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“Communication works for those who work at it” - John Powell
We often hear that communication is the key. Well, it certainly is because effective communication is what translates perspectives, opinions, and thoughts into functional realities. How would visions otherwise transform the world if they are not expressed to the people? On that note, in this intriguing blog, we shed light on the notion of strategic communication and its significance in the context of contemporary business organizations.
Moreover, there is an elucidation on strategic planning and how strategic communication complements it. Towards the end, there are some worthwhile recommendations for optimizing strategic communications. So, let’s get going without further ado.
What does strategic communication imply?
If we pay heed to the term ‘strategy’, it relates to the long-term visions, plans, and goals of individuals or organizations. Strategy correlates with an ultimate goal that can be further bifurcated into objectives, smaller goals, and tactics. This is where the relationship between strategy and tactics becomes so quintessential to decipher. Speaking of the multifaceted factors that make a strategy successful, strategic communications have their distinct importance.
Strategic communications involve the communication of ideas, processes, plans, information, data etcetera that are salient to the success of a far-reaching strategy. Strategic communications are based on the notion of conveying the right message through the right channels of communication to the right audience.
Moreover, strategic communication is what can be measured and evaluated in the context of specific communication goals of a given organization. In simpler terms, strategic communications can be comprehended as the best practices for communicating strategic plans, policies, linked objectives, and key performance indicators.
For instance, let’s say a business organization has set the strategic goal of increasing its employee retention rate by 3 percent in the next twelve months. For meeting this strategic goal and accomplishing the desired levels of employee retention, there needs to be effective communication at different verticals within the organization. In other words, strategic communications will be required between the top management, stakeholders, talent managers, and human resource managers.
The vision, objectives, and key performance indicators need to be strategically communicated between all those who have a direct influence on cultivating high employee engagement and retention within the organization. As you can figure out, the efficacy of strategic communications will have a significant influence on the success of the given strategic plan.
The need for strategic communication
The above exemplification explains the need for strategic communication within organizations. For any strategic plan that an organization deliberates on, the objectives of change management and new inclusions within the organization need to be communicated.
Strategic and clear communications facilitate better change management within the organization. Besides, it also ensures that teams and individuals in the organization are clear of their responsibilities and duties that are pivotal to accomplish the set objectives.
Therefore, for every strategic plan that companies develop under different strategic planning models, strategic communication facilitates the effective exchange of information and instructions within the organization. In simple terms, strategic communication complements the impact of strategic planning in an organization. Once a strategic plan is put into place, it's vital to have an internal communication plan which outlines the overall mission, vision and core values for the company. Having a strong brand and messaging structure will be vital to the overall strategy success of your planning model.
To further draw attention to the vitality of strategic communications within organizations, let us take note of the following statistics around workplace communication.
- As cited by Bonfyre, 64 percent of businesses state that the efficient communication of strategies and purpose is their key priority.
- As per SHRM, companies with 100 workers on average are vulnerable to losing up to USD 420,000 per annum because of poor strategic communication.
- As revealed by SalesForce, 86 percent of corporate workers cite lack of effective communication as the major reason behind strategic failures in the workplace.
- Workforce concludes that 60 percent of business organizations lack a long-term strategy for worthwhile internal communication.
- According to IBM, 72 percent of employees do not have complete knowledge of their company’s strategy or are unable to understand the same because of communication gaps.
These statistical insights present a clear idea of the need for strategic communication and how the absence of it impacts businesses in various ways. Furthermore, to contemplate strategic communications better, let us analyze the various essential components of strategic planning and how strategic communication is a crucial prerequisite for every step.
Components of a strategic plan
It all begins with the unique vision to drive positive changes and all that comes later is execution. A strategic plan initiates when leaders and top management of an organization envisage progressive changes to take the organization to the next level. Having a vision is to foresee new horizons of success to be acclaimed in the future through an amalgamation of positive steps. Vision is a psychological image of a feasible and desirable future state expressing organizational aspirations. To add, vision is backed by a great degree of belief that the desired outcomes can be achieved in the future.
Thomas Edison very rightly quoted, “vision without execution is delusion.” The execution of a strategic plan starts from a vision that promotes the belief that a strategic plan is well within the capabilities of the organization.
Moreover, vision is the larger framework of perspectives and imaginations that is needed to begin the pursuit of a strategy. Vision is what defines the purpose and the intrinsic motivation around a strategic plan as it illustrates how things will change for the better when a strategic plan is successfully executed to perfection.
To exemplify, let us say that a business undertakes strategic planning on the incorporation of sustainable business practices and the promotion of a greater environmental conscience. Now, the purpose behind this strategic plan will be inspired by a vision.
The vision, in this case, can be linked to rampant changes in consumer preferences and their increasing inclination towards sustainable businesses. The top management may believe that the company can attract more customers, build better customer relationships, cut down operating costs, and rebrand itself as a sustainable enterprise.
Now to make this vision operational and make the prerequisite changes in the future for inculcating virtues of sustainability, there needs to be multidisciplinary strategic communication. To begin with, all the shareholders of the company need to be told about the vision behind sustainable business practices and taken into confidence.
Thereafter, the vision needs to be communicated to product managers, manufacturing heads, engineers, marketing heads so that everyone can align their future pursuits to the set vision. Strategic communication will be indispensable to promote a sense of collective responsibility in the organization to work around the vision of sustainability.
After defining a vision and communicating it to all the concerned stakeholders, well-defined objectives need to be set as a part of the strategic plan. The vision further needs to be translated into objectives and goals related to functional changes within the organization. Since a business involves different verticals and the integration of different policies and frameworks, clearly defined objectives need to be set across all domains. There will be various short-term and long-term goals that will be paramount to the success of a strategic plan.
Let’s continue from the above example of sustainable business practices. Now, that the company has identified the need for organizational changes with sustainability at the core, different objectives need to be set. The following are some of the crucial objectives that the company is likely to set.
- Bringing down carbon emissions in the coming years to a certain level, let’s say a 10 percent cut in two years
- Robust research and development around cleaner sources of energy and sustainable alternatives in manufacturing
- Creating dynamic marketing plans inclusive of digital marketing and other forms of marketing to reimage the business as a sustainable enterprise
- Initiating proactive social media campaigns to create a buzz around sustainable business practices and present the business as a staunch believer in them
- Bringing maximum innovation in sustainable business practices at minimum costs
Now, what do you think is the most imperative factor for these objectives to be achieved and the strategic plan to remain on the right track? Of course, it has to be strategic communication! For the successful accomplishment of these goals in the stipulated time frame, everyone needs to know what their roles and responsibilities are.
Every person in the organization needs to have a clear idea of what is expected of them to assist the company in achieving these objectives. Otherwise, there would be unprecedented confusion and delays around these goals. Having said that, strategic communications are highly essential to initiate workflow around new objectives and supervise the same. The top management needs to define clear goals for everyone and also set a tentative time frame maintaining clear communication at all steps.
Key Performance Indicators
After the objectives have been set and communicated, there have to be some indicators or metrics in place that can measure the progress of a given strategic plan. To put it the other way around, the next step after communication of objectives is to define the key performance indicators. Key performance indicators enable the measurement and evaluation of the progress inherent to the objectives of a strategic plan.
Key performance indicators are quantifiable measures of performance that give a precise indication of the fact if performances are aligned to the objectives in a worthwhile way or not. They render measurable insights into the fact if the short-term or phased goals as a part of a bigger plan are being achieved or not. Analysis of the measures provided by key performance indicators is important for organizations to gauge the productivity of their employees and the success of their strategies.
Let’s take an example of a key performance indicator coherent to the above example itself for clearer comprehension. As mentioned above, one of the objectives set by the company is to undertake the reimaging of the brand with sustainability as the core virtue.
As a part of this goal, the company will look to initiate a wide range of social media and digital media campaigns for better brand engagement and public relations. As a part of its SEO strategy, the company would want to make its website optimized with the best SEO practices and get more inbound links for better link building. The company will look to facilitate link building around keywords like sustainability, sustainable business practices, sustainable businesses, and so on.
Having said that, the number of backlinks will be a key performance indicator to gauge the success of link-building tactics. So, the marketing heads would take the average number of backlinks acquired in a specific period of time which will give a quantifiable measure of the success of SEO campaigns. The average number of backlinks can be calculated using the formula-
|Average number of backlinks =||Number of backlinks acquired in a period|
|Number of days in the period|
To know more about digital marketing and its key metrics, you can gain significant knowledge from an amazing digital marketing blog. There will be a wide range of key performance indicators in every domain of the strategic plan across different objectives. All of these key performance indicators will facilitate the measurement of organizational performance aligned to a specific strategic plan. Besides digital marketing KPIs, some general sustainability KPIs that the company can identify are listed below.
- Energy productivity
- Carbon generation
- Production of waste
- Water productivity
- Capacity in innovation
- Employee turnover
- Leadership diversity
Now, it is essential that the key performance indicators are conveyed to the managers, team leads, and employees. They need to know the exact parameters on which their performances will be measured. Hence, mere defining KPIs is not enough but they also need to be communicated to the concerned departments and teams. This is where strategic communication is again paramount.
For a strategic plan to succeed as per its desired achievements, employees and managers need to know the indicators they need to deliver on. Thorough knowledge of KPIs will help them to align their efforts and productivity to the parameters of measurable performance.
The next vital component of a strategic plan is the class of milestones that are designated to each objective. In other words, we can understand milestones as the deadline or the timeline in accordance with which the objectives need to be fulfilled. Needless to say, there need to be pre-defined deadlines for each goal undertaken by an organization. All short-term, as well as long-term objectives, need to have a timeline for completion to ensure the highest efficiency. It is essential that short-term goals meet their deadlines so that the larger goals stay on track.
For instance, taking forward from the aforementioned example of the strategic plan for enhanced sustainability in business, the top management of the company is required to have pre-defined milestones in mind to work for. Let’s say the company sets the objective of bringing down its carbon footprint by 2 percent in the first six months.
Moving forward, In the next six months, it further sets a goal for reducing its carbon footprint by 5 percent of its initial value. By the end of two years, the ultimate goal of the company is to cut back on its carbon emissions by 10 percent of the initial levels. So, this is how every objective is linked to phased deadlines under a constructive timeline that an organization designates to a strategic plan.
It goes without saying that these deadlines or milestones need to be strategically communicated to company shareholders, customers, different departments within the company, and the employees. While its strategic communication to employees will ensure that they adjust the pace of their performance with the set deadlines, communicating the same to customers will attract greater trust, curiosity, and retention.
Accountability is a salient workplace ethic or virtue that employees need to exhibit and leaders within an organization need to fix accountability at all levels. In fact, ownership or accountability is a crucial component of every strategic plan. What if the strategic plan is not going in the right direction? Who will be responsible if objectives under the strategic planning are not being met as per the set timeline? Whose responsibility is it if the key performance indicators show poor results? Accountability is nothing but to have specific answers to these important questions.
So, in the context of the above-mentioned key example of backlinks as a KPI, if the average number of backlinks is terribly low, the top management will know that the SEO manager is accountable for the same. The top management will directly reach out to the SEO manager and seek quick tweaks to drive results that are more promising for the success of the strategic plan.
But the real question is, “how to fix accountability within an organization?” How will people know that the onus will be on them if the desired results are not attained? Of course, it has to be communicated to them and these communications have to be strategic with a long-term strategy at the epicenter. Once the accountability is conveyed to the concerned people in a strategic and straightforward manner, that is where a strategic plan gets completed in all its dimensions.
Hence, we have clearly identified that each component of a strategic plan is highly vulnerable to being ineffective leading to massive understanding and instructional deficits in the absence of strategic communication. Strategic communication is indispensable to ensure that each element of a strategic plan is conveyed to the right audience in the most accomplished manner. Moving forward, to further delve deeper into the domain of strategic communications, let us now glance at the key points of strategic communication.
Key aspects to pay heed to during strategic communication
Defining the ‘who’
Strategic communication has a great correlation with the 7Cs of communication. In strategic communications, the most important consideration to keep in mind is to define the right audience. If imperative messages are to be conveyed with respect to a strategy, it is quintessential that the messages are communicated to the most relevant and ideal recipients. When that happens, the prospects for the successful execution of a plan or strategy are the highest.
For instance, if the employers of an organization have made a new strategic plan for driving higher employee engagement in the organization, the details of the strategic plan need to be communicated to the human resource managers. They make the ideal audience for new employee engagement ideas brainstormed by the employers as the execution of these strategies is the responsibility of the human resource managers.
Defining the ‘why and what’
Once the right recipients are identified to communicate a given message or plan, it is then essential to define the purpose of communication. The one communicating needs to be sure of why that particular piece of information is vital for a specific recipient.
Thereafter, after establishing the reasoning for the exchange of information with a specific audience, it is paramount to have a clear idea of the agenda for strategic communications. One needs to figure out why there is a need for strategical communication with a recipient and what is to be communicated.
Continuing the employee engagement example from above, now that the employers have recognized the HR managers as the audience, they need to consider the reason behind the need for strategic communication. The reason may be that the organization may be witnessing low levels of engagement affecting the overall performance of the organization.
The other aspect of the reason could be that HR managers have a direct role to play in determining the engagement levels within an organization and the implementation of measures is their role.
Speaking of the agenda of strategic communication or what is to be communicated, there can be multidimensional strategic communications. These dimensions can include, the results of KPIs on employee engagement, the impact of low engagement on the organization, new engagement strategies, and activities setting new measurable goals for employee engagement and the milestones for the same.
Defining the ‘when’
The next key point of strategic communication is its timing. The purpose of strategic communications is that the right message should reach the right people at the right time. Having said that, recognizing the ideal time for communicating a certain agenda and delivering it at the apparent right time should be a foremost priority.
So, if new employee engagement ideas are to be communicated by employers to HR managers, they need to do it as soon as they realize that there is a considerable drop in employee engagement levels in the organization.
Defining the ‘where and how’
Another quintessential aspect to be paid heed to during strategic communications is to decide what is the right place for communication and what are the ideal channels for it. Strategic communications are the most effective when done in conducive places and done through the best communication channels.
For instance, communicating employee engagement strategies and ideas with HR managers during a casual event may not be the smartest move by an employer. The best place to do so would be the conference room of the office while making the best use of the projector along with other amenities.
On similar lines, communicating key strategies to the HR managers verbally may not be enough or very effective to the cause of strategic plans. Following conference room discussions with an email carrying all crucial details like budget allocation for new engagement strategies, KPIs, plan of action for the integration of engagement activities in workday routines etcetera would be a better approach.
In case there is some other information that needs to be made accessible to all shareholders and employees, internal newsletters can prove to be the best channel for internal strategic communication. Besides, if any new information is to be made available to customers or the general public, a press release would be the right channel of communication.
Furthermore, given below are some vital recommendations on the efficient ways of communication to ensure that strategic communication remains productive at all times.
Recommendations for best communication practices
Recognizing the specific communication needs
Each organization is different and having said that, each organization will have its own distinct communication needs. The first and foremost step for effective corporate communications is to identify these specific needs for communication and then undertaking strategic planning to address these specific needs.
Setting a clear agenda
Once the communication needs for the organization have been identified, it is quintessential to designate a well-framed agenda to every requirement. Before the discussions and deliberations start, it is important to define the agenda of the communication so that everyone concerned understands the purpose of communication beyond any iota of doubt. Clear agenda will lead to a clear understanding of the problem at hand, instructions, and hence the course of action.
Keeping communication bilateral
Interactive communication is the central point of most leadership theories. It is strongly recommended that communications should be two-way rather than being unilateral. The flow of information, ideas, and perspectives should be in both directions rather than a single entity playing an active role in communication while the other is reduced to passive. Bilateral communication works much better to ensure that there is complete clarity of authority, roles, and responsibilities that each individual is designated as a part of a strategic plan aimed at driving workplace transformations.
Inculcating channels for feedback sharing
Besides keeping the corporate communications two-way, there should also be channels for feedback sharing. The audience, which in the case of business organizations will be shareholders and employees, should be able to share their feedback on the effectiveness of communication. Feedback adds far more value to strategic communications and also brings in scope for refinements.
Avoiding communication overwhelm
The vulnerability of communication overload needs to be avoided at times. Overwhelming communications can disengage the listeners or the recipients and hinder the effectiveness of communication. Communications should not digress from their agenda and should not be over-explanatory. Corporate communications are most effective when they are concise, straightforward, and strategic.
Strategic communications are complete when they include all the relevant metrics, statistics, measures of key performance indicators, and other data. In contemporary times when everything is driven by data for the greater good, corporate communications should also be driven by data presenting realistic scenarios at all times.
The higher the number of metrics in strategic communications the clearer will be the messaging and everyone will remain on the same page on the basis of quantifiable metrics.
Adding storytelling to communication
Storytelling is the latest trend in corporate communications and its relevance and charm are only getting bigger and better. Storytelling is an ultra-smart leadership trait that assists employees and stakeholders in visualizing a future based on the success of strategic plans and objectives set by the organization.
Corporate leaders use thoughtful and enchanting narratives to present stories that are in coherence with the strategic objectives of the organization. They convince the audience that all of them have important roles to play in the transformations envisaged by the organization and that all of them will have a stake in the success of the strategic plans. Having said that, powerful stories around strategic business plans trigger emotions, motivation, inspiration, and curiosity in the audience.
Moreover, storytelling is an enchanting tool that fosters empathy and trust-building in corporate settings. It makes the audience believe in optimism and captures their imagination by actually making them believe that with the right approach and collaboration strong resolutions can be made. This fascinating charm of corporate storytelling enables the top management to align individual interests and actions with the farsighted goals of the organization.
Investing in the right communication tools
As we know, the ways of the business world are changing at an overwhelming pace and more and more organizations are now keen to go completely remote. In fact, as per a recent survey by Gartner, 74 percent of employers are planning to offer permanent work from home to their staff in the coming years. Even from the employee’s point of view, they are more than happy to work remotely for the rest of their careers. Having said that, the latest trends in the corporate world suggest that telecommuting is the future of work.
As organizations go remote or hybrid, they will have to completely rely on digital tools for virtual communication and collaboration. Hence, it is important that organizations invest in the most advanced and effective communication tools that can deliver on their specific communication needs.
With so many digital communication tools available for the taking, it will require robust research and development on the part of organizations to select the best-suited tools. Investing in the right tools and at the right time is paramount given the significance of effective communication in business.
To encapsulate, strategic communications hold a sacrosanct place in business organizations for their strategic plans to attain the desired outcomes. To put it the other way around, strategic communications form the core of strategic planning and execution as it facilitates the important flow of information and instructions that people at all verticals need to be aware of. In the ultimate sense, the success of a strategic plan will be determined by how effectively and constructively communications were made at each step and how well the objectives and KPIs were conveyed and explained by the top management.