The Key Steps to Communicating a Strategic Plan
— September 18th, 2020
Strategic planning should be at the heart of any enterprise wanting to remain competitive. Yet perhaps the single biggest challenge that will face any organization is when it grows beyond a close-knit group of founders and becomes a large, stratified enterprise.
The ultimate guide to internal communications strategy
That’s because at a certain stage in any business’s development the effective communication of ideas becomes impeded by organizational size. Having a great strategy can only be as good as those who understand it and are kept informed about it.
As Conor Neill explains, "Internal communication is the glue that holds an organization together and should not be treated as an after-thought. Without it, a company is just a collection of disconnected individuals each working individually at his or her own job. With it, a company is a unit with power far beyond the sum of its parts."
We should not underestimate just how much of a resource-hog creating and communicating a strategic plan can be. It calls upon the time and attention of staff and assistance from firms with specialized skills. These resources then need to collate and organize various strands of data so the organization can begin to glean useful insights to inform strategic decision-making.
So is it any wonder that these efforts are often tripped-up by a failure to effectively communicate these insights across the whole company?
It's not that a strategic plan may have some inherent flaw, but in failing to share it widely, the plan fails to gain traction and adoption across the entire organization.
A strategic plan must have focus and clarity around vision, mission, objectives, strategies, and actions. Yet, without subsequent employee engagement and active participation, it may fall at the first hurdle. This is where communication is critical.
Internal communication strategy and action plan
Any successful strategic plan must have an element dedicated to an Internal Communication strategy for sharing organizational objectives and goals. Management can devote huge amounts of time to such planning but sometimes external circumstances will leave little wiggle room. As David Pitre explains, “While the gold standard for change communication may be a thoughtful planning process that considers the input of stakeholders and defines communication roles, sometimes you need to put on your facilitator hat and collect details - quickly.”
One strategy may be as basic as ‘communicate to all members of staff’. But that communication will be customized to meet different conditions and needs. The action plan might include:
- Company focus groups to discuss key aspects of the strategy
- Internal email newsletters targeted and customized to geographic or departmental groups
- Online discussion fora such as Slack, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams
Internal communication plan: staff
The key to communicating the organization’s strategic plan is not simply informing staff but motivating them for change. The target is not the act of communication. It is achieving a reaction from recipients; getting key members of the organization on board with the aims of the strategic plan and seeking to engage in how they can help achieve new goals.
Marshall McLuhan used the now-famous phrase ‘The medium is the message’ to argue that the way you communicate is as important as what you are trying to say. With an internal communication plan, this rings true. Sometimes traditional group and one-on-one methods of communication will be far more effective at motivating positive reactions to change embodied in a new strategic plan than yet another round-robin email to all departments.
That’s why the way a strategic plan is communicated to staff is as critical as the message that it contains. As Chaya Mistry puts it, “To be effective in your communication, it is vital that we have a rich understanding of the receiver’s perspective; your audience. Switch from thinking about your own intentions to creating a shared understanding.”
Corporate communication plan: stakeholders
Why would communicating a strategic plan matter where stakeholders are concerned? For a moment consider who your stakeholders are? For a lot of enterprises, it will comprise your direct customers and staff, and may also include suppliers, creditors, local or national government, and shareholders.
Communicating your business’s aims matters where these stakeholders play any role in contributing to the long term success of the strategic plan. Aspects of this will be encompassed by a Corporate Communications Strategy but it has to recognize that the way communication with stakeholders used to occur has changed irrevocably in recent years.
As Tereza Urbankova explains, “Due to social media and easy access to a lot of information, all our stakeholders have become very knowledgeable and the core message must therefore not dilute, and must be aligned for both external or internal audiences despite different methods of delivery.”
Business communication plan: customers
Lest we forget, the first among equals remains the customer of your organization’s product or service. A strategic plan which materially affects how the customer experiences your offering could have unintended consequences. Consider, for example, when Coca Cola created a new ‘improved’ flavor of Coke only to discover that the customer preferred the original. In order to prevent a crash in its brand reputation (and sales) it quickly had to regroup and launch a ‘classic’ or the original flavor in order to appease its customers and prevent damaging its sales.
A 1985 op/ed in the New York Times wrote, “Whether the new Coke tasted better or worse, the company had underestimated the emotional power of its own trademark and created a backlash among loyal Coke drinkers.”
The clear lesson is that change matters. It often matters far more to customers than businesses may initially think, which is why communicating early in the change process is critical to a strategic plan’s long term chances of success.
A strategic plan should not exist solely in the minds of senior management. Once formulated it’s vital that all levels of the organization are engaged and enthused in the plan. The same applies to external and internal stakeholders that interface with the organization and can if handled incorrectly, upset best-laid plans.
Yet, there must never be an assumption that one communication plan fits all. The message must be tailored to the medium. Equally the medium chosen to communicate must be the most appropriate to the target audience.