What is a communications plan?
A communications plan is a tool that provides a way to structure communication and engagement planning to:
- Generate interest, enthusiasm, participation, and support for data governance
- Keep stakeholders informed and sustain interest in data governance
- Share the outcomes of data governance activities
- Generate interest in spreading data governance activities to more teams.
Who needs to create a communications plan?
Every data governance centre of excellence should create a communication plan to support its data governance foundation roadmap, data strategy, and business-as-usual activities.
This is usually done by the Data Governance Lead, supported by the internal comms team.
What are the most common communication plan mistakes?
Making the plan too high level
In the early days of data governance implementation, it is easy to fall into the trap of creating a communications plan that focuses more on the volume and frequency of communication than the contents.
I’ve seen many examples of sharing meeting minutes in emails and on intranet pages, including brief entries as agendas for stewards’ meetings.
This stuff is so high-level. As a matter of course, it’s standard procedure to share meeting minutes with the attendees. However, a good communications plan should support, educate, and involve everyone in data governance – whatever their level of involvement.
Focusing on data governance framework groups and ignoring the rest of the firm
One of the biggest compliments your data governance initiative can get is for people to complain that they are bored talking about it and tired of hearing about it.
There is no such thing as under-communication, especially when trying to get a data governance initiative going in the silos of a law firm. So, if people don’t want to hear about it anymore, you’ve got your comms right – and don’t stop.
I see too many underfunded, under-supported, and misunderstood law firm data governance initiatives because they either stopped including (or never had) the rest of the firm in the data governance communications plan.
Not building in a way to celebrate successes
Particularly in the business-as-usual phase of data governance, it is all too easy for the data governance lead to conclude that there is nothing to say or that the rest of the firm won’t be interested in the little wins.
The opposite is true. Every win should be celebrated and communicated to the firm. From adding a new term to the glossary to solving a data issue, you never know what interests someone, so share it all.
Sharing the wins helps the data governance framework group members feel valued since the whole firm can recognise and celebrate what they are achieving with the firm’s data.
When do you create a communication plan?
Once you have your data governance foundation roadmap or data strategy, the next activity is to create a communications plan. In the early days of implementation, data governance is as much about what you say as what you do. At the very least, you need to share these documents with the firm and help everyone understand what it means.
Why is it so important to have a data governance communications plan?
Since Data Governance primarily aims to affect people’s data-related behaviour, it involves a culture change. The behavioural and operational changes will only be achieved if everyone is engaged and participates in your firm’s data management activities.
Planning this engagement and change in mindset is a key driver for creating a robust and comprehensive communications plan before you do anything else.
What are the steps required to create a Data Governance Communications Plan?
Draft your key messages
The cornerstone of a great communication plan is the key messages document. Key messages set out what you need people to understand, why, and in what order. For big initiatives like a data governance foundation roadmap or a new data strategy, the creation process should have done some of this for you.
An excellent communication plan should contain these elements:
The big picture
Why we are doing
How we are doing it
Who is doing it
What and when
data governance roadmap execution
the vision and goals
data governance lead + data governance framework
tasks on the roadmap
Identify and segment your audience
There are many different models for doing this. Everyone has their favourite – or your firm might even have its own template. If a template exists, it is usually found in project management, change management, business analysis, or business improvement teams.
You don’t have to list out every single person in the firm. You can group people into sets that make logical sense when thinking about the ‘what’s in it for me’ of the communication that gets sent out. For example, roles such as Partners, lawyers, secretaries or Corporate lawyers, Finance lawyers, Tax lawyers, etc. Business services can similarly be split by role, team, or seniority.
Map out the themes and purposes
Themes of data governance communications
The themes are the action areas that you need to communicate about. For example, in a data governance foundation roadmap, the themes relate to each of the identified goals and groups. This helps you to schedule and plan for each activity specifically before focusing on the timing and delivery of the communications plan overall.
Purpose of data governance communications
I always encourage data governance programmes to have a communications plan and to make that plan as effective as possible by recording the intent and rationale for each communication piece. By which I mean, what is the purpose of the communication?
- Is it for information?
- Is it for action?
- Is it for a decision?
- Is it for education?
- Is it for preparation for a discussion?
- Is it for them to communicate onwards or to garner opinions from others?
Agree on the communication channels
Every firm has its preferred ways of communicating and collaborating, and data governance must use all of them. You must set up intranet pages, team spaces, distribution lists, meeting schedules, office bulletins, video blogs, and everything else your firm offers to help people share and collaborate on Data Governance content and activities.
Setting these things up as soon as possible helps increase transparency. It enables better communication between stakeholders, setting the expectation that data governance happens best by everyone working out loud.
The nature of law firms is that senior stakeholders feel more comfortable with a sturdy word document. But the reality is that no one will read a 30-page document with no diagrams. It’s better to have something much smaller and very pictorial instead (or as well, if they insist). If a senior stakeholder can’t get it in less than 60 seconds, it won’t land.
Add deadlines, owners, and dependencies
Each piece of data governance communication should have a target date when it will be shared. There is usually so much happening in a law firm that these dates are typically fixed and cannot easily change without impacting other functions’ communications plans.
If drafts need to be signed off, the plan needs to be clear about who needs to do that and by when.
You also need to keep track of other people’s deadlines. For example, the Internal Comms team might ask for articles to be sent to them a week before the firm bulletin is published.
There are two types of owners. The person holding the pen and creating the communication, and the one whose name it is going out under. It’s not unusual for most data governance comms to be shared by the Data Governance sponsor but be created by the Data Governance Lead.
Be clear about who is doing which activity and how much involvement the sender wants with the creation process.
Make it easy on yourself by getting your intranet pages, collaboration spaces, MS Team sites, distribution lists, templates, or whatever else you identified for your roadmap set up at the very beginning. This dramatically reduces your dependency list.
You will still have to wait for some things. For example, you can’t record the video until the script has been signed off; noting this dependency helps you properly plan activities and deadlines.
Summing up and next steps
Every data governance initiative needs a communications plan that identifies the key messages, audiences, themes, purposes, channels, owners, deadlines, and dependencies of each communication.
It’s essential to make this plan detailed so that every part of the firm receives appropriate messaging about what’s in it for them and can share in celebrating data governance successes.
I hope this article has helped you learn more about the importance of a data governance communications plan for your firm.
If you have any questions or would like to talk about your data governance journey with us, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or via the book a call button below.