Last time I talked about how recent statistics for internal communications practitioners showed a big deficiency in the areas of strategy and planning, and could be holding them back from getting the resources and support they needed.
For me, an internal communications strategy isn’t a luxury, it’s the most essential part of IC practice. Unfortunately, though, I’ve often heard it referred to as “just a load of words on a page”, “a waste of time thinking about how to do things” and “a dust gatherer”. My take on this is an experience of strategy that was not fit for purpose and may have been used incorrectly.
In the right hands, a good strategy should provide clarity of direction and purpose, inform decisions around plans and actions and demonstrate how you will achieve your objective over the longer term. I have found there can be many immediate benefits for both the organisation and IC function when developing a good internal communications strategy:
How often do we really do this properly? When developing a strategy, it is crucial to ensure that you understand the current context you are operating in. This can be done through analysing data and research (both internal and external), delving into your organisation's strategy in more detail, better understanding the strategies of complementary functions (e.g. HR), and assessing your own function through something like a SWOT analysis. Creating your strategy can really be a great opportunity to question the status quo or test assumptions that may be taken for granted.
Once you have a better understanding of the context, you should be able to better define the purpose of internal communications within your organisation, in terms of what role it fulfils and the value it will deliver. You should also be able to identify the primary areas of ownership and responsibility for internal communications, and be able to explain these to others. A purpose is especially beneficial when trying to prioritise heavy or varied workloads, often with limited resources.
For me this is perhaps one of the most important reasons to have a strategy. By putting something down on paper, you have something that can be shared with others in order to gain buy in for what you are trying to achieve. It invites discussion, and provides an opportunity for any misunderstandings or disagreements to be aired. Furthermore, once agreed, it becomes a tangible reference point later on, particularly when plans are being thrown to the wind. A strategy that has been developed in a calm, objective and reasoned way can be a lifeline during times of chaos, providing a point of stability to help everyone to take a more considered perspective once again.
The clarity that developing a strategy brings should reveal the priorities for an internal communications function (hint: they are usually those most closely and obviously aligned to the business strategy). It is also the best basis for making decisions in the future, as it will focus you on the areas that are most important for the achievement of your aims.
Your strategy should be your guiding star and, even if you have to make a small detour occasionally, it should prevent short term distractions from knocking you off course to achieving your longer term objectives. Make a note to review your strategy at half yearly or annual intervals in order to ensure your plans and activities are still aligned. If priorities have fallen by the wayside, question why that might be and what needs to happen to get back on track. Sometimes it may be necessary to revise your strategy slightly if there has been a huge change in the organisation, but overall your strategy should remain consistent towards a longer term goal.
Through all of these, a strategy provides an internal communications team not only with a justification for their prioritisation, activities or even very existence, but also something they can use to build and maintain support for their objectives. By continually referring back to it, in both action and words, it becomes part of the dialogue of your business and through this (as all communicators well know) understanding and engagement can be achieved.
In the next blog I’ll talk about how you ensure you have the right plan to deliver your strategy. To receive alerts for when new blog posts are released, please provide your details below, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.