If you’re a pension or benefits plan sponsor, you need a documented communication policy. Why? Not because it’s a legal requirement. And not just to check off another item on your best practices to-do list—although having a formal communication policy is a broadly accepted industry best practice.
You need a communication policy because creating one will make you stop and consider what you’re actually trying to achieve with your communication program—which really means understanding why you offer pensions and benefits in the first place—including how they support broader business objectives and employee engagement. These are the big questions that should drive both your plan design and your communication with members.
First, a word of caution. Communication “policy” and communication “strategy” are often used interchangeably, but they play very different roles. You need both. And if you think compliance with legislated disclosure requirements and/or Canadian Association of Pension Supervisory Authorities (CAPSA) Guidelines will suffice as your policy, you’re selling your plan short.
Your policy provides guideposts
A communication policy provides high-level guideposts that define the role of communication within a broader governance framework. A communication strategy, on the other hand, is tied to specific events or objectives, such as ensuring a smooth transition to a new provider or improving plan members’ understanding of certain plan provisions.
A communication policy is not something you can buy off the shelf. The content of your communication policy will depend on what type of plan you have, your organizational structure, and the extent to which plan communication is covered off in your other governance documents. Developing a meaningful and appropriate policy takes time—and requires buy-in from both leadership and those who will be responsible for implementing it.
Components of a robust policy
Although no two communication policies are the same, here are a few things that a robust policy would typically address:
- overall objectives (such as transparency around governance and decision-making, and equipping members to make informed choices);
- roles and responsibilities (such as who develops and approves ongoing strategies, internal vs. external resourcing, and quality assurance);
- protocols for who receives what information and when;
- how communication effectiveness will be monitored and measured;
- web, email and social media guidelines; and
- crisis communication.
Worth the effort!
Investing the time to develop a communication policy will pay huge dividends. A policy will help you manage communication risk and avoid potential missteps. It will facilitate the speedy development and deployment of strategies to deal with emerging issues. And, at the end of the day, it will ensure better use of your communication dollars. But your communication policy will be effective only to the extent that people know it exists, and only if it remains relevant to your plan. So, make sure you revisit your communication policy regularly, and make a point of sharing it with others.
These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.