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7 Reasons Why Your Communications Plan Fails

employee looking at stack of paper

male employee discouraged by stacks of files and communications plan
Your communications plan can make or break the success of your project.

Another election year has come and gone. On my way to the polls yesterday, a lady standing outside the building handed me a candidate’s flyer. She told me that person would appreciate my vote and also gave me a piece of candy.

This interaction was all part of the candidate’s communications plan to reach potential voters at the last minute. Political candidates usually don’t run for office without a strategic way to get their message out to voters. They create a campaign and assemble a team to run it for them because without a good communications plan, their message will never reach the public.

Even if you’re not running for office, there’s a lesson here for you. Just like political candidates inform and persuade voters, you need a good communications plan to inform and motivate your employees.

Maybe you know this and already have a plan in place, but it’s not working very well.

Here are seven reasons why your communications plan might be failing:

#1 – It’s too complicated.

Have you ever bought something that needed to be assembled but got discouraged because the directions looked too complicated? Whether the instructions were too wordy or loaded with technical jargon, maybe you found yourself tossing the instructions and just “winging” it.

This approach may work when assembling a bookshelf or a TV stand, but it’s a poor way to manage a business project. Write and organize your communication plan in a way that everyone will understand it: simple, approachable, and to the point. Disney had a fun approach to employee communications when it created its handbook several decades ago (see our blog post about it).

#2 – It withholds information from certain groups.

If you’re only communicating to your investors or your board members, you’re doing it wrong. Your employees are arguably your most important stakeholders and brand ambassadors. They need to know just as much, if not more than, the big shots at the top of the leadership chain.

Hiding details or withholding information for whatever reason is a good way to create paranoia. Get everyone on the same page so that your employees have all the information they need to do their jobs.

#3 – It doesn’t tailor information to different stakeholders.

Every department has its own dynamic and will have different concerns/insights about the project or change initiative. For example, your accountants won’t have the same day-to-day goals regarding the project as your marketing staff will. And your board members will often have different concerns than your IT specialists.

A good manager will know (or ask about) these concerns and specifically address them in the communication plan. A generic plan won’t help anyone do their jobs effectively.

#4 – It’s inconsistent.

This problem addresses two issues. First, is the heart of your message consistent or are you constantly changing it? If you’re always changing the plan, employees might feel like you’re always changing your mind, and if you’re always changing your mind (without good reasons), their confidence in your leadership will probably decline.

Second, can your employees expect to be updated on a regular basis? Or do they never know when you’re going to communicate with them? Establish a consistent schedule, like weekly staff meetings or daily emails, so your employees can be confident that they’ll hear from you regularly.

#5 – It’s mistrusted.

Edelman Insights: Comprehending Change 3.0 points out that “today’s work- force—comprised of more millennials than Baby Boomers—demands transparency, openness, involvement, and context to accept decisions.”

If you tell one group of employees one thing and then tell a different group of employees something else, word will spread that you can’t be trusted. Communicate consistently so people know they can rely on your word.

#6 – It doesn’t communicate the benefits.

In Change management: the role of internal communication, Tony Proctor and Ioanna Doukakis reveal why employees resist change:

  • fear of the unknown
  • lack of information
  • threats to status
  • fear of failure
  • lack of perceived benefits

To get employees onboard with change, make sure your communication plan emphasizes how the changes will benefit them (and the company overall).

Understanding the consequences of poor communication plans

Did you know that poor communication leads to project failure about one third of the time? That’s what a study conducted by the Project Management Institute found out. Check out these somewhat disturbing findings:

  • “56% [of the money spent on a project] is put at risk by ineffective communications, indicating a critical need for organizations to address communications deficiencies at the enterprise level.”
  • “Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.”
  • “High-performing organizations (those completing an average of 80 percent or more of projects on time, on budget and within goals) create formal communication plans for nearly twice as many projects as their lower performing counterparts (which complete fewer than 60 percent of projects on time, on budget, and within goals).”

Mastering the art of a good communication is not only possible but crucial to the success and profitability of your organization. Effective communicators increase profits, and engaged employees improve your bottom line.


For more tips about managing communication at work, take a look at our free checklist!


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