The “Sunday drive” is an old-fashioned concept, where the family would all get in the car and drive aimlessly to see nearby sites with which they were previously unfamiliar. Mom would pack a picnic lunch. They’d start off with a whimsical notion of a quiet country road and just seeing where it would take them, and the adventures, scenes, and surprises it would bring.

In these days of high gas prices and little free time, it is a rare if not altogether forgotten pastime for a quiet weekend. Just the same, imagine jumping in your car and backing out of the driveway without a destination. At the end of the driveway, do you go left or right? And once you’ve made that decision, then what?

Yet there are people in business today who operate their employee communications function in much the same manner. Their “cars” are the tools and channels at their disposal to communicate with employees, such as newsletters, executive emails, and speeches delivered at town hall-type meetings. Just because they have those tools, their default mode is to use them to deliver often-irrelevant information to employees.

What is frequently missing, however, is a sense of the organization’s destination, much like that meandering Sunday drive. So employee communications rambles around without a consistent set of relevant messages, without links to the direction in which the organization needs to go.

The Communications Plan is your GPS

Implicit, then, in effective employee communications is a strategy tied to the realities of the business and where its leadership is driving it. Just like that Sunday drive, the ultimate destination determines whether you turn the car right or left. With your destination programmed in, your GPS will guide you via the shortest route.

An employee communications plan is like a GPS, guiding decisions and ensuring that the right information gets to the right people at the right time through means that reach them effectively.

There is a practical way to develop an appropriate communications plan for any given set of circumstances. But it requires some legwork, along with serious thought and analysis. The initial steps are always the same, regardless of the circumstances.

  • What is your objective? Put another way, what’s the desired end result you’re striving for? A typical objective is to engage your internal audience in the challenges and opportunities the organization faces. This requires that they receive relevant and timely information that will help them see how what they do every day can help the organization surmount a challenge or take full advantage of an opportunity.
  • Who is your audience? Internal audiences are as diverse as external ones. Don’t take it for granted that the people that work in your company are a monolith. Are you an international bank or are you in manufacturing? Are your employees unionized in multiple plants, field salespeople working on commission spread across a continent selling medical devices, or mid-level managers at a multi-site financial services company? Define the audience both specifically and generally, in ways that mean something to you and your management team.
  • What do you know about your audience? Make sure you know as much as possible about your target audience. Again, consider their position within the company, their relative sophistication and their responsibilities. What you communicate must be relevant and actionable. How you deliver information should take into account their preferred means of receiving information, be it email, videos, face-to-face meetings with their supervisors, or some combination. Don’t overlook, too, employees’ ability to readily access online information. Factory floor workers or retail store salespeople can’t rely on a daily intranet update for the latest company news.
  • What should they know, and what should they do? Perhaps the most critical series of questions cuts to core of employee communications. What is it that you want employees to know, and why? What do you want them to do and/or feel as a result of getting your communication, and why? If your communications are of the “FYI” ilk, you’re probably wasting everyone’s time, because you likely have no reason to communicate.
  • How will the effort be measured? It’s one thing to make plans but still another to establish the means by which we measure them to determine whether they achieved their objectives. So a core element of the plan must be to measure the outcome. Doing so will guide future planning, enabling you to assess the ways that the plan fell short and where it worked best, thereby helping you learn important lessons for future such efforts.

Answering these questions will put you in a better position to develop an appropriate and effective communications plan consisting of what (content), when (timing), how (through what vehicles) and, specifically, to whom (target audiences).

In short, the key to successful employee communications lies in fully understanding your audience, what they need to know and why, and what they should do with the information you give them. It really is that simple.