Last updated on October 11, 2023 at 01:29 pm
The last few years have been completely unpredictable. And employees are likely divided in terms of what they want, what they’re comfortable with, and what they want from their company. And that makes creating a budget and strategy challenging. While we can all make our best guess about what’s going to happen next, it’s hard to really know. And that’s why we reached out to several employee communication experts and thought leaders to get their tips for creating a strategic communications plan.
But first, some context as to why this is so important.
What is a Strategic Communications Plan?
A strategic communications plan is a comprehensive and structured document that outlines an organization’s approach to communicating with its target audiences effectively. It serves as a roadmap for aligning communication efforts with the business’ objectives.
A well-crafted strategic communications plan encompasses several key components:
- SMART Goals
- Clearly defined target audiences
- Key messages (including vision/mission/values)
- Content strategy
- Channels of communication
- Strategic partnerships with key stakeholders
- Recurring measurement and data-driven strategic adjustments
But even the most well-thought-out plans need to save room for flexibility. With external factors and rapidly evolving technology, we have to be able to adapt to keep up with trends and changing expectations.
Why Do You Need a Strategic Communications Plan?
Remember that having a strategic communication plan isn’t just a box to check. This is a vital tool. Here’s why you need one:
- Clarity of Purpose. You juggle so many responsibilities. Clearly documenting your plan helps provide clarity and direction for your team and the broader organization.
- Goal Alignment. Everything you communicate should have purpose and ladder towards some goal. Documenting your goals and mapping strategies based on them ensures that you and your strategic partners stay aligned and on track.
- Efficiency. From allocating resources to prioritizing tasks, your communication plan helps everyone understand what you’re doing and what the ROI of that work is. This can drive greater efficiency and ensure that the right things are being worked on first.
- Measurable Outcomes. You can’t fix what you don’t measure, right? Well, your strategic plan should lay the foundation for good measurement. It should include measurable goals and KPIs. Starting with your goals in mind makes it easier to make sure you’re measuring what matters and not wasting time on vanity metrics.
- Crisis Preparedness. Planning your communications strategy should always include a crisis communication plan. This is the chance to create plans for potential crisis and disaster scenarios so you’re able to quickly act in the moment.
- Brand Resilience. Effective communication is crucial for managing and protecting an organization’s reputation. A plan helps identify potential reputation risks and provides strategies for mitigating them.
Interview With Internal Comms Experts
What are your predictions for the state of the workplace that internal comms pros should plan for?
Debbie West: “We’re aware that employers have responded in a range of ways to the question of whether their people should return to offices and workplaces. We know it’s likely that hybrid working will be more common, so our role as communicators must embrace the fact our colleagues could be switching from home-working to commuting on a regular basis. It’s a great time to review our channels to make sure they are working for everyone, across different locations. We should also be mindful of the way our organisation’s culture will evolve to adapt to these changes.”
Jill Christensen: “Remote work means that employees are missing out on what I call ‘ad-hoc communications’—hallway conversations, brainstorming in a conf room once a meeting has ended, things overheard in a break room or kitchen areas. Comms pros should ‘pick up the communication slack,’ so employees feel in-the-know vs. alone on an island.”
Sean Williams: “What happens if (when) COVID-19 continues to be a major issue? Be prepared for more demand for remote and other flex work. And meetings will require a very sharp lens to be sure they are essential.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: “I think the reality is that we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the world. We can’t predict how our people are going to respond. Which is why it’s so important to have crisis plans in place and to build agility into your strategy. But what I do think is going to happen is that we are going to see more shifts in the way people work. The great resignation and the move towards more flex and hybrid working aren’t going away. The power is shifting to the employee. But it’s going to be critical to pay attention to the needs of your continually changing workforce. Understanding their challenges and coming up with solutions for frontline and deskbound workers is going to be key to retention and growth, and, ultimately, the success of our communication strategies.”
What do you think should be the top internal communication priorities next year?
Jill Christensen: “Building a two-way communication culture. In order for employees to feel engaged, they must have a voice at work and know that voice is being heard. In many firms this means that new vehicles must be created and used, as currently, one-way communication cultures are the norm.”
Sean Williams: “Help your organization and its people WIN over the virus, the competition, and the distractions. Be a solution.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: “I think a really important thing to start is employee listening. That’s really going to help you set the right priorities for your own organization. Marketers have been using social listening for years to keep a finger on the pulse about what their target audience wants and needs. We should use that same best practice internally.”
What’s one piece of wisdom that would help with communication planning?
Debbie West: “The top piece of wisdom I picked up in 2021 is that it’s always important to ask questions about the effectiveness of our communications and really listen to the answers. For example, the conversations I’ve had with colleague groups through the year has made it clear to me how important line manager contact has become for people, through the uncertainties of the pandemic. This has really helped to inform what should be prioritised for the year ahead.”
Sean Williams: “Care for one another and yourself. Be kind. It has been an unreal and surreal journey the past two years, and we need empathy and understanding more than ever.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: “You can’t please everyone. I think it’s clear that our world is often divided. We don’t always agree. Your decision to mandate masks or vaccines is going to upset someone. But what’s important is that you make a decision one way or the other. That you communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing. That you listen and have constructive conversations when there is disagreement. But ultimately, you can’t please everyone. All you can do is make sure your communication is fostering an environment of respect and psychological safety.”
What’s your top tip for putting together next year’s communication strategy?
Sean Williams: “Let’s get back to basics! Look at the business plan and determine objectives that directly impact business KPIs. Be explicit about how your tactics realize that strategy.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: Start with an audit of your channels, messages, and audiences. And, ideally, get a sense from your audience of what they want and need. Include managers and non-managers, in the office and out in the field. These different audiences likely will want different things. Take that survey or focus group data and then look at your audit results. Sometimes we get carried away by trying to solve for everything or check every box…but our budgets (and schedules!) don’t always allow for that. So pick the few things that you can change that will make the biggest impact for the most people.
Get Started: Strategic Communications Planning for Next Year
While it’s impossible to predict what next year will look like and the challenges it will pose to communications professionals, we can try to get ahead of what might happen.
The pandemic proved that we need to be ready with crisis plans ahead of time by predicting worst case and most likely scenarios. But we also need to step up our game from a people perspective. If your company is focusing on an attrition issue or a culture problem, look no further than the employee experience.
- Are your employees feeling cared for, recognized, and valued?
- How are you supporting burnt out workers in the office, on the frontline, and at home?
- And, most importantly, have you changed your strategy to reach people regardless of where they are?
For years, companies have struggled to reach deskbound and deskless workers equally. This move to remote and hybrid work isn’t going anywhere. Now is the time to consider how we better reach and engage employees who don’t sit behind a desk or in an office all day.
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