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The case for strategy and planning: Part 1 – Why it matters

Last week, a report into the priorities and challenges faced by internal communications professionals caused an audible sharp intake of breath.

The State of the Sector survey, carried out annually by Gatehouse Communications, provides a snapshot of the practices of internal communications around the globe and has become a benchmark for this growing profession. There were plenty of positives to take away – communications teams taking a more joined up approach, the function having a clearer purpose and gaining a broader remit across the organisation, and internal communicators becoming increasingly viewed as trusted advisors. However, these gains were somewhat undermined by a serious deficiency in what is, for me, one of the most fundamental areas in communication: strategy and planning.

A moment of full disclosure first. I am a real strategy devotee. Nothing makes me happier than developing a strategy that shows clear alignment to what the business wants to achieve, clarifies the role IC has to play and sets out the objectives and priorities to deliver demonstrable value back to the organisation. Having a good strategy has benefitted me throughout my in-house roles, and even now as I run my own business. Whilst I can’t proclaim the same love for planning, I appreciate that a strategy is nothing without the plan to deliver it. Therefore I can tolerate the process because, without it, I would not be able to achieve my aims and demonstrate my value.

It is for this reason that I was taken aback to read that a whopping 21% of practitioners admitted they did not have any kind of strategic frameworks in place – at all! Furthermore, only 33% of respondents said they had a strategy for a year or more, and only half have an annual plan. Delving further into the report, potential reasons behind this figure were indicated, such as volumes of communication being too high and budgets/resources being restricted that could mean teams are too stretched and focused on the reactive, with little time for the strategic. A lack of skills or structure within IC teams could also be a contributing factor, with no one having either the expertise to create the strategy or being given the responsibility to develop it.

Whilst these are all very valid reasons, it probably means these teams are frustratingly caught in a viscous circle. Without a strategy, it will be difficult to justify where they should be spending their time, and therefore the priority becomes the most urgent rather than the most valuable. Furthermore, without a plan they cannot measure progress and therefore demonstrate effectiveness or make a case for more resources.

I know that I am an anomaly in my love of strategy, and that, along with planning, it is probably not at the top of most communicators’ favourite activities. However, over the next couple of weeks I want to make a case for these important building blocks – how they can help to overcome many of the communications challenges found in an organisation whilst creating a better communications culture and impacting the business’s own strategic goals.

Please let me know if you there are any specific areas you would like me to cover. To receive alerts for when new blog posts are released, please provide your details below, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.