22 Oct. 2019 | Comments (0)
Developing compelling strategic communications is essential to successfully creating and implementing strategy across the enterprise—but it also touches the preparation of annual leadership team and shareholder meetings, large M&A deals, investor roadshows, divestitures, reorganizations, and a host of other high value, high stakes strategic events. It is present at every moment when you need to move an organization forward.
What follows is an abbreviated version of an article written by TCB Senior Fellow Jeff Pundyk and TCB Global Counsellor Mark Leiter for Wharton entitled Overlooking Communications—Why Strategists Are Missing a Trick.
Each and every step of strategy design and development lives or dies as a result of amazing or lackluster communications. Strategic content that doesn’t instantly resonate as intuitive and inspiring can be quickly dismissed by distracted colleagues who have limited attention spans.
Yet, executives crafting strategy often miss a powerful trick that would raise their odds of influence and impact. Instead of making communications a top priority throughout the entire strategy development journey, they typically focus on communications only as they approach the final stages of their work.
As the lines between strategy and operations continue to blur in an accelerating world, communications all too often sits apart — considered the last mile between the strategy team and the broader world. Strategists who invest more attention in communications throughout the process are dramatically more effective and efficient practitioners; they gain back precious time in a fast-moving world while raising their influence — and their strategy is far more likely to be well understood and well executed as a result.
In our work across numerous organizations we have identified five ways that communications can elevate and enhance the strategy development process:
(1) Central Questions; (2) Foundational Knowledge; (3) Core Concepts; (4) Touchstone Narratives; and (5) Thought Leadership.
Central Questions: Great strategy work starts with great questions. The choices we make in how we frame questions directly shapes how strategic discussions and debates will unfold—while enabling teams to reflect on where the organization is headed and how that could change in the future. Therefore, precisely crafting questions in the right way is a natural entry point for strategy teams to start bringing communications experts under the strategy tent, gaining their counsel while also briefing them on what’s ahead.
Foundational Knowledge: Strategy is grounded in market and internal knowledge, and includes how we share and express our organization’s history, basic beliefs, research, facts, information and analysis. Helping leadership teams absorb and navigate dynamic knowledge about the industry and business inevitably draws on a wide range of communications skills including codification, storytelling and data visualization—to name but three key skills that draw on different facets of communications expertise.
Core Concepts: Concepts includes how we construct discrete ideas, frameworks, scenarios, options, choices, aspirations and goals. These higher-order communications are often memorable focal points for strategic discussions. How we choose to design and position a key concept can have enormous influence on how the audience engages and reacts to our thesis. Consider frameworks. Enduring frameworks are built on a foundation of logic and communications. If a framework comes across as intuitive and elegant, be assured that tremendous iteration and pressure-testing flowed through the entire framework design process.
Touchstone Narratives: All through the strategy development process we pose and answer questions using finely crafted knowledge and concepts as input to constructing strategic narratives. Sophisticated, synthetic narratives become the focus of strategic discussions, debates and decisions. It is easier and faster to assemble these narratives when you have a foundation of high-quality knowledge and concepts. Too often, teams fail when they set out to write their strategy presentation and they haven’t first made sure each component is communicated in a way that instantly expresses the core thoughts.
Thought Leadership: Ultimately, strategy is meaningless without execution. Leadership teams need to endorse the strategy, including the board of directors when it rises to corporate strategy. The entire organization needs to understand the vision and their role in making it come to life. The market needs to understand where the organization is headed, and that includes customers, shareholders, alliance partners and journalists. Real engagement comes from sharing an inspiring vision that raises everyone’s energy level.
This is all thought leadership. Remember those central questions? They are often the same questions keeping your customers and investors up at night. Remember that foundational knowledge? This contains proof points that ground the strategy in the environment. What about core concepts and touchstone narratives? They reinforce and amplify your organization’s view of the world, and create a memorable way for everyone to rally around the strategy.
While specialized experts with the talent to effortlessly toggle between C-suite level strategy and communications discussions and decisions are a rare breed, they do exist — and these individuals can help integrated strategy and communications teams accelerate their progress at every stage of the journey.
In parallel, teams that take a multidisciplinary approach to crafting strategy and more deliberately form collaborative working relationships between strategy and communications experts will have a distinct competitive advantage. In fact, this investment always pays dividends in a world where clear communications supports clear decisions — and creates a fast track to greater performance and prosperity.