A “Failure to Communicate” Plan

cool-hand-lukeWhat we have here is a failure to communicate. If you’ve seen Cool Hand Luke you’ll know what’s coming next. While no one sets out to intentionally communicate poorly, we’re surrounded with examples where communications fail, are misinterpreted, or create a backlash. So, how do we resolve this?

Let’s break it into three stages:

  • Preparing for the disaster
  • Communicating during (the disaster, incident, event etc)
  • Communicating after

Stage 1 – Preparing for the disaster

Expect it will happen. If you run an IT Support Center, expect that at some point, systems will fail. If they don’t, people may let you down. In either case:
Develop your communication plan in advance

  • Simple but Complete – your communication plan may not need to be very complicated but it does need to cover the most critical areas. For this reason, prioritize the key points that need to be communicated.
  • Different Folks – will use different channels to receive your message. For this reason, develop your materials so they can be shared using fax, mobile, and on the web. Don’t assume everyone has the same setup as you do.
  • Authority – make sure the person distributing the communication plan has sufficient authority to impress upon others the importance of the document. If not, your plan will not reach its full potential.
  • Training – don’t assume that everyone has the confidence to share the plan. It’s not unusual for a communication plan to be ‘dumped’ on someone without being given the necessary training. For example, if you need to use social media or other web tools make sure the person has the necessary skills.
  • Be Consistent – don’t chop and change your message. Reinforce the same message through your communications. One way to ensure this is to make sure the same language, tone, and phrasing are consistent across all communications. This comes with experience and is also a reflection of your understanding and sensitivity to the impact the communications will have on others.
  • Test it. Have you covered all scenarios? Prepare to communicate over multiple channels.
  • Share it – have the necessary line managers received a copy?

Stage 2 – Communicating during

Once the event occurs, for example, a data center going offline or a rail network having to close a line for emergency services:

  • Locate the communicating plan. Check it’s the correct version. You don’t want to circulate an outdate or draft version. Make sure all master copies are marked FINAL.
  • Share the necessary messages developed in the communicating plan, for example, Health Warnings, with the list of contacts identified in stage one. This should include people in your company and external contacts, such as the media, local emergency forces, and support groups.
  • Confirm that they’ve received these communications. Expect obstacles, for example, faxes won’t work, email addresses are incorrect, and phone numbers are invalid. Again, as part of your prep work in stage 1, check on a regular basis that your communication details are correct.
  • Over-communicating v under-communicating

Stage 3 – Communicating after

It’s easy to assume that once the emergency is over, you can kick back. And you can do a certain degree.

However, you also need to follow up and see if all issues have been resolved.

Don’t underestimate the communications necessary after the failure is resolved.

This post-communications plan ensure that you tidy up any loose ends and reduce the likelihood of the issue repeating again.

The second benefit is that it demonstrates to others that you’re concerned that everything has been resolved for them and, if necessary, you’re ready to answer any questions.

It’s a nice way to reestablish trust and build credibility.