A strategic approach to managing communication requires a simple but clear plan. This plan should link the output of the communication function to the goals and objectives of the organization. Patricia Bayerlein, a consultant at Gagen MacDonald, identifies five key steps to the planning process.
1. Prepare the planning team
Before developing a strategic communication plan, gauge the readiness and commitment of leaders within the function. Be inclusive and collaborative to create a sense of shared ownership of the planning process. Once those who can commit the time and energy are in place, you can begin developing a work plan or an overarching "blueprint." This should focus on specific issues or business problems the communication function needs to address; clarify roles and responsibilities; identify the additional team members and key stakeholders; and align the planning timeline with the
company's overall planning process. Finally, develop a detailed work plan and timeline against which to measure progress.
2. Articulate guiding principles
Once the work plan is in place, the core team should clearly articulate the guiding principles (vision, mission and values) for the communication function, and connect those back to the company goals. Planning teams that overlook this step fail to develop a shared, coherent idea of mission and purpose. Asking questions such as, "Why does this organization exist, what is its purpose, and what is our aspiration for the future?" will help begin a dialogue around your guiding principles.
3. Assess the current situation
Assess the current situation within the company and the communication function to clarify which communication strategies will have the most impact. For example, start with an analysis of the gaps between how the organization is currently perceived and how it wants to be perceived. Or examine differences between the information people want and
the information that the organization supplies.
You need to be aware of resources and keep an eye on the future environment so that you can respond to changes. A situation assessment is critical to strategic thinking and management in that it outlines the organization's strengths, weaknesses and performance. This information highlights critical issues that the company faces and the plan must address.
4. Develop a strategic framework
Now it's time to figure out how to address the key business and communication issues. The planning team should draw on a variety of techniques to generate and test goals, objectives and strategies. Typically this would include interviews, group discussion and formal decision-making techniques, including facilitated sessions with communicators representing different operational areas. The strategies should encompass the broad approach needed to achieve goals (general results) and objectives (specific results).
This step can take considerable time as discussions
often require additional information or a re-evaluation of conclusions reached during the
original analysis. In addition, the team should outline the research and measurement approach it will take. You should now have a framework to outline strategic direction and be ready to complete the written plan.
5. Complete the plan
Take the guiding principles, situation assessment and strategic framework and prepare the written plan. Check in with key decision-makers to address any important questions they may have about the priorities and direction in which the communication plan and the function is headed. Address any issues as they arise to prevent future conflict that may hamper the execution of the plan. The output of this step is your formal written plan.
Source: This is an edited extract/excerpt from an article appearing in the issue of Strategic Communication Management.