Dedicate time and energy to your rollout to ensure the best possible outcome when launching a new strategic initiative.
When companies work on key initiatives like a new merger, strategic plan, organizational goal, or change in policy, most of the effort goes into developing the initiative itself, leaving little energy for the rollout process. When this happens we end up falling back on methods that don’t resonate with employees. However, a company can avoid this pitfall by having a reliable communication strategy, which is useful for everything from major corporate announcements to day-to-day team communications.
From my own experience, there are four key areas to consider when creating one of these strategies:
- Develop. It’s as simple as the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” questions that we learned in elementary school:
- Who. Make sure you are clear on the action that’s required and who needs to take it. If it’s something that affects all employees, be sure to call that out. If it’s something that only affects a particular group, make sure that is known as well – that way, those who are receiving the message understand that it doesn’t apply to them but that they are being included for awareness.
- What. What do your employees already know? Is this announcement coming out of the blue or do they have any background? How much training or instruction do they need?
- Where. Direct employees to other resources you can provide. If you’re rolling out a new policy, you might also link to your intranet where all policies live. Or if you are announcing a new organizational change, you might also provide a link to a directory or a PDF of the org chart or other resources for them to contact.
- When. It may seem like an obvious detail to include, but when is this change effective? If it’s immediate, it can leave people feeling overwhelmed, so ensure that employees have enough time to absorb the information and know where to go for questions.
- Why. It’s crucial for employees to understand why you are making the change and why now. Is this related to another strategic initiative or alignment to an annual goal? Does a new project management standard align to an annual priority, or is it related to improving your overall project management initiatives? If you are announcing a new acquisition, does this align to your strategic plan goals?
- How. Provide people with “how we will execute on this change” content: how this will work, the timeline, upcoming actions, etc. For example, if you roll out a strategic plan, let people know how you’re organizing into groups or the overall timeline of key phases.
- Build. Before the actual rollout begins, you need to start spreading awareness with your team:
- Start with audience. You’ll need to identify the primary audience, the group most impacted by the change, but don’t forget those who need to know what’s happening even if they don’t have any action to take. Is there any group that needs to know first? Before you roll out a change in an approach or policy, have you made that group’s leadership aware that it’s coming?
- Delivery method matters. If it’s lengthy or involves robust training, you might want to conduct an in-person rollout or a set of virtual events. An email recap is a good follow-up to a meeting but should not stand alone as a rollout method. Posts on a company intranet are also a good way to reiterate or remind people of details or actions, but like email, shouldn’t be used as a standalone.
- What deliverables should you create? Is this a strategic plan that might need to have a theme because this will be a series of communications over the life of the entire strategic plan? Is it a process that could be better communicated in an infographic? Is a video more appropriate, wherein you can show screenshots or have a person on camera? Is it something that could be summarized into a one-page document that employees can print out and keep on hand for quick reference?
- Timing is key. People often don’t want to communicate until they are ready to tell the whole story – but when something important is coming down the line, it’s helpful to explain what you can in advance. If there is an acquisition in the works, make it known so that people have some background when they receive the official announcement. When rolling out something like a new software system, conduct a test rollout with a small group to get feedback and plan for communicating with the larger group. Considering days and times of the week is also important, as you never want to communicate something right before a holiday or late on a Friday afternoon that might get missed.
- Execute. You’d be surprised how often people put together comprehensive communication plans and then fail to execute them. Coming up with a tracker to stay organized on who is communicating what and when is very important. Meeting invites as reminders for when things need to go out are helpful; you can also ask for support in the background by asking team leads to reiterate the change. A particularly effective tactic is to go to a place where groups are – consider being a guest on a department all-hands meeting or a recurring management meeting so that you can give an update. Additionally, it’s always good to appoint someone to oversee communication so you have a single point of contact.
- Reflect. Once the rollout begins, check in with your group and audience. Hold an after-action review meeting to go over questions such as: Did we have the right communications? Was it enough or was it too little? Were there a lot of questions that came up after the rollout and what were they? It’s important to capture these insights while the process is still fresh in your mind, especially if you need to pivot. If you chose to do an announcement by email and you found that it created a lot of noise and confusion, then you might want to go back and schedule a quick virtual Q&A meeting or follow up to address all the questions in one go.
Every business textbook will emphasize that communication is important, so put the lesson into practice – dedicate time and energy to your rollout to ensure the best possible outcome of your initiative.
Ashley Heinnickel is chief marketing officer and senior vice president at Larson Design Group. Connect with her on LinkedIn.