Maturity Model for Microsoft 365 * Elevating Communication
This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.
The Communication Competency article provides an overview of communication concepts within Microsoft 365 and details for each of the five maturity levels from Initial to Optimizing (100 through 500). It adopts a broadly technology-agnostic approach to the business characteristics of communication plus the expected benefits. This article explores how organizations at any level could use the Microsoft 365 suite (and associated technologies) to reach a higher maturity level.
How to move from Initial to Repeatable (Level 100 to 200)
Organizations at the 100 level of communication may find practices to be somewhat effective, but they don’t take advantage of the full power of the platform, nor do they take into account the multiple use cases which exist in even the smallest and simplest organization. There are no restrictions or guidance on who should communicate to whom in any standard format. The majority of communication is sent in email without consideration of varied audiences.
- Identify key stakeholders to drive strategic decisions around communication styles in the company. This group commonly includes corporate communications and/or marketing, human resources, information technology, and key leadership roles. This Communication Steering Committee may then focus on:
- Creating a communication style guide. This may include items such as defining tone of voice, reinforcement of company values and phrases, and guidance for writing for the web.
- Developing a communication policy to guide the organization on better practices for sharing news and events.
- Identifying communication leads across departments to serve as champions of business process changes and technology, reviewers, and voices of the customer to the steering committee.
- Develop templates for communication including approved imagery in a central repository all employees can easily access.
- Begin discussions and review of varying communication channels available to the organization to identify which messages belong in each channel. For example, a company may decide to use Yammer for all employee resource group communications.
- Begin identifying varying audiences in the organization to drive better targeting of communications in the future. The steering committee may find it helpful to create personas for groups across the organization to form a better mental model of the varying audiences. This can serve as a true north for the team as governance continues to evolve.
- Identify methods for feedback on communications so impact can be measured over iterative improvements. At this stage it is strongly recommended to complete user research to define a baseline so any future changes can measure the impact to the organization.
How to move from Repeatable to Defined (Level 200 to 300)
Communication at the 200 level sees some improvement as there is sporadic usage of the layouts, style, and standards. There is shared understanding of these resources across the organization though there is no training, support, or enforcement of these guidelines.
- Communications leads socialize the communication style guide and communication policy within their teams to ensure full understanding of guidance. This is also an opportunity for additional feedback for the steering committee for any challenges with the current guidance.
- Create a community where communication leads (often Site Owners) can interact to share better practices, ask each other questions about approaches, and find documentation.
- Begin the process of communication leads formally reviewing content within their team before it is dispersed. Common mistakes or challenges are tracked.
- Company culture, company size, communication security, audience, persistence of message, and intent of communication have been considered to identify which communication channels best support the needs. Document this guidance and share with the communication leads.
- Communication leads empower their teams to communicate across newly defined channels to support bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication.
- Varying audiences in the organization have been identified for better targeting of communications. Begin targeting messages to these audiences across communication channels to drive engagement in communications that are relevant.
- Begin conversations with the steering committee to identify any needs for removing or archiving old content and scheduling future content.
How to move from Defined to Managed to (Level 300 to 400)
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.
- Communication leads train the organization on writing for the web to support compliance with the communication guidelines. More formal support is added to ensure all authors have a deep understanding of accessibility standards and online reading patterns. The focus in this training is creating engaging and inclusive communications that convey a message resulting in a change in behavior (taking the action in communication, engaging in communication, etc.).
- Communication leads begin monitoring communication sources to ensure there is one source when topics are shared across channels.
- For example, there is a SharePoint news post on the Intranet about the company’s upcoming re-branding. This post is then shared on Teams within the Marketing Department, so the team is up to date on what has been shared with the company for their current initiative. The same post from SharePoint news is then also shared on Yammer to invite crowd sourced ideas.
- Formally add communication templates and imagery to Microsoft 365 removing friction for company-wide usage. This may include usage of document templates, site designs for common news layouts across site collections, or organizational assets.
- The Steering Committee and communication leads begin reviewing feedback for trends and areas of improvement across communication channels. This feedback is then shared through the communication leads to their respective teams. Page analytics and other usage data are used to expand on anecdotal feedback. This usage data is also tracked to proactively identify trends in engagement with communication better informing ideal communication channels and posting times.
- For example, usage data may show leadership posting on Thursday mornings in Yammer about employee resource groups gets the highest engagement. Communications may have previously been sent via email with little engagement, so the first shift was to bring these messages to Yammer allowing more interaction from employees. The second shift may be around the time these posts are released as the posts on Mondays showed little engagement as employees focused on their tasks for the week.
- Implement a business process to review employee profile data with the cross-functional teams who are responsible for this data. In many companies this may be Information Technology, Human Resources, or a mix of both. The review of this employee profile data is to ensure alignment on which fields are being completed to support the specific audiences the Steering Committee has identified for targeted communications.
- Communication leads begin training their respective teams on alternate media types in addition to text to ensure the multimedia format communication is shared and also supports engagement with the messages.
- For example, you may have a desk-less workforce who finds news updates easier to consume in short videos rather than a written page. The teams are trained on usage of Microsoft Stream functionality to embed videos in SharePoint news posts. Key messages are also written in text on the news posts to support varied learning styles.
- If communication approvals need to be implemented (as determined by the steering committee), the impacted communication channels are identified, and a business process is in place. For most organizations, the focus should remain on keeping as much freedom in sharing communication across the organization as possible to ensure timely updates. Highly regulated industries may need more control.
How to move from Managed to Optimizing (Level 400 to 500)
At the 400 level of Communications, 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.
- Communication leads and the steering committee shift focus from creating audience targets and groups to ensuring these groups are used effectively in the right places at the right times. Begin filtering communication across channels with an automated process. This may include Power Automate flows, Teams connectors, or automated news digests.
- Communication leads and the steering committee focus on a consistent and robust information architecture of topics across all communication channels to support the Microsoft Graph’s ability to understand the reader’s interests and role creating linkages across knowledge and communication systems, pushing content to that individual based on known information.
- Page-level metadata may be added to surface and filter news. This page-level metadata may also be used to pull similar news content into search-based web parts so employees can consume news by topic across sites.
- Communication leads and the steering committee identify the period of lowest engagement from employees on all communication channels to create dedicated focus time for work deliverables that is strongly protected across the organization.
- For example, company-wide news is never shared on Monday mornings unless urgent and business critical to that day’s tasks. Monday mornings are reserved for team-wide news to ensure each group can focus on their deliverables for the week before focusing on higher-level goals across the organization.
- Employee feedback and usage data are applied to communication formats. In addition to the user research and interviews conducted previously for feedback on communications, begin A-B testing communication iterations to gather quantitative data on which format best supports engagement, understanding, and action.
Organizational communication is much broader than email and newsletters. Effective communication is highly sophisticated, enabling many types of corporate communications using a range of technologies to provide the right message to the right people in the best format at the right time. By utilizing different communication channels for their best use cases and focusing messaging to specific audiences, organizations can improve engagement and gain more understanding of the business. Great communications incorporate feedback, enable action and organizational change, and develop the culture whilst ensuring compliance and addressing risk.
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.
- Introduction to the Microsoft 365 Maturity Model
- Communication Competency* Maturity Model for Microsoft 365
- The Principles of Communication
- How to Share Org-Wide Communication in Microsoft 365
- The Evolution of Company-Wide Email Communication to SharePoint News
Principal author: Emily Mancini, MVP, UXMC