Strategic communication is getting the right messages to the right people at the right time. And for the right reasons. These reasons, of course, are strategic ones. Communication should enable and extend the organization’s vision. It’s easy, however, to skip foundational concerns. We want to go straight to Twitter. But taking the time to clarify your goals is the key to using communication in a strategic way. Only then can you create an effective plan. So here are some tips for getting this stage right.
- Ask better questions. The only way to know if your message empowers the desired outcomes is to ask what they are. Talking to your boss or stakeholders is not enough; you have to listen to them and then follow up with better questions. Don’t make assumptions about what your partners want to happen.
- Clarify your objectives. As you or your team gain clarity about where you want to go, write down exactly what you want people to do. What people? What behaviors? Be as specific as possible, but don’t get bogged down in tactics. The ability to bring clarity to these objectives may be the most important contribution you can make as a communication professional.
- Create a plan. Start with a short plan—just a couple of pages. Share it with internal stakeholders and make sure they can see how your objectives guide what you plan to say and who you plan to say it to. Sketch out the resources you will need to execute it. And address the tough questions, such as what you need to quit doing in order to do this well. Are their major resource issues, like personnel, partnerships or budget. Get it on the table.
- Revise your plan. As you get agreement on the big points, you can start adding detail. But not too much detail. You need tactics. You need strategy. You need benchmarks. You need deadlines. But you don’t need distractions. Stay focused on creating the messages that motivate people to act on the vision that guides you—buy your product, give to your causeor vote for your candidate. Test your messages and improve them. The plan should include triggers that prompt you to renew, revisit or reassess it.
- Work your plan. Implement your plan, being sure to collect the data and anecdotes you need to communicate to your partners what is working and what is not. You are a storyteller in the end, one who motivates others to act—both inside and outside your organization. What statistic or anecdotes do you need to tell that story well?
There is more. You can and should get better at writing and listening. Managing conflict, appreciating diversity, leading teams—all these take knowledge and experience. You don’t just need a strategic plan, you need a personal one. How can you get better at the thing you are called to do? We would love to join you on this journey. Wally Metts is the director of the Strategic Communication and Leadership program at Spring Arbor University. This online- only master's degree helps you harness the power of clear, gracious communication to lead teams and organizations toward greater effectiveness. It can be completed in as little as 15 months. Learn more now.