Saturday, 11 August 2012

Components Of A Communications Strategy - The "When/How Long"

5) The "When/How Long"

This outlines the proposed timeline from inception to completion. It is two-fold: highlighting a specific moment in time when a proposed action would be launched, as well as the duration of the initiative. It also encompasses the notion of  time management.

This component is often overlooked or not given the recognition it deserves for two reasons.

Firstly, those responsible for the delivery of the 'desired good' may get so involved in the consultation and planning phases or may feel the need to wait for confirmation of key criteria, that an announcement about an appropriate timeline for the initiative may be delayed. These people may feel justified, at a later date, to give a vague timeline for the project, such as: "the third quarter of the year".

Secondly, (as could be the norm for complex projects in certain industries like the oil and biotech industries or in other divisions with rapidly-evolving technology, such as the IT, telecoms and manufacturing sectors), the ever-present cloud of uncertainty makes it difficult to pinpoint the precise duration of a project. Therefore a statement such as - "barring all hitches, the project could take eight to twelve months to complete" - would be considered sufficient when dealing with incomplete information, or with some elements of risk.



However, it is very important for the "When/How Long" discussion to be clearly communicated to all stakeholders for proper planning. The well-known saying: 'time is money', comes to the fore because people prefer to allocate a certain portion of their 'productive' period for a specific return. There is nothing more annoying for true professionals, irrespective of the countries in which they work, to have their time, (and by extension, their efforts), wasted on insignificant issues; time which could have been utilised for other profitable endeavours that would have yielded more favourable results.

At the workplace, clear communication of this component, backed up by a powerful rationale (the 'Why'), actually accommodates a certain level of uncertainty for crisis-management. It is simple really:  if people, as stakeholders, have more time to plan their projects and are given a tentative timeline, (vetoed by them), by which results are expected, they are more inclined  to adopt specific methods  that would  result in the successful implementation of the 'desired good'. They are also more likely to have a 'Plan B' for extenuating circumstances that could have a negative impact on their projects.

What should be avoided, especially during change programmes - and Management often makes this mistake - is a declaration that X programme would begin at Y period and end at Z point, without proper consultation with, and/or consensus of the stakeholders most affected by the change. Timing is everything and without a mutually-acceptable timeline, both Management and employees may experience, (albeit in varying degrees), some frustrations over a failed initiative.

Let us assume that thus far, four of the six components comprising the communications strategy, (the 'What', 'Why', 'Who' and 'How'), have worked in harmony, one often fluidly leading to the next. Without an efficient "When/How Long" however, the initiative could fall apart at the seams. Let us explore this point in detail during a much-applauded organisational initiative.


The "When/How Long" during an internal organisational initiative 

For example, the new Management may decide, following a merger with a smaller company, that all staff, senior executives included, should attend a compulsory course on managing conflict and building stronger relationships, (the 'What').

It gives the reason for this course as being necessary in order to hopefully tap into the benefits of  the two (distinctly) different corporate cultures and to build a cohesive unit across board, thereby increasing efficiency levels, (the 'Why').

It also explains that the course would be handled by external consultants, so as to promote transparency and objectivity, (the 'Who').

It then lists the process and methodologies via which the course would be administered i.e. via different sessions tailored to job designations and/or seniority levels, using the latest audio-visuals tools, interactive devices and role-play exercises,  (the 'How').

In such a scenario, what would be perceived as important, in order to 'tie in' the initiative, would be the most convenient period, (the "When"), for the course to take place. For example, employees during the critical phases of their individual projects, would consider the course as 'frivolous' at best, when compared to the more serious matter of reducing costs to increase profitability or completing  projects which have a direct impact on the organisation's operations. Nevertheless, employees may understand, and may even condone, an inconvenient date for the commencement of the conflict-resolution course if convincing explanations are given.

However, if the course is perceived to be 'long-winded' or if it 'drags on' for an extended period, (the "How Long"), not only would its worth be diminished but staff would begin to display a disinterest in the course. Some may skip sessions because they view it as a waste of their valuable time. Others may choose to stop attending altogether and may go further as to lodge complaints to Management, citing practical reasons why the course should be discontinued. Widespread dissatisfaction may lead Management to acquiesce to the demands, thereby halting what initially was a much-applauded  venture with  the potential of improving co-worker  relationships, promoting organisational citizenship behaviours and (by extension), increasing operational effectiveness. (Organisational citizenship behaviour, a well-known theme in organisational behavioural science literature, which has been empirically linked to higher productivity, was introduced in this post).

Thus the "How Long"  is as vital to the success of the initiative as the "When". For maximum impact, both units should be planned together in order to work as a single component.


As we have deduced from the given scenario, this component, when utilised properly,  helps to 'tie in' the initiative as it works seamlessly with the other components. On the other hand, when not given adequate consideration, it causes attitudinal issues such as lack of motivation and disinterest in a programme, thereby rendering it ineffective.

Inherent in this component as earlier stated is the issue of time management. Time management and prioritisation skills should be encouraged, deliberately developed and nurtured in the workplace. This is because in today's fast-paced era,  it is often the norm, rather than the exception, that multi-tasking is an essential aspect of professional duties.

The "When/How Long" component also leads to the 'what-if-something-goes-wrong' discussions, in other words, the "Crisis-Mode Plan", which is the  final component in the communications strategy.


N.B- Images courtesy of Animation courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


  1. True talk, a thoughtful and comprehensive communication strategy is a vital component to any significant change and improvement in any organisation.

  2. Many thanks for your comment. It is my hope that more organisations would realise the importance of this component - the "When/How Long", especially during project executions, so as to increase the possibility of success.

  3. I guess the first steps is to put the thoughts out there which you have done, sooner than later stakeholders will see the value and implement in their respective ventures. All the best!

  4. Thank you. Let's hope for the best!


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