In my work with CPAs, I find that they often struggle to achieve the result they want from their communications. Too often, firm leaders grow frustrated with the lack of participation, response, or goodwill that important announcements and program roll outs garner and they find that their communications are misinterpreted or misunderstood.
If we’re honest about the profession, most CPAs weren’t called to their mission because of their love for the written or spoken word. Instead, they were called to this work by their love of numbers and financial models and business. So how can you be more effective in your firm communications, despite your lack of formal communications training? It’s simple! Think carefully about them first!
Here are seven questions to answer with your leadership team to devise more effective firm communications:
- What is your objective? What is the reason for your communication? What information do you need to convey? What external resources, outside of the communication, will you need the recipient to access? What action do you need the recipient to take and by-when should they take it? How will you be able to tell when your message has been truly received and accepted?
- Who are your stakeholders that need to receive this communication and in what order? For each type of stakeholder (examples include partners, staff, clients, referral sources, prospects, the press, etc.), what are their individual concerns or interests in the topic at hand? How will they feel about your message? How can you maximize their positive response and still ensure the absolute integrity and honesty of your message? What objections or questions will they have? How can you address those or overcome them proactively with your communication instead of reacting after-the-fact?
- Which leaders will receive questions about your communication? How can you prepare them to have correct and consistent answers for your stakeholders? Consider producing a “frequently asked questions” document for complex communications or those that you expect to drive a lot of questions or concerns from your stakeholders.
- What elements should you include in your communication? For instance, what are the key ideas within your communication? What is the “headline”? What context or background does the recipient need to have to understand and apply your communication? What are the “must have” data points needed to ensure they are well informed? What is your call to action? Who should do what, by when? Who should I see with questions or to share thoughts with regarding this communication? Where can I go for more information?
- What communications vehicles or methods will you use to disseminate your message? Consider whether this message should be delivered in-person (e.g., a merger announcement, a new office opening, welcoming your new Managing Partner, a layoff), via e-mail, social media, teleconference or one of a dozen other options. It is recommended that you use more than one method as many people miss your first attempt or don’t truly “catch it” all and repeat your message several times, over time, to ensure people truly hear and understand it.
- Who will draft the message and who are the final approvers? Who else should be included to gain their insight, but they are not a “must have” approver?
- When will the first communication occur? Consider how this fits with the timing of other events, important service due dates, holidays or events and plan the timing to ensure the most positive impact and widest possible reach to your chosen receivers.
To help guide you and your leadership team as you plan communications, feel free to access our Communication Plan Template tool.
Be more strategic and take the time to plan your communications proactively. The more you do, the more positively they’ll be received and the more impactful you’ll become.
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