How to be more strategic in internal communications

How do you talk about strategy in your organisation? Is it something you love or loathe?

I’ve written about strategy and being more strategic a lot over the past 10 years and today I have a guest post to help demystify the strategic planning process.

It was written by Matthew Batten, @matt_Batten1, Organisational Development Adviser at the Royal College of Nursing here in the UK. He attended an event at VMA Group this week and has shared what we missed.

Before we dive in, I’m going to bust some jargon. I view strategy as the thinking and tactics as the doing. I spotted this Tweet from Rachel Bowyer along these lines…

I talk about strategic internal comms a lot with my clients and Masterclass attendees. The next Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass (which has spaces) is on 11 June 2019, do come and join me.

Here’s Matt…

How to be more strategic in internal communications

Strategic internal communications. Three words I used to fear. But after attending VMA Group’s seminar, Moving on up: How to be more strategic in internal communications, led by Nicholas Wardle, Head of Employee Engagement and Communications at One Housing, I’m pleased to say that fear has now vanished.

In fact, I’m left wondering why I was so fearful in the first place? I had let it become this Big Thing I needed to conquer.

“Be more strategic, Matt!” I’d say to myself. I’ve even listed it as one of my CPD goals this year.

What was the event?

Moving on up was a 90-minute short, sharp and focused session taking us through the steps of a strategic comms plan. There was no lecture, just some scene setting and a case study that each group had to work through. Immediately, theory became practice.

The discussion we had in my group was valuable. We worked through the case study and were tasked with developing a strategic internal comms plan. Each group could ask Nicholas two questions to help shape our strategy.

I asked my go-to question – what does success look like for you?

Other questions related to business aim, timescales, budgets, measurements, context and future plans.

One stand out question for me – when you’re talking to a senior manager – is this: what advice or guidance would you give me to make this a success? Straight away you’re demonstrating that you value their opinion. A simple yet effective question.

So, what did I learn that took the sting out of strategy?

1, Strategy first, tactics later

Launching straight into tactics is the exciting part. Yet, what good are tactics if you can’t demonstrate how they link to business strategy? If you have no measurements then how do you know whether you’ve succeeded?

Start with your aims and objectives, know the timescale and who’s involved. Understand the scope, who will benefit and what are the challenges. Most of all, have a clear understanding of how this links to business strategy – if it doesn’t link to business goals then why are you doing it?

2, Do your research

Ask lots of questions. Find out what the business need is, the context you’re operating in, the risks and who your stakeholders are. Then talk to them. Find out what their expectations are and what success looks like for them. The more research you do the less surprises come your way. Be sure to involve them – it’s a good way to build outstanding relationships.

It’s also important to understand your audience – what insight do you have that could help you target your message? This will help you avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach to your communications.

3, Plan it like a movie

Once you have all this information, it’s time to agree your key messages and decide the best way to communicate these.This is where your channels matrix comes in. Then it’s time for lights, camera, action! Your strategy is ready for its close up – it’s time to make the magic happen.

Build awareness: think of this stage as announcing a film. It’s in production, this is what it’s about, here’s the release date and why not have a few extra teaser details. Now your audience knows what to expect.

Drive advocacy: Coming soon to a workplace near you. This is the trailer – there’s more detail, it’s exciting, you can’t wait to see it and you’re clear what this film is about. Channels are saturated with content and it’s the most anticipated film of the year. Your audience is hooked!

Encourage use: The moment everyone has been waiting for… release day! It’s out there and people are buzzing about it. They love the film, they’re quoting from it and generally breaking the internet telling all their friends. It’s a success.

Embed: The film had a strong opening but you need to keep those box office receipts coming in. You continue marketing and you address concerns upfront. Gone with the Wind has nothing on what you’ve achieved.

4, Measure for success

Measurements show the value that internal communications has on business success. Without them, you cannot demonstrate return on investment. Measurements will help you understand whether all that hard work was worth it… and using measurements along the way to assess the effectiveness of your strategy means you can flex your comms plan to achieve the right outcome.

Having a strong set of metrics will set you up for a successful conversation with business leaders because the bottom line always matters.

5, Relax, it’s just a strategy.

To quote my favourite 80s show, “I love it when a plan comes together”. And that’s all a strategy is… a plan of how you’ll get from A to B, how you’ll avoid pitfalls, what you need along the way and how you know when you get there.

Strategy isn’t scary. But not having a robust internal comms strategy certainly is.

Post author: Matthew Batten.

Thank you very much Matt, this is packed full of useful information. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with my blog readers.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog by Matthew Batten: How the Royal College of Nursing is preparing for GDPR.

Further reading about strategy via the All Things IC blog

What do you think of what you’ve read? You can find Matthew on Twitter @matt_Batten1 or you’re welcome to comment below.

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First published on the All Things IC blog 10 February 2019.


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