Like many other corporate functions, communications teams are having to learn how to cope with more demands on their time and no budget for any extra resources.
So the key is to prioritize, and to focus resources strictly on those priorities. If all of the team know what they should be focusing on, it is easier to push back on seemingly urgent requests from business partners (“we have to run an internal comms campaign on this by the end of the week”) or explain why those requests might not receive the urgent response that anxious managers think they should.
All of these priorities should stem from the corporate strategic priorities so that communications planning is reverse engineered from the business goals. The traditional – and still the best – way to link the two is by using a functional “strategic plan.” But only 12% of communications teams believe their strategic plans are good at supporting their company’s top priorities.
The Five Steps
Five simple steps break corporate strategy and business priorities into supporting communication actions, and will help comms teams focus time and resources on business partners’ most important outcomes and the work that the team is best able to support.
Identify business partners’ goals: Anchor your strategic plan to the priorities that your business partners identify as critical to the company’s success.
The best teams will host individual “needs assessment meetings” with business leaders to identify their top priorities for the coming year and ensure the plan is built from the top-down.
Ask yourself: What priorities should we support?
Deconstruct goals into behaviors: Break down your business partners’ goals into discrete stakeholder behaviors that the comms team will want to see from them to know they are supporting business partners’ goals.
For each behavior, assess whether there is a communication breakdown preventing stakeholders from taking the desired action. These breakdowns (e.g., “say-do” gaps in leader communication – where there is a discrepancy between what they say and how they act) are the places where Communications can provide unique expertise other functions don’t tend to possess.
Ask yourself: How do I identify opportunities for Communications to contribute to business partner goals?
Ask yourself: Which behaviors are the best fit for Communications support?
Create actionable communications objectives: You don’t need to know what the communication solution is to write an effective objective. The best objectives are as specific as possible without making assumptions about the best tactic.
Weigh considerations of personnel (e.g., strengths, development opportunities, capacity), timing (e.g., duration and variability), and budget availability when allocating resources.
Ask yourself: How do I craft objectives that help my communicators influence the target behaviors?
Ask yourself: How should I allocate team resources to each objective?
Ensure internal stakeholders understand the plan: The longer your plan is, the more overwhelming it will seem to your business partners and comms colleagues. Creating a short, yet comprehensive, plan (1-2 pages) will dramatically increase the likelihood that the strategic communication plan is aligned to priorities and actually used regularly.
Discuss the plan with key business partners to explain the rationale for the selected communication objectives, and provide a forum for voicing lingering concerns. You will also want to discuss the value of existing communications activities that support business partners’ teams that do not align with priorities outlined in the plan. The clearer the plan, the better the rationale for stopping extraneous activities that don’t support it.
Ask yourself: How do I clearly communicate the plan to the team and business partners?
Ask yourself: How do I cultivate alignment of the plan with key partners?
Re-assess the plan regularly: Any re-evaluation is better than none, but rather than choosing an arbitrary schedule, identify specific business triggers (e.g., legislative change, financial results) that would signal the need to review and possibly revise your plan.
Ask yourself: When and how should the plan be re-evaluated?