June 17th, 2018
On 12 June I took part in a panel discussion at AB Thinks Live, a small gathering of IC professionals run by the agency AB. The event was themed around the future of work and after seeing presentations on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and Workplace, the audience was invited to ask us panel members questions about the future of internal communication.
One question sparked some debate: “Do internal communicators need a strategy?”.
My answer was yes, and I wanted to elaborate further on what I said on the day to explain why I think strategy is so important.
A strategy is more than a piece of paper
A key discussion point on the day was around what a strategy is. I completely agree that a strategy is more than a document, it needs to live inside an organisation and be intrinsically weaved into all other internal communication activity, supporting the organisation’s overarching objectives.
However, the discussion also moved on to whether a strategy even needs to be documented as it dates quickly, can be dry and will often find itself living in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.
Again, I agree large, wordy strategy documents run the risk of being too cumbersome to implement, however, I am a fan of documenting your strategy – not in a hefty 20-page document but simply a strategy on a page.
It helps ensure everyone in your team has a shared understanding of your strategy is and their part within it. Leadership will want to see something tangible too that clearly aligns with their own organisational strategy. And, any successor of your role will want to see it – it’s unlikely you’ll stay in your current job until the end of your career and it’s important you’re able to handover and maintain an element of consistency for employees.
Strategies can evolve
Another point we discussed was how internal communicators need to be able to adapt to our ever-changing organisations. Again, I agree, but I don’t believe a strategy stops you from doing this. It should be a living document that evolves as the organisation does – change is happening all around us and we need to be able to reflect that, but it’s possible to adapt within an overall strategic approach. Most of the time your destination will remain the same – it’s how you get there that might change along the way, but without clarity of where you’re trying to get to, it’s much harder to adjust the route.
Leadership value strategy and measurement
Last year’s CIPR Inside research into whether CEOs value internal communication found that they want to see us working at a strategic level, understanding the business and how we can impact its success.
If they are going to provide you with budget and resource, leaders are going to want to see evidence of a strategic approach that can be measured in a meaningful way. And being able to evidence not only the success of your activity, but the value you’ve added to the organisation, is essential if we’re to be trusted advisers. We can only measure if we set out clearly up front what we were trying to achieve and why.
A strategy keeps you on track
The world of internal communication can be busy and reactive. Requests come at you from all directions and everyone believes theirs is the most important. Checking your strategy regularly and ensuring what you’re doing supports your overall objectives helps to keep you on track and ensure your adding value to the business. It can also give you the confidence to say no to colleagues around the business as you’re able to clearly articulate why.
It’s recognised as an essential component by professional bodies
The IoIC’s profession map sets out the key knowledge, skills and behaviours we need to be effective internal communicators. It has “being able to develop an IC strategy that aligns to the organisational strategy” as a key component of an internal communicator’s capabilities. Strategy is also taught as part of professional industry qualifications. I would argue it’s generally recognised as an integral part of what we do – I would certainly struggle to do my job without one.
For me strategy is essential for us to do our jobs well, whether its written down or not (although I’m far more comfortable if it’s documented!). I’d love to hear other internal communicator’s thoughts on the topic, so feel free to comment below.
Finally, a big thank you to AB for inviting me to be on their panel, it was a great opportunity to discuss and debate important issues relating to internal communication. I also gained a great insight into what the future of our organisations, and by extension, internal communication, could look like.
Top five reasons you need an IC strategy