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Complex Issues Require a Communications Plan
By Patricia McArver

I teach business communications at The Citadel and in my first class, I always tease students that no matter what the problem, the answer is always communications. That’s an overstatement, of course. Leaders must contend with budgets, vested interests, environmental issues and other elements that cannot simply be communicated away. Nevertheless, when communication is not part of the process, the solution that resolves one problem will inevitably produce another in the same way that plugging the spout in a boiling tea kettle will eventually cause the lid to pop off.      

A colleague once told me that in colleges, where the free exchange of ideas is a valued tradition, the process of decision making is as important as the outcome. My casual observations have confirmed that he is 100 percent correct.  People with opinions expect to have an outlet to voice them. If a constituent group is shut out of a decision that impacts them, they will not quietly accept the result.   Rather they will organize, petition and make life miserable for decision-makers until their concerns have an airing.  If representatives of different groups are consulted during the decision-making process and can understand the reasoning behind a certain course of action, cooler heads will prevail.  

A good communications plan, if not the be-all-and-end-all to problem solving, should nevertheless be a central element of any decision affecting a variety of constituents.

If college leaders would ask some basic questions when faced with a wide-reaching decision, they could usually save themselves many hours, several rancorous meetings, dozens of angry emails and a headache or two.

Some of these questions include:

  • Who else needs to know about this development?
  • What constituents will be affected?
  • What will this mean to them?
  • How can I help others understand the issues?
  • What process is in place (or can be developed) to help us communicate our decision and allow for feedback?

Transparency is a guiding principle for today’s leaders. While there will always be some people who claim they were never properly informed, the wise administrator will be able to defend the communications efforts rather than having to acknowledge that, indeed, pertinent information was not forthcoming.


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