Communication Objectives: Why Bother?

Communication objectives staircase model

Nearly every project within an organization must be communicated at one point or another. Interestingly enough, few companies set communication objectives for individual projects.

“Let’s just skip this part – we have all our project objectives listed here, that’s kinda like the same thing”, isn’t it?”

Well, it isn’t, unless we are talking about pure and undiluted communication projects, which are rare, considering the supportive function of communications within an organization.

Where the action is

Sally J. Patterson and Janel M. Radke make a clear distinction between project and communication objectives in their work Strategic Communication for Non-Profit Organizations. They point out that while the two include similar measures on behalf of an organization, communication objectives are solely geared to elicit a desired action or response from the target audience.

From my personal experience, the best way to check if you are not confusing the two is to ask yourself two questions:

1. “What will happen as a result of this project?” – “We will have a brand new intranet”

This would be a project objective.

2. “What will happen as a result of communicating about this project?” – “The employees will know about it, will know how to use it and will feel very happy about having it.”

This would be a communication objective of the project.

It is a simple and yet effective way to review the objectives set within the project. Whenever I am utterly confused – which can happen after a long brainstorm meeting with the whole project team – the little formula above makes it all nice and clear.

A flight of stairs

Although very useful in many every-day working situations, my simple approach to communication objectives will not meet the needs of a complex project or strategy. In such situations, I refer to the idea of Paolo Mefalopulos and Chris Kamlongera. In their book Participatory Communication Strategy Design, the authors argue that the mechanisms necessary for eliciting a response are comparable to those used in the process of innovation adoption.

In their Adoption Ladder model, Mefalopulos and Kamlongera identify six types of response: awareness, interest, comprehension, attitude, legitimation and practice. This model implies a hierarchical relationship – one cannot expect to elicit change in practice without having climbed all the previous steps of this steep staircase.

I like to use this model in my work, and while it may seem a little too academic for most projects, it can, in fact, be easily implemented. I don’t worry too much about skipping or not skipping the steps – it comes naturally, as the logic behind the model is actually common sense. People cannot be interested in something, if they are not aware of its existence. Similarly, they will not bother to form an opinion on an issue, if it doesn’t spark their interest. And so on.

Why I like this model so much is because it allows me to formulate the most appropriate communication tactics and pick the right set of communication tools. I use the table below to figure out the most appropriate communication objectives for each step of the strategy.

Here is how the Adoption Ladder model works for me in practice.

The Model Communication ObjectiveResult
AwarenessTo inform ...The audience knows about
InterestTo engage...The audience is interested
ComprehensionTo explain...The audience understands
AttitudeTo convince...The audience feels/believes
LegitimationTo commit...The audience shares ownership/relates to...
PracticeTo empower...The audience know how to...

So why bother with communication objectives?

I personally believe that it is great practice to include communication objectives into every project plan, big or small, even if the project does not accommodate for a communicator in the implementation team. Most organizational projects are process or product oriented and their managers tend to focus on delivering these end results.

If a communication plan is included into the project, it will often list a set of tools and channels through which communication will take place – websites, brochures and Facebook pages – and will rarely describe the desired results of communication. If we don’t know what we want from the audience, our communication efforts are likely to make little or no impact at all.

So let me ask you – why bother with the project to start with, if we cannot make it meaningful to the target audience?

(Ok, I admit to having a very strong communicator bias. :))

Zhenya StarkovaCommunication Objectives: Why Bother?

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