Strategy. Possibly one of the most overused yet incorrectly used terms in business today.
Drop the word strategy into discussions around the boardroom table and people start to listen. Not only does it sound good but it is often associated with seniority, experience and high-level thinking. All very impressive. But over the years, I’ve sat in countless business and communications meetings where the word is thrown around, prodded at, sometimes discussed but frequently avoided when you drill down into the substance of what is actually being said, or not said. Forget the elephant, strategy has become the beast in the room – the one that everyone is aware of but no-one quite knows what to do with.
So what exactly is strategy and where do we go wrong with applying this concept?
I’ve spent some time trawling the internet for the best strategy definitions, examples, videos, common pitfalls and I was surprised to see a mess of content that struggles to define what it really is. I’m not saying I have the best definition either but I do remember attending a training session in London a few years back and our strategic master told us that, every time we struggled to articulate what the strategy of a plan was, think about war. After all, the word strategy comes from the Greek, stratēgia which loosely translates as the ‘art of leadership’, particularly in relation to the military.
To put this into context, the next time you have to define the strategy of a business or communications plan, think about what your plan of action is – how are you going to achieve the goals you’ve set out to achieve? How are you going to bring about the desired future (remember the: Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there?)? How would you summarize that high-level thinking?
This is where having a clear idea of your company’s/client’s purpose (mission), goal (vision) and values is imperative. Defining your competitive advantage is also key (undertaking a SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats – really helps too). This is ultimately what will distinguish your business from the rest. If you don’t understand this, your strategy cannot succeed. But once you have defined these points and are confident that you have a high-level plan of action in place that will achieve your end goal, you should quite easily be able to work the other elements of a strategic communications plan out:
- Long- and short-term strategic objectives
- Key messages
- Roles and responsibilities (accountability is key in executing any plan)
- Next steps
Some of the most common mistakes people make when talking strategy is that they start talking about objectives or tactics instead. It’s also very easy to create a strategic communications plan and then forget about it, or not make anyone accountable. A strategic plan will only be as good as the people who execute it. So you need to ensure that someone is the overall owner of the plan and that everyone else is clear on their deliverables. Communication is vital in the strategic planning process – ideally, multiple stakeholders should have input into the plan and the final plan should be presented to all stakeholders so that everyone is aware of it and understands its importance to the growth of the company.
Equally, progress reports should be shared regularly. And strategic plans do not need to be long. I’ve seen some bibles in my time which, quite frankly, make it difficult to digest page one knowing the long journey ahead. Keep them short, sweet and accessible – they’ll be far more useful this way.
Finally, it’s important to note that strategic plans should be living documents. They should be revisited regularly and updated according to the needs of the company and the demands of external factors.