Maturity Model for Microsoft 365 - Communication Competency
This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.
Overview of the Concepts [tl;dr]
Communication is a core competency of a successful modern organization. Most organizations want to be sure their population is well-informed about strategic direction, operational initiatives, cultural mores and norms, and the like. However, many organizations fall short.
Knowledge in the board room must get to the mailroom; likewise, senior staff need to hear the thoughts of people further down the reporting lines. The breadth of communication needs to be appropriate to the nature and urgency of the message and its intended audience. This competency focuses of the levels of maturity which organizations can achieve.
Definition of this competency
Communication is generally defined as a smaller number of people providing useful information to a larger group of people. This is most commonly the model for Intranet sites in SharePoint, Yammer groups, or organization-wide Teams.
Communication encompasses the processes of creation, approval, and distribution of content. The content itself can take many forms, such as News Posts, discussions about broad topics, articles and blog posts, benefits descriptions, etc. It can also encompass high importance alerts and notifications, possibly with feedback and tracking. Concepts like consistency, predictability, and relevance require both human investment and a robust technology platform.
Communication professionals will sometimes refer to the Principles of Communication; these might be worth considering alongside your maturity assessment.
Evolution of this competency
See the Maturity Model for Microsoft 365 - Introduction for definitions of the Maturity Model levels.
Level 100 - Initial
This is the starting level for a new or untried process. As with all 100 level characteristics, practices may be somewhat effective, but they don’t take advantage of the power of the platform, nor do they take into account the multiple use cases which exist in even the smallest and simplest organization. Typically, they are undocumented and in a state of dynamic change, tending to be driven in an ad hoc, uncontrolled, and reactive manner by users or events. This provides a chaotic or unstable environment for the processes.
Initial level characteristics include:
100 Governance, Risk, Compliance & Security
- There are no restrictions or guidance on who should communicate to whom or by what means.
- Communications are frequently ad hoc, not based on templates, lack governance, and do not tend towards an agreed ‘house’ style.
- High impact communications lack a review and approval process.
100 Information Architecture
- Most communications are untargeted or weakly targeted to intended audiences.
- Navigation and taxonomy have not been formally considered.
- There is heavy use of email to circulate information, updates, newsletters and attached documents.
- Content in emails becomes stale or out of date as soon as it is sent. Corrections after the fact require duplicated content.
- The folder structure for storage is re-created from shared drives, and published content largely takes the form of documents or PDFs.
- Minimal feedback mechanisms are available for the communications and are not formalized.
- Tracking for readership is absent.
- There is no means of prioritizing important communications, nor of scheduling their availability.
At this level you can expect the following:
- Frustrated and confused users
- Lack of consistency
- Inability to meet compliance requirements if any are in place
- Poor communication reach, limited engagement, and low levels of awareness.
- Gaps in coverage - not everyone who needs to see all relevant content.
- Poorly considered, incorrect and misleading communications
Level 200 - Managed
Processes are documented or managed by a central group to enable (but not enforce) the preferred ways of communicating. Some processes are repeatable, possibly with consistent results. Process discipline is unlikely to be rigorous, but where it exists it may help to ensure that existing processes are maintained during times of stress.
Managed level characteristics include:
200 Governance, Risk, Compliance & Security
- Nominated functions for reviewing/creating/releasing some classes of communications, i.e. nominated communications roles.
- A policy is available to guide users on appropriate communications and there are mechanisms to support them.
- Example ‘tone of voice’ guidance, reinforcement of company values and phrases (including mission statements).
200 Information Architecture
- Some degree of targeting, based on groups and distribution lists; users are not necessarily aware of the ability to do this
- Basic mechanisms for prioritization of higher importance messaging exist, but are ungoverned
- Use of templates for messages, newsletters, documents are in place, but not enforced
- Standardized images and logos (stored in a shared location)
- More than a single method of pushing communication to internal users, leading to some consideration of which tool in the portfolio is best for specific communication
- Publication of key messages to an intranet or other persistent system for ad hoc access and later retrieval
- Some mechanisms for feedback or further interaction resulting from communications
- Ability to schedule future communications
At this level, communications often don’t follow expected layouts, style, and standards. A central set of policies may exist, managed by a central owner, but there is no shared understanding across the organization of what these are.
Level 300 - Defined
The process is well defined and agreed as a standard business process. There are sets of defined and documented standard processes established, signed off, and subject to some degree of improvement over time. The processes may not have been systematically or repeatedly used to the extent needed for their users to become fully competent or the process to be validated in a range of situations. This could be considered a developmental stage - with use in a wider range of conditions and user competence development the process can develop to next level of maturity.
Defined level characteristics include:
300 Governance, Risk, Compliance & Security
- Communications policies are published and widely understood; some monitoring and reinforcement is in place.
- Guidance exists on writing style; spelling and grammar checking is in active use.
- Feedback and corrections are acted on.
- Brand guidelines cover internal as well as external use.
300 Information Architecture
- Different communication mechanisms/channels are understood at an organizational level and often used effectively by staff
- The purpose of different types of communication are considered and understood and appropriate strategies are defined for different categories and constraints.
- The portfolio of communication options is broader, and a clear set of rules determine which to use for specific content types
- Mechanisms exist for sharing localized messages with other parts of the organization; these are based on author judgement
- Templates, images, and logo assets etc. are available and encouraged.
- Top down, bottom up, and peer to peer communications are supported
- Mechanisms to prioritize messages exist in multiple channels, are well defined and broadly understood
- Basic, mostly manual mechanisms are in place for scheduling communication, updating, removing or archiving superseded or expired communications.
At this level, there is a stated strategy for communication that is understood and supported at executive level. This encompasses the many types of communication, with different purposes, approaches, and audiences. Communication is widely accessed and is broadly effective. There are mechanisms with agreed processes for centrally delivering the common communications needs using images and templated layouts.
Users experience consistency in core communication and know where to go for specific information. They can use feedback mechanisms, and most people can access what they need regardless of device, location etc. Less common scenarios are somewhat overlooked, ad hoc or lacking consistency. Higher priority/importance communications can be prioritized, so that they are not lost in the ‘noise’. It is possible to sequence communications, allowing planned campaigns and timed release of information.
Level 400 - Predictable
The communication process is actively managed in accordance with agreed processes, and the governance is well-defined, widely understood, and followed. Metrics are in place to track communication effectiveness.
Predictable level characteristics include:
400 Governance, Risk, Compliance & Security
- Message life cycle management ensures timeliness, approvals, moderation, accuracy, tracking, and removal at the appropriate time.
- Logs, feedback, site usage etc. confirms that content and messages are being received and that tracking analytics and reporting are available
400 Information Architecture
- Communications are displayed in as many locations as needed, in the proper context, but without duplication of content.
- Individuals, groups and roles are consistently targeted, based on well-maintained profiles and tagging
- Different media types are employed to ensure reach and comprehension across the workforce, e.g. live chat, published documents and pages, live briefings, on demand video and podcast/audio (for road warriors, for example)
- The process for aggregating information from multiple sources, or for pushing messages from one part of an organization to another are actively curated
- Templates and standards are mandated and embedded in the communication process
- Mechanisms to prioritize messages are standardized and broadly adopted.
- Processes exist to manage inappropriate use and these processes are connected to incentives
- Organizational Assets, such as agreed imagery, iconography, are standardized for communications use.
- Written content is formatted and presented to support online reading patterns and accessibility standards
- Communications are sampled for style, effectiveness etc. and guidance on improvement is offered.
- Some Compliance and DLP rules are enabled
At this level, users have a high degree of trust in organizational communications. They understand the communication mechanisms that are available, and feel confident in the source and appropriateness of what they receive. This maturity level still may create dissatisfaction in some users who remember the “wild west” days of the organization when it was less mature, and who feel restricted in their ability to communicate if they do not have the appropriate role or level of rights.
Level 500 - Optimizing
Management of the communication process includes deliberate and systematic process improvement and optimization. There is a focus on continually improving communications through both incremental and innovative technological changes or improvements. Level 500 is likely to include automation, reduction in manual tasks and associated variability, strong governance and compliance interventions, as well as optimization for user interactions and productivity.
Optimizing level characteristics include:
500 Governance, Risk, Compliance & Security
- Communications are automatically sampled for style, effectiveness etc. and guidance on improvement is implemented.
- Communication training is provided across multiple media types.
- Lifecycle management is strongly implemented and largely automated.
- Compliance and DLP rules are comprehensively applied and enforced.
500 Information Architecture
- Curation of communication is performed by ‘the system’.
- AI, based on the understanding of the reader’s interests and role, creates linkages across knowledge and communication systems and pushes content to individuals and groups based on role, activity and interests.
- Communication stratification is strongly implemented across media types and roles.
- Formatting and publication of content to different media types is automated or instantiated in robust processes (e.g. text to speech, speech to text, automated publishing, multi-lingual or multi-cultural content)
- Longitudinal communications are well understood and carefully managed.
- A-B testing of messaging may be in place.
- Focus time (non-communication periods) are encouraged and protected.
At this level, the ROI to the organization is demonstrable, and all users feel they have a voice through feedback mechanisms and content submission channels. The system supports communication governance, so users don’t need to remember the rules, making interactions more intuitive and lightweight.
News and updates
- The head of sales shares news about a massive deal with the department and rest of the organization.
- The CEO shares a story about a key new partnership that the organization has entered.
- The marketing department shares news with key customers about the latest innovations within the organization.
- The senior management team holds a town hall meeting with the whole organization to keep employees informed on the organization's performance.
Alerts and Notifications
- The company needs to alert the workforce to an external audit next week.
- Employees need to be made aware of a road accident which is causing travel delays.
- Accounting shares that expenses are due at the end of the month.
Vision, goals, mission
- The organization embeds an updated mission statement, with values and the rules of engagement to their staff.
- Changing work practices during unusual circumstances are announced and updated on a rolling basis, with confirmation from staff that they understand and will comply or adjust
- A monthly, mobile-friendly news digest is published in a form that different staff will access and consume, including frontline shop-floor workers and field-based staff
- The organization fosters innovation and improvement by inviting employees to make suggestions on how to improve the way the business works and suggest new product ideas.
- An employee asks for help across the organization to create a response to tender.
- An employee asks a question around whether product X can do Z
Cost & Benefit
Corporate communication is often seen as somehow exempt from the usual ROI driven business case; it has been difficult to quantify the benefits, while the costs are often fragmented across multiple approaches and purposes.
Some examples of communication ROI include:
- Reduced errors, waste, and inefficiency
- Improved completion of objectives based on shared goals and understanding
- Active avoidance of risks and non-compliance
- Enhanced culture and improved collaboration when everyone is receiving consistent messaging, especially across boundaries (departmental, geography, group, company, etc.)
- Enhanced customer and/or vendor perception where communication channels extend outside the organization
- Improved employee satisfaction due to feeling engaged, with the ability to provide feedback and participate in decisions
- Innovation (requesting, generating, and executing on ideas through sharing goals and making connections)
Costs are driven by the need to deploy and support the communication technologies, up-skill staff in their use and, most importantly, by investing in best practice and policy adherence.
Organization communication is much broader than email and newsletters. Effective communication is highly sophisticated, enabling many types of corporate communications using a range of technologies in order to provide the right message to the right people in the best format at the right time. Great communications incorporate feedback, enable action and organizational change, and develop the culture whilst ensuring compliance and addressing risk.
Organizations should define their desired maturity, based on their needs, circumstances and capabilities. They should recognize that embedding good communication is more than implementing a range of technology solutions.
Common Microsoft 365 tool sets
Every organization can choose how best to use the Microsoft 365 platform for communication. The best answer for a large multi-national conglomerate would make little sense for a five-person financial advisory firm. The Microsoft 365 apps and services that are in the mix for communication include the following:
- Delve / people cards
- Mobile device notifications (via Flow, Teams etc.)
- Microsoft Teams
- SharePoint Communication Sites
- SharePoint News / News Digests
- Viva Amplify
- Viva Connections
- Viva Engage
- Viva Goals
- Viva Insights
- Viva Pulse
- Viva Topics
Join the Maturity Model Practitioners: Every month we host sessions exploring the value and use of the Microsoft 365 Maturity Model and how you can successfully develop your organization using Microsoft 365. Each of these sessions focus on building a community of practitioners in a safe space to hone your pitch, test your thoughts, or decide how to promote your use of the Maturity Model. Sessions may also include a brief presentation about the Maturity Model including recent updates.
- International Association of Business Communicators
- Example style guide
- Organizational communications: Guidance, methods, and products
- How to Share Org-Wide Communication in Microsoft 365
The MM4M365 core team has evolved over time. These are the people who have been a part of it.
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