Creating a Communication Plan from the Inside Out

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The question was – Are you ready for the second wave of social media? Really, we kind of did it backwards, which is ok. We humans rarely get thing right the first time. This is my umpteenth (is that a word?) shot a creating a thorough yet simple communication strategy for organizations who are contemplating social media or who have jumped in and now want to take a breath and see if they can improve what they are doing. The simplest version of this was posted today (how’s that for synchronicity!) in the ByzHub Blog.

Let’s simplify Social Media / Marketing for you…

Social Media/ Marketing = Networking

Networking = Building Relationships

Therefore Social Media / Marketing = Building Relationships

I’m going to add Building Relationships = Communication and Communication begins within.. Within the person and within the organization.

Following is a guide that can help your organization take the first steps toward creating a healthy and productive relationship with your constituents. I use the term constituents to more fully include all the individuals, groups, communities, organizations and government agencies that you may be in relationship with and therefore need to communicate with.

Like all healthy relationships, your relationship with your constituents is grounded in and impacted by communications.  Communication is the art and practice of sharing information, thoughts and feelings. Exemplary communication includes deep listening, accurate understanding of content and emotions and clearly sharing out information in a way that builds and supports the relationships between the constituents and the organization. To be successful in communication and in relationship building the place to start is with oneself. In this case we are talking about your organization so we begin by looking at the agency itself.

What are your organizational Values?

What is your organization’s Vision?

What is your organization’s Mission?

What are your organization’s Objectives?

Are these still current? Do they accurately represent your organization? If they are not an accurate representation of your organization as it is now then this will be the first step. If these are representative then you have an excellent point of reference to begin the process of building relationships and creating a communication strategy.

When designing a relationship and communication strategy there are several constituent groups that need to be considered.

First we have the internal constituents. This group includes leaders, managers, supervisors, board members, staff and volunteers. With each of these groups ask yourself, or better yet ask them, the following questions.

If you do send out these questions try to ensure the responses are anonymous. THOUGHTstream is a great online tool for this and paper and pen work well too. If you want a great visual way to see these paste the responses for each question into

What do you think about our organization? What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when the topic of our organization comes up? What do you say to yourself about our organization?

What do you currently feel about our organization? When you think about our organization, what emotions do you experience?

What are you currently saying to others about our organization? How often to you talk to people outside of our organization about what we do and how we do it?

What are you currently doing to actualize our organizations Vision, Values, Mission and Objectives?

The second part of this is to ask the same questions refocused on what people want to be true.

What do you want to think about our organization? What do you want the first thing that pops into your mind when the topic of our organization comes up? What do you want to be able to truthfully say to yourself about our organization?

What do you want to feel about our organization? When you think about our organization, what emotions do you want to experience?

What do you want to say to others about our organization? How often do you want to talk to people outside of our organization about what we do and how we do it?

What do you want to be able to do to actualize our organizations Vision, Values, Mission and Objectives? What are you willing and able to do?

The next step is a gap analysis. Don’t be scared off by the term. It’s a simple as noticing the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Is there a gap between the current reality  – where you are now –  and what these constituents want to be the reality?

Is there a gap between where this group of constituents want to be reality and your organizations current Vision, Values, Mission and Objectives?

If there is a gap between the current and preferred realities then the next step is to design a plan to move the group towards the preferred to, want to, side of the gap. This will also be the beginning of your overall communication strategy.

Identifying gaps between current reality and vision is a good thing. The presence and acknowledgement of these gaps helps produce the energy and creative tension that is so critical to keeping organizations alive and growing.

The other reason for starting with the internal constituents has to do with commitment. In small organizations the passion, energy and genuine commitment of the internal constituents is crucial. These folks are the organization’s champions and they need to be more that just compliant and more than merely enrolled in the Vision and Mission. They need to own it.

Now that you have idea about what’s going on internally the next place to focus attention is the external. Who exactly are your external constituents?

Who do you serve? Who are your clients, your customers, your shareholders/stakeholders?

You have to know them. This is sometimes called the context. The context can include:

Age  Culture  Gender  Lifestyle  Economic Background  Health  Politics  Sexuality  Education  Life Experiences  Values

How do they communicate?

What channels and media are they comfortable with?

What kind of messaging do they hear most easily?

Gathering this kind of information for all of your constituent groups gives you the context and will help you build relationships and communicate more effectively.

Ideally you will  explore the same set of questions that you used with your internal group. You can use small focus groups to do this or design a simple survey for a larger sampling of the community.

What does each group of constituents think, feel, say and do about your organization currently?

What do you want them to feel, think, say and do about your organization in the future?

What do they need from you? What do you need from them?

This is known as the contract and it defines the contact and the content and form of your communication efforts. It can also help you re-align your values, vision, mission and objectives with your community’s.

This may seem like a very involved and complex process. It is, and it’s not. You probably know more than you think you do, about your organization and your constituents. You probably already have a good relationship with many of your constituent groups. The tricky part is gathering all that you do know and leveraging that existing knowledge and those existing relationships into something even greater.

Have you done this or something similar? I would love to hear about it!

Context, contract, contact, content model, also known as the 4C’s or the non-linear design model is based on model adapted by Ross Laird, Ph.D from the Group Model of the Bodynamic Institute, Denmark.









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Finding Group Values

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yesterday I facilitated the inaugural meeting of a committee that is tasked with developing community driven health plans. The group was made up of representatives from several First Nations in the Fraser Valley including a few Youth and Elders, all interested in creating healthier communities.

I sent out a basic framework for an agenda as I wanted the group to feel from the onset that it was their group, their process and I was only present to provide support. My hope was that they would be ok with what I suggested but I was more than prepared to go with whatever flow they wanted. We ended up following the agenda which only had a few items; Introductions, Background, Values, Vision, next Meeting Date, Close. This is what I posted in the actual room.

Hub committee Nov 6 2010 004 agenda

I have been facilitating group process for a long time. I began facilitating in one of the most difficult environments to work in, corrections. My first groups were made up of offenders who were directed to attend or else. The or else being they would lose “good time” which was always heard as “you will get more jail time added on”. To say they were reluctant would be a bit of an understatement.  After a few years I graduated to working with lifers, sex offenders and offenders with mental health challenges.

What I discovered was that these groups of individuals, when it came to group process, were not significantly different from the groups of professionals I also worked with. I found this out due in part to an exercise I have shared with all my groups since I first began doing group work. I begin all group processes with a simple values exercise.

Begin by asking each person to think about what they love to do. Then go around the room and ask each person to share one thing they love to do and how they feel when they do that. Invariably you will end up with a flipchart that looks something like this. (ok, yours might be neater than mine)

Hub committee Nov 6 2010 005 personal values

There is one notable difference. What differs is the Means Values. The things we each do to get to that end state, that End Value. With some of my institutional groups the list of activities includes sex, drugs, stealing cars and the bike they are referring to is a Harley more often than a Schwinn. However, the End Values, they never differ. These Values are universal. We all want the same outcomes to our activities, we want to feel good, to feel free, strong, alive, at peace, safe, or as has been often quoted “Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…”.

Yesterday’s group was no different. The generated a list of personal Values that was universal. The next step was to reverse the process in order to come up with a list of group Values and a list of activities or behaviours that was representative of the group’s purpose.

To do this we used large index cards and asked folks to write one value on each card with the understanding that we were now thinking of what would be important to the committee. The group generated about 40 cards which we laid out and began to sort, grouping similar values together. We ended up with about 25 distinct Values which we transferred to flip charts.

Hub committee Nov 6 2010 007 grp values sort

We then voted. Each person was given a page of labels and the instructions for this part were to use 5 of the labels to vote for the Values they thought were most important. (We used numbered labels because I will be transferring the input and votes to ThoughtStream, dots could have also been used) The added constraint was that they could give one Value no more than three votes. In short order we had our top six group Values.

Hub committee Nov 6 2010 011 top 6 values

Next was the hard part. We had to come up with behaviours or activities that represented each of the Values.

To do this we used large post its and each person had to list one behaviour or activity for each of the six Values. If you have ever tried to do this you know how difficult it can be. Reverse engineering a Value is not that intuitive a task. But we did it.

Hub committee Nov 6 2010 013 values to behaviours

Each of the six Values was on its own flipchart sheet and each sheet was now filled with post-its that listed behaviours or activities that reflected the Value. The next step was to do a reverse vote. That is place a label on the post-its that you don’t think should be included or that you think needs to be reworded. We only had four post-its that got any votes so discussing these was not a long process, in fact we reworded all four in about 10 minutes.

Beginning to end we were only together for 3 ½ hours during which we set the foundation for the next process of creating a Vision, Mission and Objectives. By focusing on shared values at the onset we created an atmosphere of trust that is so critical for the development of any kind of team.

For more on building trust in teams I highly recommend Patrick Lencioni’s Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. For more on Values check out the Barrett Values website.

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