4 Steps to Align Communications with Leadership and Business Strategy

Corporate communications results are, to a large degree, dependent on the opinions and expectations that leadership holds towards the communications function and its contribution to organizational objectives.

Perhaps you’ve heard employees complain they have no clear understanding of how they fit into the company’s business strategy or what is expected of them. You may also be hearing leadership lament their business objectives and challenges never seem to reach employees beyond high-level management.  Perhaps your leaders are not receiving direct, frontline feedback, but only the distorted reality only seen through bureaucratic layers of sugar coating.

These are the symptoms of misaligned corporate communications, and here are four steps you can take to achieve better results.

  1. Get internal and external communications on the same page.

If employees are hearing one thing about the organization where they work while they’re at work but something entirely different in what they hear on the news or see in your marketing and advertising, that’s a problem.

As Harvard Business Review describes it:

At most companies, however, internal and external communications are often mismatched. This can be very confusing, and it threatens employees’ perceptions of the company’s integrity: They are told one thing by management but observe that a different message is being sent to the public.

If leaders are pursing alternate internal and external messages—for example, pushing a “customer-first” mentality in public marketing while mainly pushing for stock value increases internally, it’s time to re-evaluate your strategic alignment. Get all parties involved—your corporate and internal comms teams, marketing and leadership—together to develop a unified strategy.

Internal and external teams best work under one corporate communications umbrella, with focused quarterly objectives and a clear set of key messages, campaigns and ongoing programs.  With this framework, each team can focus on their own audiences, but from a common set of well-defined messaging and story frameworks.

  1. Gain leadership trust and help them see the value of communications.

The communications role is often undervalued by executives.  Because anyone can write and speak, and the results of different approaches are often difficult to quantify, the value of word choices, storytelling, presentation, visualization can be hard to grasp.

Examples and evidence will help. Showing measured results and illustrating the stock value fluctuations from public communication failures and successes of other companies may enlighten even the most skeptical of leaders.

PR savvy executives often understand the value of “spin” and controlling the narrative, so realize it is but a short walk from there to understanding the value of the internal narrative.  The story as told to employees needs to be essentially the same one as told to the public.

While leaders are often the public face, the face customers most often see will be the employees they work with, so it only makes sense these frontline workers understand, believe and support the company storyline. While research indicates more and more executives are recognizing the value of internal communications, still more need to be convinced.

Claire Harris, head of business development at Agenda Consulting, put it this way:

For an internal comms team, establishing a relationship of trust with the chief exec and senior management is critical. In order to ensure key areas are communicated well, the comms team needs to be fully aware of the organisation’s agenda. This relationship can take time to build and develop: personal styles and skills can often affect how easy it is to get leaders fully on board.

Not only is it a necessity for communicators to get support—budgetary and otherwise—from executives, but it’s also vital for communicators to put the voice behind leadership’s business goals and priorities.

As Walter G. Montgomery published on Knowledge@Wharton, CEOs must adopt a more 21st Century approach to organization communication: “It’s important for everyone to know that the CEO takes communications very seriously.”

His advice is for executives to focus on communications as a management capability more seriously than they typically do. This article explains some things that can help prove internal communications’ value to top executives and get them on board with doing more than just the minimum.

  1. Align corporate messaging to business strategy and objectives.

The University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication lays it out:

Internal alignment with corporate strategy is crucial to ensure that employees’ decisions are ultimately guided by the right purpose and shaped by the company’s current vision. When employees lose sight of the company’s deeper purpose and long-term goals, they can easily fall into a mundane routine without a greater vision to drive them forward to new developments and innovative procedures.

Executives are big-picture thinkers—after all, they’re managing the entirety of the business—so it’s incumbent on communicators to go beyond the day-to-day and build a strategy that aligns closely with the overarching goals of the business to truly get executives to sit up and pay attention.

  1. Run internal campaigns first.

For leaders oriented toward their brands and marketing campaigns, running internal branding campaigns may serve to convince them of the power of internal comms.  CECP offers the example of Allstate, whose Force for Good internal campaign “delivered an unforeseen level of excitement to employees across the company.” It also “reflects Allstate’s brand promise to customers.”

As the Allstate example demonstrates, an internal campaign can help executives see the value while also helping to bring internal comms in line with external messaging.

By aligning your professional communications teams and clearly defining the voice and storytelling of your leadership and their strategies, you can improve company performance by communicating more authentically, directly and frequently with employees, customers and “The Street.” By aligning communications, everyone wins.

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