I and many of my fellow communications professionals will be familiar with this confusion when writing a comms strategy.
More than once in my career – both in-house and as a freelance specialist – I have asked for details of the strategy or business case for a project so that I can write the key messages to support it and been met with blank looks. It never ceases to amaze me how many things happen at organisations without a clear reason. So much is based instead 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 trying new things and developing new services can often claim to be truly innovative. And we have seen only too well in the last few years how crucial sudden changes of direction can be.
But it can make effective communication tricky if there is no guiding strategy at all.
Impact of no clear strategy
Years ago I 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. It was a good time to take stock and reassess what they needed.
One of the themes that came through my research 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 the reasons why, employees were becoming disheartened and disengaged.
Another client was in the position of not wanting to commit to a communications strategy because the business strategy was still in development.
How communicators can help
So what can you do if you find yourself in this position? As communicators, it is not our job to write the organisational strategy, but we can support its development.
I believe that one of the key skills of good communicators is to ask questions and really listen to the answers. This can be really useful in getting to the bottom of what is going on and why.
Give your audience a voice
Another important skill we have as communicators is to understand our audiences. We can use this insight to reflect the experiences, perspectives and priorities of those groups our organisation wants to connect with. We must do what we can to make sure we are in the room and speak up to share these perspectives.
Write a ‘starter for 10’ set of messages
We all live with a certain level of ambiguity, but having a clear enough view of what is happening so that you can put together some draft messages is a good start. And in my experience, once you have something to share with your client or stakeholders, this acts as a mirror to show them what they’re currently giving out as their messages.
This can in itself be useful, as it provides an opportunity for them to reflect on what they really mean. You will often find that you have either hit the nail of their business case on the head or that you are wide of the mark and they feel obliged to put you straight.
What’s your plan?
I know that things are rarely as black and white as this in real life, but having a plan of your own is a great way to move things forward. If you know the steps you can take to support development of the organisational strategy, it will take you closer to being able to deliver on your comms objectives too.
And if you need help with a situation like this yourself, please get in touch for a no obligation chat about the support I can offer you.
Until next time