The Company Strategy Review, and why Internal Communications Needs to be There
A new white paper from Wayne Aspland looks at why Internal Communications needs a seat at the strategy review table… and what we should do when we get it.
Every year, most organizations stage an event that is one of Internal Communication’s (IC’s) greatest opportunities. In fact, it’s a huge opportunity for the whole Communications (Comms) team.
It’s an event that leads directly into IC’s number one activity. That, according to the Gatehouse State of the Sector 2019 report is communicating the strategy. It’s an event that shapes the IC program for the entire year.
And it’s an event to which IC could make an enormous, business-critical contribution.
Regrettably, this particular event doesn’t include IC most of the time. In the 2018 Internal Communications in Europe study, only 32% of respondents indicated that “The IC head is involved at the earliest stages of strategic planning”.So, forget about the enormous opportunity. More often than not, IC isn’t even in the room.
Not a good picture, is it. Of course, the flip side is that IC has a real chance to change the game.
As outlined in a new report the event I’m referring to is the strategy review. It’s the one time when leaders are able to lift their gaze above the day to day and look at the big picture:
- How the organization is performing against its existing strategy and long-term aspirations.
- Whether previous assumptions about the market need to be altered (which should probably happen often in these times of rapid, accelerating change).
- Whether the existing strategy and goals (and maybe purpose and values) need to be modified.
In effect, this review dictates the planning process, so it pretty much drives everything the organization says and does for at least the next year. Which, of course, means that IC should be all over this.
Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about being given the completed strategy at the end of the review so you can communicate it. And I’m not talking about being invited into the review occasionally when some advice on communication is needed.
What I’m talking about is IC (and probably External Ccomms) actively participating in the review from the very beginning. Capturing this position offers communicators a wide range of benefits:
- A greater understanding of the organization.
- Better relationships with the Executive.
- Improved, more demonstrable, impact and influence across the organization.
- The opportunity to prove your credentials for a more permanent Executive seat sometime down the track.
Now, if you’re not in the room, you could (and you should) ask for a passive ‘fly on the wall’ position at the very least. The business knowledge and context you’ll pick up will help when it comes time to communicate the strategy.
But you could be taking this to another level by seeking an active role in the review. That is, becoming a key player at the table.
Not only will this help the Comms team, it has the potential to fire up the review and deliver real business value in three ways.
Opportunity 1: Insights and thought leadership
The first phase of a strategy review almost always involves a detailed situation analysis. This is when all the work is done to see how the world has changed, how the organization has performed and what threats and opportunities are now on the horizon. Comms can support (and benefit) from this process in three ways:
- Use your content skills to bring the analysis to life and make it more immersive for everyone. The content you create can dramatically improve decision-making and be invaluable to communicating the strategy.
- Use this research as the backbone of your own content and thought leadership programs. This is some of the most detailed research the company will do, which makes it a thought leadership gold mine.
- Finally, you can use this process to lay the foundations for the next review. To keep your thought leadership current, you will want to update the research over the course of the year. Those updates could be really useful going into the next strategy review.
Opportunity 2: Shape the strategy
The Comms team has an important (and unique) remit that we rarely get credit for. Nobody works across the organization AND across almost all stakeholder groups (including employees) like Comms. When you combine this with our other capabilities (e.g. creativity, positioning, content etc), we can contribute to shaping the strategy in four ways:
- Creating the vision: Our knowledge and capabilities make Comms ideally suited to owning the vision, values and purpose of the organization.
- Connecting the dots: Helping leaders understand how a decision in one area will affect others and how to connect different areas of the organization to create new value.
- Telling the story: Advising leaders not only on how to communicate the strategy, but how to structure it so that it is understandable and accessible to all.
- Speaking for the people: More and more, organizations need a ‘voice of the people’, and Comms can play a key role in this space. How will the decisions being made impact our people and stakeholders? Where are the red flags?
Opportunity 3: Strategy execution
Sometimes it feels like the importance of communicating the strategy is grossly underestimated – not just by leaders, but by Comms people themselves.
In effect, the process of communicating the strategy involves shifting the organization from last years’ business as usual to this years’ new paradigm. As such, how well the strategy is communicated can have an enormous impact on the organization’s ability to execute the strategy.
In other words, this is one area where Comms can have a major impact on organizational health and performance. And participating in the strategy review can help Comms with communication and execution by:
- Making you part of the conversation and ensuring Executives are involved in the rollout.
- As stated earlier, giving Comms the understanding and context they need to communicate the strategy.
What to do now:
Of course, this isn’t a simple case of entering the room and enjoying the sunshine.
All the information above (and the white paper this article links to) will help you with the business case for claiming your seat at the strategy review.
Once you’re in there, of course, you need to deliver. That requires some specific capabilities:
- Business acumen
- Market awareness
- Cultural awareness
- Data and research
You can strengthen these skills by:
- Building better relationships with department heads and subject matter experts.
- Seeking an internal or external mentor to support you in this role.
- Consuming as much business knowledge, market knowledge and research as you can.
- Taking a course to improve your business acumen. Then, take your general understanding and apply it to your organization.
- Finally (if you haven’t already) establishing a Communications cycle, which effectively links your Comms plan to the organization’s operating cycle.
Taking a seat at the strategy review table can dramatically improve the business value that Comms delivers. It opens up a number of significant opportunities for your Comms team (in particular, IC) and the organization it serves. These include:
- An improved ability to execute strategy.
- An opportunity to guide strategy by:
- Improving the quality of decision-making
- Leveraging Comms’ uniquely holistic remit.
- A stronger, more aligned approach to the creation of thought leadership.
So, if your Comms team isn’t there already, taking a seat at the strategy review table could be a significant step forward.
You just need to take the step.