To be seen as an effective business partner, the communications team must operate with a clear framework and be guided by principles that sets it apart. The communication engagement model is what makes the difference – a transparent and structured approach to partnering with stakeholders and achieving shared success.
Often, due to various internal and external influences this important aspect takes a backseat impacting how the function is perceived.
So what must be a communication engagement model and what design elements go into making it a success?
- Vision: Without a vision for the function and the engagement that follows, there is bound to be gaps and inconsistencies in deliverables and outcomes. The vision can consider aspects of stakeholders’ goals, the methodology to achieve them and defined parameters of engagement. It helps to clarify what is within and out of scope and where the ownership rests when it comes to executing programs. Lastly, the vision must align with the overarching business goals and strategic direction the organization is taking.
- Principles: To succeed, every communication engagement will need a set of principles to be agreed upfront. There will be key touchpoints, time and effort investments, reviews, and focused attention for the engagement to flourish. Level of involvement, results orientation and active participation are among key principles to make the model relevant. All stakeholders will need to have ‘skin in the game’ to be viewed as equal partners in the journey.
- Approach: Every stakeholder will expect the communications team to be proactive. Being reactive will lead to perceptions of disinterest or lack of shared ownership. Being on the other side of the spectrum is the ideal situation, although that will mean having a stronger grip over resources, priorities, funding, team and outcomes. Often, stakeholders may have very low expectations and the role of the model is to uplift the understanding. Going overboard with engaging stakeholders can often result in overcommitting and under delivering and not offer significant value. Therefore, striking the right balance is helpful for the organization, stakeholders and even for your team’s well-being.
- Inputs: While ‘input’ is a simplistic term to define this next aspect of the model, it is a vital element that can make or mar the outcomes downstream. Gaining business insights, how the organization operates, what are key priorities and which aspect need attention now, and in the future, can provide helpful inputs for communication interventions. Doing an independent analysis every few months or even real-time on the brand’s internal and external perceptions will guide your recommendations. Establishing ‘ways of working’ and ‘protocols’ will bring in a sense of stability and trust among stakeholders.
- Strategy and execution plan: Having a focused approach to driving the business agenda will be valued by stakeholders. The strategy must weigh the evolving external environment as well as internal changes that can shift the focus and priorities. A structured execution plan helps align forces and rallies staff. It also avoids misunderstanding with stakeholders on the rollout of initiatives.
- Outcomes: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Stakeholders will need to see impact and business value and the model is expected to show the direct connection from communication interventions made. Setting clear expectations that communication isn’t a sliver bullet that can solve all issues stemming from poor business decisions or policies can reduce angst among stakeholders. The model serves as a way to also surface ideas and newer approaches – which are outcomes, nevertheless.
- Feedback: This aspect of the model is closely linked to how communication continues to be improved. Stakeholders aren’t just the business teams or leaders you engage with but the receivers and users of communication in the organization. The feedback loop is crucial to provide much needed inputs that helps the team make enhancements to the content, channels, connections, and commitment to communications. It also doesn’t need to wait for a formal feedback survey. Reaching out often and real-time helps because stakeholders may remember more details when asked immediately, rather than later.
Putting your best foot forward means having a communication engagement model that suits your team’s goals, stakeholders’ aspirations, and company’s strategic direction. Every model will range from being reactive (engaging in the moment) and proactive (engaging ahead of the moment). While the ideal situation is to be on the proactive side, it is best to set expectations on what will deliver optimal value while raising the profile of the function in the long term.
What are your experiences with a communications engagement model?