After 20 years overseeing IT projects, I will attest that one of the most valuable people to have on your side is a Communication person. Overlook this at your peril. Timely internal and external communication can win buy-in, and save you headaches, time and money.
Whatever title is given to the communication person supporting your IT change team, it’s the role of that communicator to not only get your message out but to be the liaison between your project and the organisation, its external stakeholders and, most importantly, its employees. This person will effectively inform and facilitate the conversation about goals, timelines, expectations, changes and their impacts. They can have a positive impact on your project’s integrity and reputation.
The responsibilities of the role are not simply to email status updates to the various stakeholders, but rather to design and execute an effective communication strategy. Who needs what information, when? How can they be reached? How can you mitigate the worries and resistance that is inherent in change?
It’s not about putting some kind of marketing spin on your IT transformation project but rather analysing the business functions of your project and the potential impacts relevant to stakeholders, anticipating questions and concerns, identifying junctures at which to provide critical information, and putting together a plan of how to best engage and communicate with customers, management, stakeholders and staff.
Considerable skill required
Based on our observations of client programs that have worked the best – where our clients have got it right – the communication role is essential and requires a professional. They have the necessary training and experience to cover the prime functions of the role, which include:
- Employee Communications – identifying and responding to issues that matter to employees; highlighting not only the benefits of the IT transformation project, but how employees can contribute and play their own crucial roles
- Public Relations – managing relationships with stakeholders and staff. Monitoring and using social media, responding to external calls and questions about the project.
- Crisis Communications – proactively advising managers and spokespeople how best to protect the reputation of the project and the organisation through change, and guiding responses through times of uncertainty, errors, delays or failure.
- Media Relations – writing and distributing press releases, responding to media inquiries and preparing spokespeople, building and leveraging relationships with media.
Getting comms onboard early is strategic. Playing catch-up is problematic.
Time and time again we see that best practice is bringing in the communication person early in the project. They need time to prepare a pro-active, contingency based communication framework for the transformation journey, particularly if that journey involves the agile method. You want communications ready to support the twists and turns of new methodologies, to identify possible issues and to have mitigating messages ready. With a proper communication strategy in place, you lower the risk of office politics and poor performance issues slowing your progress and affecting your budget.
Bringing in the communication person early gives him/her time to learn about your project and the technology involved. That is critical. The best implementations we’ve seen have involved companies that dedicate resources and time to the training of not only their project management team, but ample training for the staff who then have to use the technology day in and day out. When the communication person is one of the first people to be trained on the new technology, they are best prepared to become an advocate for your project and to communicate its benefits, features, functionalities and instructions to others.
Treat your staff like your clients
It’s important to communicate internally before sharing with external stakeholders. People do not like being surprised at work. If that happens they may feel unimportant, or worse, betrayed. We’ve seen situations where staff end up being surprised by news from other sources. We’ve seen the opposite, too, where critical staff buy-in was won through ongoing, timely, truthful and meaningful communication.
Employee concerns can be addressed before they happen so that your management team is not caught on the back foot. We’ve seen this in action, with effective communications helping to avoid issues like seriously disgruntled employees and squelching false rumours that could have derailed the project or distracted the implementation team from their main tasks.
Your trusted staff should know what’s going to happen before the message gets out.
We have to give the nod to the effective communicators we’ve observed and worked with over the years. It goes a really long way, with everyone involved.
Damien Pedersen is the Chief Technology Officer at Envisian.