Creating an Annual Communication Plan


comm plan graphic

Unless you are in a senior role in the communications group or department you probably never had to make an annual communication plan before. Recently I  was asked to help two people (one from a mid-sized and the other from a small company) who never had to make an annual communication plan before but were expected to create one now. Perhaps you are also tasked with making one? Or maybe you are asked to comment on one?

The basic idea behind an annual communication plan is to ensure that someone is planning to address targeted communications activities to various groups of people across all the available platforms that are used by the group or organization. The plan should typically include specific mention of dates, details of the intended contents of messages or specific focus areas, and be specific about who is responsible for each of the actions. That way everyone involved in executing activities from the communication plan is aware of his or her role and when deliverables would be due.

Planning to communicate is not the hard part of the assignment as most people are quite creative during brainstorming sessions related to what we can do and how to do it. The hard part is to write it all down so that we all know what will actually happen after we leave the meeting or brainstorming session.  And the next hard part is to apply self-discipline to execute according to the plan and update and review the plan on a regular basis.

The downloadable template above shows various aspects to consider when you look ahead to a year of planned communications. Of course, we know that plans are subject to changes happening around us on the project or changes in the company or in client needs. This means the plan is not static and you should review the plan on a regular basis to add or change items as needed. Remember to share updates you made with other team members who have activities assigned to them.

comms plan first column

The first column in the template contains a few communication channels to consider as you look at the messages you want to share and the intended target groups that your messages should reach. Ensure that you are using the right communication channels that you know to be in broad use by your intended target group of readers. And each of the headings could have multiple options for example meetings could be global meetings, regional meetings and local meetings where you would like the same message or a different version of the main message to be shared.

coms plan headers left side

The columns across the top of the template are mainly there to document who is doing what by when and when you are ready to publish and have published or delivered the message. This helps you measure progress on planned activities and shows where you may need to apply special focus to avoid delays.

comms plan measures.JPG

The published date is important, not only to ensure that your intended actions were completed but also to measure the success of your communication activities after the activity has been completed. 

In this simple template, the only measure shown is based on the number of people reached. There are many more ways to measure the outcomes and success of your communication actions including:

  • How many people took a further action after reading or watching (if video) or listening to (if podcast) your message (i.e. liked it, clicked on the button for “more information etc),
  • How many people used it as a reference or highlighted it by linking to it, sharing it or tagging it,
  • How many people visited your website right after you have published or shared a new message?

Add additional columns to your plan (as needed) in order to capture any other important measures that you wish to track per message, date and communication channel.

General tips
  1. Plan to share the same message in many different ways to optimize the number of times and ways that your intended audiences receive the message during a relatively short timespan.
  2. Not every communication message can be forecasted and planned over a 12-month period but without at least a guideline of topics that you would like to share over a 12-month period, the chances of missing opportunities to impact your intended audiences are bigger. Remember, you can always update and make changes when unplanned events occur while you progress through your plan.
  3. Experiment with a mix of ways to communicate – create messages to be shared face-to-face with credible speakers and follow up with something online and perhaps also a film on your website.
  4. Do use metrics to track results against your goals. It is the best way to know what works and what needs to be improved. Having proven successes also adds credibility to your communication plan and activities.

When tasked with creating an Annual Communication Plan, you may never need to become an expert at creating this kind of plan, yet it is still in your best interests to capture your thoughts about planned communication activities, responsibilities, deadlines, and metrics in a concise way. This template is only one way to achieve this. Once you have created the plan in a structured way people can review it, comment on it and manage to it and it ensures alignment within the team as you make progress with your communication objectives.

Team Activity – Defining Project Interfaces


Most projects are made up of several sub-groups of people. On a construction project you can imagine there is a group of people tasked with looking after the physical safety of people working on the site. You can also imagine another group that looks after checking that materials and installed units meet quality requirements. These sub-groups of people have interfaces with each other whereby they exchange and share information, documents and outcomes. They also provide and request support from other groups to start, complete and execute a process. Most of the time project inefficiencies occur across the interfaces with internal and external sub-groups or functions.

The best way to ensure efficiency and effectiveness across project interfaces is to increase transparency around assumptions that people have . Test whether they are accurate and understood by others on the project.

Note that project interfaces can also refer to processes that involve multiple functions in the home office environment or the company structure. These “external” groups to the project may be setting high-level processes and goals, which create the environment that the project team needs to operate in. Examples may include HR, Finance, the group that tracks compliance with corporate policies and procedures etc.

This team building activity that I am sharing helps various interfacing groups understand differences that may exist between how they think they should be interfacing with other groups and what the actual expectations from other groups are.

This activity can be used in many different ways:

  • Clearing up interface issues among geographically dispersed groups working on the same processes or projects;
  • Clarifying how different functions should interface with one another on a project;
  • Clarifying any differences in perspective among cultural groups or different shifts of people in the same function working on the same tasks interfacing with one another; and
  • Getting clarity on how multiple projects should interface with each other and/or the corporate groups they work with.

The reason that interfaces with other groups tend to be where delays and frustrations occur is because it is common for people to analyze and optimize processes only for the portion that they are responsible for. This perspective means they often overlook how their efforts impact others or how the efforts of others impact them and they fail to take the bigger picture into account. This activity will support efforts to improve the outcomes of inter-group processes as you work towards greater successes on your projects and initiatives.

Use a reality-check worksheet for a Positive Mindset


The success of a leader, a manager or an ambitious employee depends largely on the mindset that he or she operates on. When we are in a positive state of mind we can focus on our goals and collaborate and communicate in positive ways which inspire and motivate others to help us succeed in our goals.

It is unfortunately also possible for us to get pulled away from the positive state of mind when we are in high stress situations for a long period of time and when we allow ourselves to go down a spiral of negative thinking. Successful leaders and managers have learned how to quickly realize when this happens and to start implementing corrective actions and adjustments to their way of thinking. This self-awareness and regulating their own emotions help them rapidly get back to a focused mind and closer to the outcomes that they are planning for.

Expectations and Reality Curves

This model shows the blue path which I call the Expectation Trap or summarized as the kind of thinking that believes “things should not be this way”. This kind of thinking very easily moves us out of a positive mindset and it is aligned with going against reality. We wish that reality was different and we build this on our expectations of how good things should be and how badly others are acting or behaving as if others are actually causing the negative outcomes which we do not want to see.  The green curve is the way out of the negative thinking. It is a different mindset which aligns with 1) doing a reality check and using that as the basis for moving towards a better way of thinking, 2) learning from the past, 3) changing or improving the plans we had before something happened to interrupt our progress and then 4) moving into the new direction with a positive focus and determination.

The first step, doing a reality check – is often the toughest and once a person is already in a negative state of mind it is really hard for him or her to realize that it is necessary to do this.

Use the outcomes from this worksheet for further discussions with your mentor/coach or adviser. It may be that you need some coaching or just someone to be a sounding board for you as you talk through the situation and how to resolve it in the best way.

Some tips:

  • Be sure to really connect with the negative feelings when you complete the worksheet. Some people are really good at being able to temporarily switch off their emotions to focus on business – but for this form, do make sure you are connecting with how it feels inside of you when you think about that situation or event that had caused you to feel pulled away from your positive mindset and down the Expectation Trap.
  • Do take the steps necessary to resolve any upsetting situation/event. There is nothing worse than unfinished business behind you. It slows you down and drains you of positive mental energy that you need to accomplish the goal(s) that you have set for yourself. Your coach/mentor or adviser can help you with that if you are not sure how to resolve the upset so you can leave it behind you.

Communication Plan


writing plan

Whenever you plan to make changes to a system, a process, a strategy or generally change the environment that people work in you will need to communicate. Specific messages need to be scripted and planned to help communicate the change that is coming, why things are changing and how things are progressing with the change initiatives.

Stakeholders in the change process could have different information needs and messages will need to take that into consideration. Identifying stakeholder groups starts by making a list of the groups of people who would be affected by the change. Think about functions, think about geographic locations, think about management levels, think about people outside your company who may be affected, think about vendors or partner companies.

Communication messages could be intended to explain why things have to change, what is going to change, when and how it is going to change, how the change is going (progress update) and what (if anything) people need to start doing, stop doing or what should change in the way they have acted in the past.

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