“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” No one knows exactly who coined this phrase, but what matters is the point it makes. If you want to change the result you get, you need to change the way you do things.
Consider internal communication — the lifeblood of an organization — and the professionals employed by an organization to manage internal communication. If the practice is the lifeblood of an organization, the people who manage it are its heart.
Yet they often encounter a myriad of challenges and traps that can hinder their efforts and impact their credibility and respect.
Let’s start with strategic internal communication planning, which serves as the roadmap that guides an organization’s communication actions and decisions. This planning ensures alignment with the organization’s purpose, vision, mission, values and strategic objectives. However, strategic planning is often skipped over or abbreviated when time is short.
Strategic planning is sometimes used as a synonym for strategy, but the two are not the same. A strategy is functional. It’s about understanding your environment and making choices about what you’ll do. Strategic planning is the process of formulating and implementing a strategy (i.e., the critical elements that inform your decision-making from planning to executing). Either way, it's more than a document with tactics. It’s an evolving process that allows you to demonstrate your unique problem-solving skills and strategic strengths.
To be a strategic internal communication professional, you must think and act like a businessperson. When the business becomes your number one priority, you focus on helping the business achieve its outcomes.
Therefore, the first and most important step in strategic internal communication planning is to clearly understand the needs of your organization. Knowing this information is critical because it ensures your work addresses a business need and delivers outcome-focused communication.
Start by developing and implementing an internal communication strategy to ensure the role of the internal communication function is clearly defined. This will also ensure that employees and leaders receive consistent and meaningful messages that create a line of sight between the work they do and business success. Without a strategy it’s difficult to quantify the value of internal communication to the business. This is a document you own outright — a dynamic tool and strategic dialogue eloquently captured on paper that focuses your organization to “walk their talk.”
When proof of your planning discipline is in writing, frustration and emotion leave the discussion. This is helpful when trying to convince senior executives about the importance of communication as part of the solution to pressing business problems. Sometimes, you need to let the paper do the talking.
Strategic communication planning is a language you need to be fluent in. A strategic communication plan and the process you drive when creating it, is proof of this fluency —project by project, problem by problem.
Here are four questions you should ask to ensure your internal communication meets the needs of the business:
- Are you focused on the right activities that will build value and help you get results, and are you making time for strategic planning ahead of every project or initiative?
This approach helps you to align your communication with broader organizational goals and ensures every communication activity is purposeful and strategically planned to maximize its impact. If you’re not making time for planning, your activities may fall short of the targeted value you seek to provide.
- Does your organization have a structured approach to internal communication management — e.g., are you capturing your strategic planning on paper so it can easily be shared and shaped by your stakeholders?
Creating a structured framework for internal communication management ensures your strategic plans are not only captured but can also be easily shared, reviewed and improved upon. This fosters collaboration and alignment across the organization.
- Have you held a planning session with internal communication stakeholders to develop a comprehensive strategy, including communication priorities, key messages, audience analysis, research and measurement for consistent delivery?
Developing a comprehensive strategy is the bedrock of successful internal communication. It enables you to address the needs and preferences of your audience, align your messaging, and measure the impact of your efforts.
- Do strategic internal communication plans exist for all major business initiatives?
Every significant business initiative deserves a dedicated communication plan. Ensuring these plans are in place guarantees that your employees are well-informed and engaged during times of change and growth.
By asking these four critical questions, you set the stage for a proactive and strategic approach to internal communication. You'll be better equipped to meet the dynamic needs of your business and drive success through effective communication practices.
Sia Papageorgiou FRSA, SCMP and Daven Rosener
Sia Papageorgiou (Australia) and Daven Rosener (USA) are award-winning consultants, trainers and coaches on a mission to help to help internal communication professionals overcome challenge, amplify their impact and thrive. They are co-authors of Problems, Traps, and Opportunities — a free resource guide they developed specifically for internal communication professionals to help them avoid the persistent issues that plague the profession.