Chapter 1 – Start where it matters: Strategy
The route to a successful employee communications strategy
Having a strategy is essential for business success, but almost two-thirds of internal communication professionals don’t have a long-term strategy in place. Frequently, developing a strategy is seen as too time-consuming and difficult. Here’s how to make it easier.
1. Know your company’s business goals and objectives
Your communications strategy cannot – and must not – sit in a parallel universe. It has to be aligned and tailored to the overall business objectives. So the starting point of any communications strategy has to be a deep and clear knowledge of the business goals. If that knowledge isn’t clear, or the business objectives are ill-defined in the first place, any comms strategies built on them are highly unlikely to succeed.Note:
- Tactics are not strategy. A strategy is a carefully chosen path that is created to bring about a future state of operations. Tactics are the actual means used to achieve the goals defined in the strategy.
- A business may need more than one strategy to reach a desired future state.
2. Think of your comms strategy in terms of adding value, not costs
As leading business advisor and internal communications expert Jim Shaffer says:
Shifting from a cost center mentality to a value-added creation mindset is even more critical when budgets are being squeezed and where leaders are either under-appreciative or are skeptical of the communications function.
3. Set out your vision and be able to articulate it clearly
No one in an organization, including leadership, will automatically have a clear vision of what a perfect internal comms strategy looks like. So, don’t look for perfection. Instead, take the time and effort to develop your vision and validate it over time.
Articulating your vision is the first step in the process that allows you the opportunity to define the way employee comms will play a role in a future state of your organization.
And when internal comms supports your business strategy, it gives your approach legitimacy and makes a stronger case for additional resources.
4. The five elements of your vision
Audience: Understand your leaders and employees better. Know their preferences, wants, needs, frustrations and learning styles.
Preferences: Know their preferred channels, languages, vehicles, dayparts (best time of the day/week to send and receive communications) and frequency of communications.
Goals: Align your communication goals to what you know about your employees. The content you create and the actions you ask them to take should feel targeted and meaningful.
Resources: Identify the resources you will need to bring your vision to life. This includes capital, people and capabilities as well as the technology. And consider any change management resources you may also need.
Measurement: Last, but most importantly – determine how you will measure your efforts. You will need to know if your communications are effective and how they deliver ROI. If you’re not measuring the right things in the right way, don’t be surprised if your leaders don’t value what you tell them, or your work. Finding measurement difficult? Check out Poppulo’s Essential IC Measurement Workbook to make your life a whole lot easier, and also Poppulo’s Ultimate Guide to Measuring Internal Communications.
Alignment – The secret to success
Support for your employee communications strategy beyond your department is vital. That makes finding alignment with the key people in your organization essential to win the support you need.
First, consider the stakeholders or executive committee who own the responsibility of developing the strategy and its outcome. Without their participation and buy-in there will not be any strategy, or the one you create will not be effective. Second, look at the executive leadership or C-suite – they are the ultimate decision makers and will review what you and the other stakeholders present. They hold the key to success. Finally, there is your own team, who will be part of creating and sustaining the strategy. Are they capable of doing what needs to be done?
Internal comms cuts across every part of the organizations. Success will be determined by your effective alignment and participation throughout the different departments.Note: Some Don’ts!
6. Remove guesswork through research and insights
It’s tempting to jump into execution mode, but it’s strongly advised to seek out further insights that will better shape your employee comms strategy.
This from Colin Mitchell in the Harvard Business Review: “Market research is a given for any consumer marketing campaign, but companies seldom invest in any research when their employees are the audience… Why go to the trouble? Because once organizations find out what’s on people’s minds, they can tailor their campaigns accordingly.”
Applying modern research, insights and action planning methods greatly benefits strategy. You get to know your audience, their wants, needs and preferences better – and when it comes to communications, knowing your audience is one of the oldest rules in the book.
- What communication channels do employees prefer?
- How do they best consume information?
- What are their learning preferences?
- Is it better to use more visual tools?
- Or do they prefer one-to-one meetings with managers?
- What do you know about timing preferences?
There are many more valid questions, so before jumping into research, it’s helpful to perform an audit to understand the gaps between the areas of strength in your comms and where you need improvement. Here’s a helpful free resource: Poppulo’s 7 Steps for a great Internal Communications audit.
After the audit:
You will have a good sense of the state of your internal communications and how that compares with the vision of your future state. But you need to dig deeper to extract more information by conducting surveys and interviews.
The Poppulo platform has been uniquely developed specially for internal communicators to provide those deep insights and statistical analysis that are essential for strategy validation before moving to tactical execution.
7. Moving from research to creation: Building your IC strategy
Your prioritized objectives and actions will by now be finalized and fully supported by your stakeholders and executive leaders. But first create a profile of your audience: This can either be in the form of personas or a more robust segmentation.
At this stage you will have:
- A future vision that has the backing of your stakeholders & executive leaders
- Audited your current state and understand strengths, areas for improvement and gaps in your communications
- Compiled research that helps validate much of your vision and course-correct where it is off
- Developed personas or segmentation of your audience
- A firm list of prioritized actions needed to address your comms objectives
Next steps: from strategy to tactics:
- After prioritizing your actions you need to apply a tactical plan to implement each action.
- But remember, this doesn’t have to happen all at once.
- Focus on one action at a time until you have enough people to complete all assignments.
When developing a tactical plan, the first order of business is to write up a brief that includes:
- A summary of communication objectives
- Measure of success – KPIs
- Target audience(s)
- Suggested channels and vehicles
- Team & resources – internal staff, external agencies etc.
- Budget: this is critical. You need to know what you have to spend is enough to accomplish your objective.
For a deeper dive into strategy creation and execution download The Ultimate Guide to Internal Communications Strategy, the acclaimed free resource created by Poppulo in conjunction with Vignette, the Employee Experience Agency™.