Strong communication helps TAM implementation programs progress with momentum and helps maintain awareness among all stakeholders. This includes the production and delivery of strong communication products that highlight TAM performance and benefits. An agency should consider a variety of tactics to communicate effectively on all fronts.
Formal and Informal Communications
Agencies with well-planned communication strategies tend to employ a range of techniques to successfully advance TAM awareness and knowledge-sharing. These techniques can be categorized broadly into two groups, formal and informal communications, with distinct characteristics.
Formal communication often provides the stimulus for informal communication. Communication strategies for TAM programs that embed aspects of both types of communication tend to be more successful. Understanding the relative importance of both communication types is important in promoting awareness and knowledge about TAM within an organization.
When meeting with legislators, the UDOT CEO uses the agency’s Strategic Directions Dashboard on a tablet device to communicate TAM-related information. He is able to quickly respond to questions and show information in a way that is easy to understand. The dashboard shows how UDOT is investing funds allocated by the Utah State Legislature. UDOT has taken advantage of the latest in online technology to provide a live, data- and performance-driven report that is constantly updated to reflect how they are reaching their strategic goals.
Holistic communication is about understanding and structuring communication to achieve the best results. This is not always an easy proposition, as effectively communicating a message can be described as changing another person’s perception of an idea. One of the keys to successfully getting desired communication results is knowing the target audience and providing the right communication mechanism.
There is a broad range of communication mechanisms available for use, and selecting the right one will increase the likelihood of success. Once the audience is identified it is worthwhile to consider the communication style that the audience would best respond to (verbal, experiential, visual or written), what media or social media platforms they have access to, and whether an interactive environment is appropriate.
Table 3.3 - Comparing Formal and Informal Communication
|Basis for Comparison||Formal Communication||Informal Communication|
|Meaning||Communication done through predefined channels set by the organization. TAM programs commonly use formal channels for cyclical reporting of performance, or engagement strategies to advance improvement projects.||The interchange of communication stretches in all directions and is uncontrolled.
TAM programs commonly create change that manifests informal communication as people are experiencing the change. If managed carefully, it can help advance buy-in and increase the authenticity of program merits.
|Otherwise known as||Official communication||Grapevine communication|
|Advantages||Timely and systematic flow of information.|
TAM communication strategies help agencies identify the message, timing and dissemination aspects of formal communication.
|Efficient because the information can flow quickly and focus will be personal to the individuals.
TAM program champions and advocates need to monitor informal communication and provide feedback to help refine messaging in official channels.
|Disadvantages||More expensive and challenging to communicate personally to individuals and ensure understanding.|
More agencies have existing communication resources that can be leveraged. However, some consideration of targeted messaging to TAM stakeholders may require adjustments to existing channels.
|Difficult to maintain secrecy and stop misinterpretation.
Transparency and consistency in messaging about the TAM programs’ expected benefits and expected implementation timings helps avoid these disadvantages. Should establish feedback mechanisms where there is anticipated risk of resistance to the TAM program.
|Evidence||Generally written with recorded distribution.|
This can be useful as a historical timeline, as improvement is tracked over time. TAM implementations take time to make gains. Also good to have a record of past communication that reveals incremental improvement that is not apparent unless assessed over a longer time horizon.
|Often no documented evidence of communication.
Anonymity can be an advantage to receiving honest feedback about how the TAM program needs to adjust to advance improvement initiatives.
Necessary to monitor informal channels to gain insights unavailable in formal channels.
|TAMP, Data Reporting, Performance Reporting, Program Updates.||Peer-to-peer interactions discussion about progress, informal discussion driven by increased awareness and training.|
Table 3.4 - Overview of TAM Communication Mechanisms
|Mechanism||Considerations (Pro: +, Con: -)||Internal TAM Examples||External TAM Examples|
|Reports||+ Opportunity to provide detailed information the reader can digest in their own time|
+ Formal communication that is a statement of a position at a defined time.
- Can be hard to get feedback
Annual State of the Infrastructure Report
|Websites, Social media, and Push/Interactive notifications||+ Highly interactive|
+ Reaches many people quickly
- Feedback is “public” and takes time to manage
- Technology may not be accessible to all
|Dashboard on internal metrics||Dashboard for performance reporting
Consultation and feedback on service delivery
|Brochures/ Post cards, Newsletters||+ Enables simple messages to be clearly communicated|
+ Internal newsletters can be used to inform and engage a broad audience
- Can be expensive to produce (in physical form)
- Not suitable for getting feedback
|Quarterly updates on improvements/ achievements in TAM||Post cards on upcoming asset improvements|
|Presentations, Training||+ Opportunity to interact and gather feedback|
+ Opportunity for listeners to learn through experiencing
- Requires significant time commitment from participants
- Good for a few specific individuals, but challenging to influence more than a few
Focused status reporting to top management
|Community meetings on upcoming asset improvements|
|Videos||+ Enables simple messages to be clearly communicated|
+ Can quickly share information to broad audience
+ Opportunity for leadership to be involved in reinforcing a message
- Can be hard to get feedback
- Can be time consuming to develop
Region of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada)
To assist in the implementation of a new Work Management and Decision Support System, the Region Water Services Division considered decision-making and needs across the organization, and communicated asset management system needs to the Division based around the people that would use the system. The Region created targeted communication tools that reinforced the vision of how asset management might impact people within their various roles in the organization.
By involving people in their current roles as examples, the tools reinforced how asset management frameworks are integrated within their existing work processes and what roles they play within the asset management process. They also highlighted the benefits of the change and how it would impact individuals personally across the organization. As the asset management system evolves through continuous improvement, so too does the need to find effective methods of communication and engagement.
Taking Care of What We Have: A message that defines the benefits that TAM brings through tangible examples that are linked to the DOT objectives. Ultimately this inspires confidence in the approach and the TAM decisions being made.
The Georgia DOT TAMP, published in 2014, included a communication plan to promote awareness of TAM and communicate the benefits of TAM practices. The communication plan highlights the goals and target audiences of communication and includes the key messages that are intended to be conveyed through various means. The main element of the communication plan is a table that lists the audience, communication strategies, and timeframe for the particular strategy. For example, in the near term the agency wants to have one-on-one meetings with members of the State Transportation Board regarding TAM priorities in their respective districts. Finally, the communication plan also contains brief measurement tools to gauge the reach and effectiveness of the communication efforts.
Vermont Agency of Transportation
Formal and informal communication can travel both upwards and downwards within an organization. Those responsible for TAM at VTrans proactively manage communication where it is practical to do so. When seeking to inform or influence senior leadership, VTrans’ TAM program conveys not only the opportunities and impacts of funding decisions to decision-makers, but also provides context to foster informed choices. The TAM program builds support for the implementation, and elected officials and top management benefit from better context when TAM communication focuses on:
- Understanding current and future performance and how it affects state strategic priorities – How does asset performance influence agency objectives? For example, reducing the amount of bridges with an NBI rating of 1-3 needs to be related back to how freight movement, and economic indicators, can be improved.
- The impact of decisions – What will be achieved with additional/reduced funding or reduced restrictions on expenditure? With the use of life-cycle analysis and reporting of investment strategies, the TAM program can communicate the financial impact of different decision-making.
- The benefit of TAM – Report progress and how program successes are made relevant and advance agency objectives. These benefits are best articulated in terms that are understood by all throughout the organization, e.g. journey time savings/ reliability, and dollars saved. Communication about benefits also can confirm the benefit/implementation of previous decisions, and increase awareness of the success of “we did what we said we would”.
- Continual Improvement – What VTrans’ next TAM improvement will be and the benefit this will provide. Communication like this shows that the TAM program is heading in the right direction rather than continually being told to investigate/consider changes that may distract from strategic pursuits.
VTrans focuses on communication that reinforces confidence in TAM decision-making, to bolster stakeholder belief that the additional dollar invested will be spent in the right place at the right time. The agency also hired a communications consultant to help them develop engaging graphics to communicate critical and complex asset management principles into common, “every-day” storylines and language, transforming their AM approach and their TAMP into a product message that is easy to understand and digest.