How to put strategic communications into practice to set your business on a winning trajectory

Seventh in my series on strategic communications.

My central point has been that truly strategic communications can be more than just proactive … and more than just closely wired to the corporate strategy. Truly strategic communications can be an ongoing input into the corporate strategy and indispensable to its execution. Corporate strategy aiming to be transformational needs the communication strategy to be a dynamic driver, helping to propel the business to a higher plane.

That’s good in theory. But just how does that work in practice?

Here are two critical connection points between communication strategy and corporate strategy — where communications can drive results so fundamentally that the Corporate Strategy function would be remiss in not actively courting Communications “to the table” as it establishes objectives and strategic plans:

Internal transformation–Becoming an innovation leader. Unless your company is already fully functioning as a living, breathing mecca of innovation, fully engaged in a learning cycle delivering continual transformation for sustainable competitive advantage, it probably needs a steady dose of active culture change. Senior management, informed by forward-thinking Human Resources (no, that doesn’t have to be an oxymoron) and Communications leaders, pushes the organization out of its comfort zone for truly creative innovation. HR must revamp evaluation and compensation processes to reward smart risk-taking, breakthrough thinking and creativity while fostering cooperation and teamwork (we aren’t looking for me-first all-stars, but individuals whose passion, energy and creativity helps makes everyone better). And Communications actively promotes candid, sharp, timely and specific communication throughout the organization. Everyone knows senior management’s vision and strategic priorities, and knows that their ideas are actively sought and valued. Together, HR and Communications aim not just for effective internal communication, but active and productive internal engagement.

Reputation management–Beyond protecting the brand. Top-performing companies know the value of a strong brand (and not just consumer companies; a vibrant brand drives sales success in a B-to-B environment as well). But reputation management is on an even higher plane of importance than brand management. Companies not considered trustworthy drop off customers’ consideration lists, preempting an opportunity for the brand to gain traction as a sales motivator. Active reputation management makes brand enhancement possible. Marketing and Communications should work actively to help drive reputation and brand valuation upward. But that’s more than just a matter of communicating well to the marketplace (media relations, social media participation, marketing and advertising). The company’s actions must match its words just as its products must measure up to its marketing claims. Communications leaders provide an active voice in strategic and operational meetings as the company’s reputational conscience. (The Chief Communications Officer may be more appropriately renamed the Chief Reputation Officer, as I have suggested here since 2006.) Yes, the company’s reputation is every leader’s responsibility, but the senior Communications leader is its unceasing advocate. (Just as financial accountability and stewardship is every leader’s responsibility but the CFO keeps it his/her singular focus).

These two strategic priorities–developing and maintaining a high-performance culture, and protecting and enhancing corporate reputation among all key stakeholders–are critical to your company’s long-term success, are they not? Can you really achieve excellence without them? So … is strategic communications an active and valued input in your corporate strategy?

- Jon Harmon

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