5 common missteps that can doom your communication plan

Lack of upfront research, misalignment with business objectives, and a failure to segment internal audiences are among the fatal flaws that undermine best intentions.

Despite the long hours spent developing communication plans, many fail.

Some plans don’t identify the business goal, some begin and end with a list of activities, and many don’t include meaningful measurement.

So, what does it take for strategic communication planning success to occur?

To build your credibility, avoid these five reasons that communication plans fail to get business results.

1. Research doesn’t serve as an input to the plan. Plans based on assumptions, guestimates or gut feelings are a big gamble. Take time to gather hard data or evidence to serve as an input to your communication plans. If you are thinking, “I don’t have budget or time for original research,” stop and think again. There’s a good chance some of the data you need already exists.

Tap into employee engagement survey data. Several communication questions are typically included in these surveys. Talk to HR to learn more about the demographics of your employee audiences. Interview leaders or subject matter experts to learn what employee sentiment on the topic might be or what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in the past.

2. Communication objectives are not linked to business goals. All too often, communication pros react to tactical requests such as “We need an e-newsletter dedicated to quality.” Next time you receive a tactical request, respond with a series of questions that will help you understand what is driving the request. Is it based on a business problem such as a steady decline in product quality resulting in costly returns and fixes? Or is based on the quality leader believing he needs a newsletter because the customer service leader has one? Your job is to identify the business problem and goals, so you are equipped to define communication objectives that make sense. What key performance indicators will your communication efforts be working to support—productivity, quality, customer service, employee engagement, recruitment, retention, innovation, brand reputation?

3. Measurement isn’t considered until after the plan is implemented. Defining measurement early in the planning process with your internal client or business partner is crucial. You are working together to specify what success will look like. If you wait until the end of plan implementation to talk measurement, you may miss out on the opportunity to make midcourse corrections. Will you be measuring communication activities, audience perceptions, audience actions, financial impact on organizational goals, or a combination of all the above?

4. Employees are viewed as one and only one big audience. Strapped for time and resources, the blanket approach used for employee communication rarely works. Although sending one email to employees is easier than creating targeted lists, consider that employees in one location may become disengaged after opening an email to learn staffers at headquarters are celebrating the quarter’s results with a party and time off work.

Audience segmentation is key to ensuring relevant and meaningful communication. Through segmenting by job type, level, function, division and geography are most common, some companies segment by attitude. Put yourself in your various audiences’ shoes before putting finger to keyboard and pressing send.

5. Corporate-speak holds sway. Leverage, low-hanging fruit, best-in-class, solution-driven, scalable—the list of these overused, annoying, empty words and phrases goes on and on. All today’s overloaded employees want is concise, straightforward language. They don’t have time to read between the lines and decipher jargon. Cut out the clutter, start using plain language, and help your employees get to your key messages in record time.

Julie Baron is an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group . 

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