Thursday, May 8, 2014

Internal Communication Professionals: Maximize Your Strategy with a Formal Written Plan

Effective internal communication and employee engagement requires as much careful planning as your organization’s overall business strategic plan and mission. As a Northwestern University graduate student in Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communications program currently evaluating internal communication best practices, two recent articles discuss the value of companies allocating time to develop a written comprehensive strategy behind IC efforts.
In her blog post How to Write An Internal Communications Strategy, Rachel Miller, founder of the website All Things IC, describes how to write your plan. Miller defines IC strategy as “an outline of your organization’s journey and the big picture of what you want to achieve.” Your strategic IC plan should acknowledge where you are now, where you want to be, how you’re going to get there, the time frame, they key players involved, why the selected strategy is the best approach, and how you will measure the impact of your plan after implementation. Exact format and length will vary depending on your organization, but Miller emphasizes that any IC strategy needs to include an overall purpose, an executive summary, resources and timing, objectives, measurement, key messages, audiences, what channels will be used, approval process and responsibilities, and timeline.

Image Source: White Spaces Management and Marketing Services

 Another article entitled Before Creating Your Next Content Asset, Read This by Megan Sheerin of Melcrum Smarter Internal Communication stresses the importance of aligning your internal communication content with your company’s overall business goals. Sheerin outlines a number of ways you can make this happen as you develop your IC plan. First, if you don’t already have a clear understanding of your company’s key business objectives, get up to speed right away. Then, create a vision of your employees’ changed attitude or behavior that occurs from your strategy implementation. Lastly, state the anticipated outcomes in very specific terms (i.e. number of comments on blog posts, e-newsletter open and click rates, employee engagement index scores, etc.).

Based on these great articles, here are three steps I recommend you take before you start writing your strategy:

1.      Do your research. Gather any data in advance that will help to inform your plan. This may include identifying key stakeholders and audience segments for your IC strategy, fielding an employee opinion survey, conducting focus groups, and performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

2.      Alignment is critical to success. The broader purpose of internal communications and employee engagement is to increase productivity, help your company deliver on its larger business goals, and meet the needs of your customers, so it is essential that your internal communications and business strategies are cohesive and connected.
3.      Work backwards. In other words, picture the ideal end result of your internal communications strategy - what are employees doing, thinking, and saying? Envision those accomplishments first and use them to develop measurable objectives for your plan.  
As internal communication specialists, you also have many digital and social options available to enhance your efforts. See Shel Holtz’s take on the top internal communications trends for 2014. Writing a clear, comprehensive strategy will help you maximize the effectiveness and success of these exciting new technologies.

Betsey Siska is a communications professional and strategic planner with extensive experience in non-profit, corporate and agency environments. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Contact her on Twitter @betseysiska.

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