Strategic internal communication – the kind that influences business results and makes senior leaders sit up and take notice – doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s the result of structured and deliberate planning.
So if you want to be a strategic internal communication professional, you need to act like one. Are you focusing on the right activities that will build your value and help you get results? What are the critical elements that should inform your strategic planning decision-making? I’ve put together the 12 steps that will help your communication efforts drive business results, build your reputation and earn you the role of trusted advisor and business partner within your organisation.
Step 1: Take the time to understand the needs of your organisation.
The first and most important step in strategic internal communication planning is to clearly understand the needs of your organisation. Knowing this information is critical because it ensures your work will deliver meaningful business results. Where is the organisation heading and what is the business trying to achieve? This information typically exists in your organisation’s strategic plans or you might find your data in any business initiative. When an organisation pursues a major project, it’s generally because there is an existing need. Find and document the business needs.
Step 2: Determine how your communication can make a difference.
Next you need to match the needs of the business with the communication opportunity. How can your communication make a difference? Resist the temptation to move straight to a solution – you don’t have enough information yet. Simply state the communication opportunity. Ensure you’re delivering communication that addresses a business need not because you think it’s a nice thing to do.
Step 3: Uncover the real business issues affecting your stakeholders
Now it’s time to get to the bottom of things and uncover the real business issues. Just having a conversation with your internal stakeholders helps set the context that you’re discussing business not your communication and that helps people to think of you as a partner, not a supplier. Being a good vs a great internal communication professional, depends on the quality of questions you ask and how well you listen. The better the questions the better the insight you gain and the less likely you are to miss the mark. For example, ask why they‘ve come to you for help, what they want to achieve, who the audience is and what they know about them, when they want to get there, and what else you need to know, such as roadblocks along the way or other opportunities, costs impacting the organisation that may be caused by this business issue and the potential savings from your communication.
Step 4: Figure out what you want to achieve
Remember, the real value in strategic internal communication is your ability to deliver against business results so you need to define what you want to achieve through your communication objectives. Good objectives are strategically aligned with the business need but should be framed from a communication perspective.
They clearly define the desired outcome, or what success will look like and are:
- Measurable in quantity, time, cost, percentages, quality or some other criteria.
- Realistic, meaningful and believable.
- Aligned with the needs of the business.
- Stated from a communication perspective.
- Can be a combination of output-based statements (volume, increases), and outcome-based measures (attitudes, opinions, behaviours, and business results).
Step 5: Plan your measurement up-front
Knowing what success will look like is extremely valuable. Incorporating measurement into your internal communication from the start is considerably more effective than establishing it later. But resist the temptation to concentrate solely on quantitative metrics. While more challenging to collect, it’s far more valuable to include measures that will demonstrate the level of impact on organisational outcomes. Be sure to include your initial, progress and final measures.
Step 6: Get to know your audiences on a personal level
Make it your business to know everything you can about your internal audiences. But don’t just focus on demographic information like who they are, job grades, locations and length of tenure. Find out attitudinal information like their interests, annoyances and concerns. Only then will you be able to target your communication to appeal to them. And whatever you do, don’t define ‘all employees’ as an audience.
Step 7: Figure out what you want to say and make it stick
Once you’ve determined the aims and objectives of your communication, take some time to work on what you want to say. In other words, define your key messages. Key messages are the essential pieces of information you want your audience to retain. They should be simple, memorable, easy to convey and consistent. Be guided by what you want your audience to think, feel and do. And remember, if you can make a connection with people’s personal experience, they’ll try harder to understand a message, even if it’s a little more complex.
Step 8: Plan your tactical approach
Next, it’s time to talk tactics. In other words: How will you get from where you are to where you want to be? How will you reach the audience to improve awareness and understanding, and motivate behaviour? When deciding which channels to use, it helps to think through the level of interaction the situation requires. As a general rule, the more concerning the subject matter is to people, the greater the need for one-on-one communication. Aligning channels with audience characteristics and preferences is essential to the ability to deliver business results.
Step 9: Measure what matters
Measuring your communication activities is the ultimate way of illustrating the value of your work and finding out if you achieved what you set out to achieve. In particular, you can use the results to steer improvement efforts and demonstrate where time and resources were spent. It’s also important to calculate your return on investment in cold hard numbers.
Step 10: Be on the lookout for ongoing opportunities to demonstrate value
Use the insights you gather to provide more opportunities for communication and incorporate internal trends in your communication work. For example, look out for the organisational issues that keep coming up and use the insights to inform your work. Connect with your internal and external peers to discuss and share observations about the communication profession and market and understand and define the impact your communication has on your organisation’s strategy.
Step 11: Focus on the work that delivers the highest value
Take the time to think about how you spend your working week. Then, think about the value each activity adds to your organisation. Ask yourself: Am I focussed on the right activities for the role I do? How can I keep delivering high value without me having to spend a high percentage of my time doing it? How can I stop doing the low value activities that are taking up a lot of my time? Do I need to actually do the low value activities? The aim of the game is to shift your focus to doing higher value work.
Step 12: Build your toolkit and keep adding to it
And finally, work on building your toolkit. To act strategically you need to have a robust understanding of the global communication profession, industry trends, and drivers. Can you give advice on the latest technology, methods and emerging trends? What research do you have on hand? Joining a professional communication association like the International Association of Business Communicators is a great place to start.
I teach all of this and more in Strategic Communication Management 1: The Communication Professional. Over two days you’ll learn to plan and implement communication initiatives grounded in business thinking. From analysing the business environment to defining needs, segmenting audiences and delivering measurable outcomes, you’ll walk away with the tools and techniques to build your credibility as a trusted in-demand communication professional. Check out our calendar of upcoming courses. I’d love to see you there.