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Strategy Spotlight: 8 Ideas for Creating a Common Language and Communication Plan

While visiting a Director of Enterprise Analysis at a large utilities company, we started to discuss their key challenges.

They had lots, but the one we honed in on was the need for a common language and a communication plan to improve communications among stakeholders.

This is a challenge for most organizations.

So how do you go about creating a common language and a communication plan to make your efforts easier?

Here are 8 ideas for creating a common language and communication plan for your initiative.

1. A Communication Map or Plan

As part of your process, you need to discuss communications early from both an internal and external perspective. Whatever message you will be delivering needs to be consistent. In today’s world of click-of-a-button information and communication dissemination, there’s no leeway for inconsistent messaging. We no longer have the luxury of writing complex communication plans. Nowadays a communication map must have the message and all channels of communication in one place with a single view.

2. Clear Definition of Words and Terms

This is one I have worked on for every assignment I have ever done, and it is not always easy. In one of my training programs, Gathering and Documenting Business Requirements, I get the participants to develop a decision grid for going to a restaurant for dinner at the end of the day. Each team has to pick three places, identify their criteria and apply a rating system (which I supply) to make a decision and come to a consensus. The participants think this is simple to do when they start but as they work through the process they discover it is not always easy. Why? Lack of a common language.

Related Article: Improve Communication for Better Collaboration

Often the criteria for selection becomes words like the restaurant must be close, accessible, good food, good service, have character, etc. I always have to ask the participants to define their words. For example, accessible could mean: a) that the restaurant is on the right side of the street so no one has to make a left turn into traffic, b) that you can park on the street and get out of your car and just walk in, or c) that people with wheelchairs have easy access to the restaurant and all the facilities. One word with different interpretations requires you to create a common language.

3. It’s Going to Happen One Way or Another

No matter the work you are involved in, communications is going to happen one way or another. So you need to come up with an approach that allows you to get ahead of the communication curve. One of my highly successful business associates told me last week that to get ahead of the communication curve you need to “be everywhere”. From their perspective, you need to have a social media plan with your message and words clearly defined, timed and placed consistently both internally and externally to your business environment. The thing to remember is communication is going to happen anyway. People will talk. So you need to ensure that you are out there delivering the message everywhere.

4. Give the People What They Want

Interestingly, what management thinks motivates people and what employees say is rarely the same thing. Management tends to think wages and job security are the most important factors for people, but many employees prefer inclusion, involvement, and to be appreciated for their work. This sentiment might vary depending on the working generation being reviewed, but in general, people want communication. They want you to have a conversation with them, not to merely tell them what’s going on and what to do. Given a lack of communication, people will invent their own ideas. As a professional, it’s important that you take the lead and make sure you’re providing the right amount and right level of communication for people.

5. Focus on Your Audience

Today it’s especially important to know your audience, especially considering all the possible communication channels and mediums available and the specific needs of each target audience and sub-audience. To avoid speculation, you’ll need to create an effective communication program that is audience-driven. You need to go back to your stakeholder analysis and revisit interests, goals, motivation, impact, and influence. This will allow you to design a communication platform that connects with your audience—both internally and externally. Your common language and communication map should make the distinction between the internal and external stakeholders, as well as establish a connection with your stakeholders. The main point, though, is to make sure you address your audience’s needs.

6. Know What You Need

There is no purpose to having a common language and communication plan unless you know what you want to achieve. Is it high-level or are you trying to communicate with the people who are responsible for the work itself? The people who are responsible are the doers—they get stuff done. The people who are accountable are where the buck stops. These are different audiences with different information and communication needs. Another difference, you will need to consult with some people, yet only keep others informed. Make sure you’re clear on who is who.

7. Core Items to Consider

There are many items to be considered when you’re looking at your communication plan and the development of a communication map. Identifying and finding the best way to communicate with your audience will be the key to your successful implementation of your plans. The communication analysis and planning process is similar to the overall work you do as a business analyst or project manager – you’ll still need to consider your stakeholders’ wants and needs. You’ll also need to find the appropriate vehicle to communicate the overall goals and objectives, the plans features, benefits and values, and find a way to address your stakeholders’ questions.

8. Follow a Structure

A common language and communication plan follows a structure. Start with defining your language early on. You may need some people to help you with this. You can start filling in a communication plan early for your different stakeholder groups. Make sure your communication plan is revisited regularly, perhaps as part of the regular meeting, once a month or every two months. Make sure you re-evaluate it after six months, however, and revisit it as part of your lessons learned review. The truth is creating a common language and a way to communicate becomes a living document that you need to review and keep up-to-date to ensure you are communicating appropriately in your business organization. It needs to stay alive.

Final Thoughts

For reference purposes this blog has been adapted from the book SET for Success, and the chapter on communication plans and maps. When it comes to communications, we all need a common language and a communication plan in our work and business. It’s the last piece of the puzzle and is part of the analysis, planning, and implementation cycle from the beginning to the end. More importantly, it’s part of the implementation and transition process that ensures your initiative gets successfully implemented. If you would like a copy of my communication template, let me know. I will send it to you.


Do your best,

Invest in the success of others, and

Make your journey count.