5 Steps Communications Can Take to Improve Strategic Planning

Only 12% of communications teams believe their strategic plans are good at supporting their company's top priorities. Five simple steps will boost their efficacy.

This article has been updated from a post originally published on May 4, 2016 by CEB, now Gartner.

Communications teams are bombarded by requests from business partners, so how do they prioritize their actions, especially given resource constraints? The answer may seem obvious — focus your time and effort on the organization’s strategic priorities — but too few communications teams have a functional strategic plan to guide them.

“Communications’ priorities should be reverse-engineered from the business goals.” says Iliyana Hadjistoyanova, senior research analyst at Gartner. “But only 12% of communications teams believe their strategic plans effectively support their organization’s top priorities.”

Read more: How to Develop an Effective Content Strategy

Communications teams can take five simple steps to translate corporate strategy and business priorities into action, enabling them to focus their time and resources on business partners’ most important outcomes and the work that the team is best able to support.

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Identify business partners’ goals

Anchor strategic plans to the priorities that business partners identify as critical to the organization’s success. The best teams will host individual “needs assessment” meetings with business leaders to identify their top priorities for the coming year and ensure the plan is built from the top down. Ask: What priorities should we support?

Deconstruct goals into behaviors

Break down business partners’ goals into discrete stakeholder behaviors that the communications team needs to promote. Assess in each case whether a communication breakdown is preventing stakeholders from taking the desired action. Communications is uniquely positioned and qualified to rectify these breakdowns, such as “say-do” gaps in leadership communications where leaders saying one thing but behave in a way that doesn’t support their words. Ask: How do I identify opportunities for communications to contribute to business partner goals? Which behaviors are the best fit for communications support?

Create actionable communications objectives

You don’t need to know what the communication solution is to write an effective objective. The best objectives are as specific as possible without making assumptions about the best tactic. Weigh considerations of personnel (e.g., strengths, development opportunities, capacity), timing (e.g., duration and variability) and budget availability when allocating resources. Ask: How do I craft objectives that help my communicators influence the target behaviors? How should I allocate team resources to each objective?

Ensure internal stakeholders understand the plan

The longer your plan is, the more overwhelming it will seem to your business partners and comms colleagues. Creating a short yet comprehensive plan (1 – 2 pages) dramatically increases the likelihood that the strategic communication plan will be aligned to priorities and actually used regularly. Discuss the plan with key business partners to explain the rationale for the selected communication objectives, and provide a forum for them to voice lingering concerns.

You will also want to identify and evaluate existing communications activities that support business partners’ teams but don’t align with priorities outlined in the plan. The clearer the plan, the better the rationale for stopping extraneous activities that don’t support it. Ask: How do I clearly communicate the plan to the team and business partners? How do I cultivate alignment of the plan with key partners?

Reassess the plan regularly

Any re-evaluation is better than none, but rather than choosing an arbitrary schedule, identify specific business triggers (e.g., legislative change, financial results) that would signal the need to review, and possibly revise, your plan. Ask: When and how should the plan be re-evaluated?

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