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How To Effectively Communicate Your Strategic Plan To Employees
You’ve developed your objectives and identified the key elements of your strategic plan. But can you communicate it properly throughout your organization?
The key to developing this understanding at all levels of an organization is effective strategic planning communication. When implementing the Balanced Scorecard or any type of strategic plan, the scope of an organization’s internal communication strategy can make or break the efforts.
With communication being such a prominent driver of strategic success, some organizations may find it helpful to develop a communication plan. A solid communication plan ensures information is being disseminated effectively at all levels.
What Is A Strategic Communication Plan?
A strategic communication plan is a written plan outlining communication to your team on your organization's objectives. This plan is deliberate with messages and tactics used to help engage employees with your strategy and fuel performance success for your organization.
In his book Balanced Scorecard: Step-By-Step for Government and Nonprofit Agencies, Paul Niven outlines common objectives and key elements for developing a internal communication strategy. We’ll walk through both—and then provide you with a four-step plan that will help you better communicate your strategy.
Common Objectives For Your Strategic Plan
- Build awareness of the Balanced Scorecard, or strategic plan, at all levels of the organization
- Provide education on key Balanced Scorecard concepts to all audiences
- Generate the engagement and commitment of key stakeholders in the project
- Encourage participation in the process
- Generate enthusiasm for the Balanced Scorecard and strategic plan
- Ensure that team results are disseminated rapidly and effectively
Key Components For Your Strategic Plan
When formulating a communication plan, Niven recommends the “W5” approach to determine the key elements of your plan: who, why, what, when, and where.
Who refers to both the target audience and the communicator. Depending on the scope of your implementation, you should define the appropriate groups to be involved in the process. These groups make up your target audience. After the target audience has been specified, a communicator should be assigned to each group with the task of effectively disseminating the message.
The why and what in this equation can be understood as the purpose or message. The communication plan’s purpose is to convey the original objective behind implementing the plan. This could take the form of a common objective listed above, such as “generate the engagement and commitment of key stakeholders in the project.” What are we doing and why? We are implementing the communication plan to generate engagement and commitment from key stakeholders.
When should you communicate the message? The needs of your target audience will determine the necessary frequency of communication. If you are unsure about the amount of communication needed, it is always better to err on the side of too much. In his article “Leading Change,” John Kotter says, “without credible communication, and a lot of it, employees’ hearts and minds are never captured.”
Where and how are you supposed to communicate? Effective communication often takes a large amount of effort and, more often than not, the message needs to be repeated several times. In order for employees to fully understand the strategy and the ways in which they contribute to success, Dr. Robert Kaplan suggests communicating the plans “seven times in seven ways.” This might mean making use of brochures, speeches, newsletters, videos, company website or intranet, workshops, etc. Any channel that has the ability to reach the target audience could be used; it could even take the form of internal blog posts at your organization.
Communication is a two-way street, so don’t forget to ask for feedback from others and to provide it as well. Remember, communicate effectively and communicate often.
Communicating Strategy: 4 Important Lessons
Included in the May–June 2007 Balanced Scorecard Report is an article written by business writer Lauren Keller Johnson called “Common Sense in Strategy Communication: Four Lessons from Canon USA.” (This article is available for purchase through the Harvard Business Review store.)
In her article, Johnson discusses four lessons that can be learned from the way Canon USA communicated its strategic plan throughout the company—a strategy that won them a place in the Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame. These lessons are highly applicable to any organization, so we’ve summarized them below so you can put them in place right away.
Lesson #1: “Don’t rely on written communication alone.”
Present the strategic plan in many different ways.
Your employees all absorb information differently. So, for example, if you only use posters to convey your communication strategy and have some employees who aren’t visual learners, those employees won’t be affected. Or, if you only send an email out explaining the strategy in a long, drawn-out way, employees who routinely ignore long emails won’t be affected. Case in point—be sure you present your strategic plan in many different ways. You should use a mix of video, audio, visual, and written strategy communication to employees so everyone can learn about the plan in the way that is best for them.
Be creative with how you present your plan.
For example, Canon USA created “Strategy in Action: Canon Americas’ Strategy Playbook.” This playbook featured a color-coded version of the corporate strategy map and was designed by a graphic artist who had worked for USA Today. Consider doing something similar in your organization for a unique spin on your communication strategy.
Lesson #2: “Make your message clear and relevant.”
Define your strategic terms.
For example, if “customer” is one of the key terms in your strategy, consider defining it outright. In other words, don’t assume your employees know exactly who your customers are and why you’re targeting them.
Use crystal-clear language.
Using industry-specific acronyms may seem “smarter” or “easier”—but it is actually just the opposite. For example, the Canon USA strategy map doesn’t talk about “maximizing ROA.” Instead, it encourages employees to “find ways of lowering the cost of doing business,” “work together,” and “make Canon number one in all businesses.” Additionally, try to cut out any useless, jargon-laden phrases like “leveraging talent” or “optimizing strategy.”
Lesson #3: “Keep communication flowing in both directions.”
Develop venues for bottom-up communication.
Do your employees know you want them to provide you with feedback? If you don’t have any defined venues for this bottom-up strategic planning communication, they probably don’t. Or, at the very least, they don’t know how to go about providing you with that feedback. Consider the best avenue for constructive feedback based on your organizational structure and put it into place as soon as possible.
Lesson #4: “Tap into the workforce’s vision.”
Be open to suggestions from the workforce.
It’s one thing to have a strategic plan—and another thing entirely to find out how that plan is affecting your employees. If the leadership team is able to put themselves in the shoes of lower-level employees and see the strategy at work from their perspective, the leadership will be more willing to consider new and updated solutions to problems.
After you set your strategic plan, you need to be willing to make adjustments when necessary. Be sure to stay in tune with what is and isn’t working properly, and realize that you may need to step back and alter your strategic plan based on the feedback you’re getting.
All of these suggestions can be described in a word: transparency. If you make it easy for your employees to both access the strategic plan information and provide you with constructive feedback, you’re going to see far more strategic success.
Using ClearPoint software, you can allow your employees to see the strategy, understand the measures and projects that drive this strategy, and interact with the strategy via action items, and reporting. It is accessible in all devices and available in the cloud. Learn more about how you can improve your communication with ClearPoint.