is to have a ground roots effort with staff and leadership. I discuss the business issue, and look for suggestions to the solution. During the conversation, we look at the impact of the issue to the individual. Normally this begins to peak interest and the individual starts to listen. One can tell the ultimate communication is about to resonate.

    This seems to have some sticking power as a technique. If the individual is a leader in the department, often once buy in to the change has occurred who find the individual advocating for the change.

  2. Lil Maizer

    I agree with Elyse…the WIIFM…what’s in it for me…best way to know is to ask them, how is this serving you/is this serving you? Most often results or progress is communicated in the language of upper level management. I have in the past changed the language in order to make clear the impact/importance at the different levels…I have also "hired an interpreter," an individual who is an informal leader within the group. It also serves to reenforce how what they do and what you are doing is aligned with strategic goals/purpose…some times it’s not as clear as one would think. One of the most important aspects can be whether or not your organization is rewarding the behavior you’re looking to achieve…As in, why would they want to?…I hope this helps…have a wonderful day!

  3. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks, Elyse and Lil, for your great advice. Addressing the impact on the individual is a great way to make a connection. And I love the idea of using an “interpreter” as someone who can speak persuasively to the group. Looking for motivators such as recognition can also boost effectiveness. Thanks for sharing your ideas!
    –Sue K.

  4. Marty Yuzwa

    I have found a similar problem in many of the organizations I have worked with. The problem seems to stem from non-standard "cascading" communication down through the organization. The best solution that I have found is the Lean and Agile concepts of Daily Huddle sessions. These 5-10 minute stand up discussions at the beginning of the day are great ways to communicate issues. E-mails and bulletin boards are okay, but you really need a format where people feel comfortable asking the questions about how this news applies to them. Standardizing daily or even weekly huddle sessions in a department is the best practice I have seen to accomplish this.

  5. Observer

    Not all communications go to the head. Unless the listener understood it the way the expresser had it in his mind, communication is not complete.

    Bulletin boards are not sure shot communicators. They may be mandated requirements for legal purposes. Not for getting the message across.

    Asking the receiver to paraphrase what we said is a effective way to ensure it was received as reflected.

  6. Sue Kozlowski

    Marty, you raise a good point about the daily huddle, which I’ve seen used very effectively. And "Observer" – you’re right about passive communication techniques such as the bulletin board. The phrase I’ve heard used in healthcare is "teach-back" or "repeat-back" to assure that the listener has gained proper understanding.

    Thanks for your comments and suggestions which will help me to be a better communicator with my teams and stakeholders!
    –Sue K.

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