Evaluating your organization’s communications can be like standing at the edge of a forest and witnessing various stages of tree growth–new sprouts, saplings and mature trees. Your organization’s plans and strategies can be ranked by performance stages. They also can reveal the organization’s awareness of and respect for this critical function and the amount of importance and emphasis it places on high-quality communication.
The National School Public Relations Association’s (NSPRA) provided assistance to organizations seeking clarity on this subject. During its 2013 national conference it presented and published the Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures. One of the measures was three levels of proficiency in communications programs.
Which one describes your organization?
Emerging: Communications program is in the early stages of development. It is largely responsive to immediate needs or problems. There is minimal proactive planning. Communications goals, if articulated, are loosely defined with minimal alignment with the organization’s goals and objectives.
Established: Communications program includes a series of defined approaches based on some research. Work toward achieving goals is broken down into strategies (How are we going to win the war?) and tactics (What’s our first battle?). Communications align with organizational goals and objectives. Some evaluation of the communications programs may occur.
Exemplary: Communications are conducted according to an articulated plan following the RACE (Research-Analyze-Communicate-Evaluate) model and are aligned and integrated into organizational strategic plans. Communications are supported through policy, training and resources. Ongoing evaluation to improve progress is embedded into operations.
Most organizations who are developing communications plans or departments find themselves in the Emerging category. They communicate only when they have to and use traditional methods without much variation. They’re often considering adding staff to handle newsletters that are sporadically distributed or websites in dire need of updating.
For organizations in the Emerging category, there’s much work to be done to reach the Established level. Most organizations don’t conduct much research. Getting formalized feedback is often seen as time consuming and costly. Results can be intimidating and bring a wide range of emotional reactions—from statements on the survey’s value (“This was a waste of time and money!”) to disbelief in the data (“I don’t care what people say, we’re not changing!”).
However, organizations taking a pragmatic approach to research discover strategies and tactics based on feedback often yield good outcomes. The key to ongoing and continuous success is highlighting the research findings that led to development of a successful strategy.
While serving on a panel on blogging at a Community Service Public Relations Council meeting in June, the question was asked, “How do you convince organization leadership that blogging is a worthwhile activity?” My response was a plea for communicators to show how content creation and all communications are aligned with organizational goals. All communications activities should contribute to the successful achievement of organizational goals and mission. Activities not contributing to goals and objectives should cease.
It often takes years for an organization to go from Emerging or Established to Exemplary. Most organizations will desire achievement of Exemplary status as quickly as possible because of the competitive nature of keeping score. But the bar to reach Exemplary status is a high one.
At the Exemplary level, the importance of communications must be embraced throughout all areas of the organization’s leadership. This is no small feat. There will be people with financial expertise who won’t understand the importance of transparency and storytelling when it comes to fundraising and stewardship. There will be people with excellent program or production skills who won’t exercise the discipline required to share critical information on the benefits of their programs.
A series of small victories will show people the importance and value of communication. Creating a vision of successful communications and providing leadership to make the vision a reality is challenging and, sometimes, frustrating. Plus, it’s normal for organizations to move between all three categories at various times and stages of performance.
More than at any time in the last century, your organization and stakeholders must successfully communicate to survive in a world of constant and rapid change due technological changes in communication.
We help organizations discover and embrace their current level of reality. We help create a strategy based on research and planning. As organizations execute initiatives and review results, a focus on continuous improvement often becomes embedded in the culture and becomes a legacy.
We help people and organizations become better communicators.
We welcome opportunities to help and serve others who wish to reach high levels of excellence. Contact us for a free one-hour conversation to review your situation.