Aligning communication with overall direction

browningyork Change, Communication lessons, General communication, Leadership communication, Planning, Strategy communication

A drawing of a target with an arrow in the middle with the words strategy, plans and goals written round the outside2020, as we are all painfully aware, is a year like no other. Many business strategies and plans written in January have long since been abandoned or postponed.

The ongoing uncertainty of where we are headed means many organisations are re-evaluating what they can realistically achieve in the short-term and what might need to change in the medium or longer-term. And plans that seemed viable even as recently as a week ago may have to change again.

What does this mean for those of us who are helping organisations to communicate?

No clear strategy
Even before the current global crisis, there have been many times when I’ve asked for details of a business strategy so that I can write the key messages to support a project and been met with blank looks. All too often things happen at organisations without a clear reason, going in a direction based on instinct (or whim) alone.

The lack of a strategic business case doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad idea, of course. Sometimes that powerful gut instinct or ‘nose for success’ can be extremely accurate and beneficial. Organisations that follow a flexible approach to new ways of working and developing new services can often claim to be truly innovative.

And I believe that the organisations that are able to remain flexible, be innovative and look at things from a different angle will have a far greater chance of surviving the pandemic. More than this, those organisations will have leaders who can guide their people along this new path. They will need to communicate not just the new ‘what’, but will also need to connect activities to the ‘why’.

Employee (dis)engagement
I once worked with a not-for-profit organisation who had asked me to carry out an audit of their internal communications. They had grown in size very quickly. The methods of communication that had served them well as a small band of like-minded souls in one room were no longer fit for purpose.

One of the themes that came through was that employees were confused about why some people’s ideas for new lines of work were taken forward and others were not. Without clear communication about what was happening and why, employees were becoming disheartened and disengaged.

Tricky communication
To avoid disengagement or confusion, communication messages and plans will need to be aligned with this new flexibility and innovation. By definition, this can be tricky when everything is up in the air and likely to change. As Martin Flegg said in his recent blog ‘The tyranny of the future’:

They say that a failure to plan is a plan to fail, but in the current extraordinary circumstances I’m not sure that holds water anymore. Planning right now just feels to be massively disempowering and demotivating.

Strategy rather than plan?
So perhaps what organisations need are strategic outlines and frameworks. An overall direction of travel and reasons for heading that way, with the details of activity filled in at much shorter notice. This applies both to the business strategy and to the communications strategy.

A communications plan will get into the detail of the particular communications activities and detailed, situation-specific messages. A communications strategy, on the other hand, will provide higher-level information about how it should all work and why; an umbrella for all that follows.

Quick checklist reminder of what to include in your communication strategy:

  • What is communication at your organisation for? And how can you use effective communication to support the overall strategy? For example, how will communication help you to increase your fundraising? Or to support people in accessing your services in a new ‘virtual’ world? Or to feel part of your wider community?

  • Who are you communicating with? What do you know about them and their current experiences? What do they need and want from you right now?

  • What needs to be true in order to achieve these outcomes with these audiences? For example, people need to trust that you will use their money wisely, people need to believe that you are making the best decisions, people must want to be part of your wider community.

  • What are your high-level key messages?

  • Which communication channels (methods) can you use and how will they work together to achieve your objectives with your audience? Mapping them can show you where there are gaps or duplication and give you ideas for what to start, stop, continue or shift.

  • How will you measure what you are doing? Which measures can you choose that are meaningful?

  • If you need help with putting together a communications strategy to use as a guide for your organisation, please get in touch for a no obligation chat to see how I could support you.

    Until next time
    Sarah