Wednesday 18 July 2018
Continuing our focus on the strategic underpinnings of internal communication, this post is all about the art (or is it a science?) of objective setting.
As we’ve discussed previously, the starting point for internal communication planning should always be the strategy, goals, priorities, issues, challenges or opportunities the organisation itself is grappling with.
Great internal communication is about helping the organisation move forward, pursue its strategy and realise its vision. That’s why we exist as a function.
And yet much of what we do remains fundamentally disconnected from corporate goals.
I am convinced that, as practitioners, we often fall at the very first hurdle – by not spending enough time thinking – really thinking – about the role communication needs to play in whatever it is the organisation needs to get done. This is what I want to explore in this post.
Where to begin
If you want to be genuinely strategic in your approach, then the very best place to start is with the organisation’s overarching goals and priorities. If your organisation is well run, then the strategy should be clearly set out – usually a small number of key priorities or strategic pillars which are agreed by your senior executive team and used as a compass to guide activity.
That is not always the case though – sometimes the organisation’s strategy is either unclear or simply non-existent. Where that is the case, the IC requirement is quite different! In the absence of anything to anchor your own activity to, you will need to step in and help your leaders either identify or more clearly articulate the organisation’s strategy.
Let’s look on the bright side though and assume that strategy is clear. Armed with knowledge around where the organisation is heading and how it intends to get there – including short, medium and long term priorities – you can get going on the task of ‘translating’ them into meaningful communication objectives.
This step is the most important one. How you get from the strategic priority to a clear communication goal isn’t always easy – but if you’re willing to sweat it out, it’s well worth the effort. The logic itself is simple – take the organisation’s goal, unpack it, interrogate it and work out what exactly communication can do to support or enable it.
If your organisation’s priority is focused around revenue growth, what are the things we as internal communicators can do to drive growth? If a priority is quality, what can we do to improve quality? If it’s cost efficiency, how can we help reduce or control costs? These are real business outcomes we internal communicators can support.
In all of these examples, there is a huge amount that IC can achieve – from educating sales people about new products, to effective change communication to support an acquisition (revenue growth); from communicating regulatory and compliance requirements, to increased storytelling around on customer service (quality); from showing employees where every £1 of cost goes, to launching a war on waste initiative (cost efficiency).
Note that none of these potential outcomes is about stuff. There is a big difference between outputs and outcomes.
If we’re operating strategically, the outcomes we should be shooting for will typically go way beyond awareness raising and into the realms of building understanding or commitment, changing attitudes and opinions or sparking behaviour change. And we do these things in order to shift the dial in some way for our organisation – to support and enable it to achieve what it wants to achieve.
The magic ingredients
So how do you craft a good objective? There are essentially four ingredients you need to bake into your communication objectives:
First, you need to specify your audience. Be really specific here. Segment. Think about the outcome you are aiming for – to achieve it who do we need to think, feel or do something different? The more tightly you can define your audience, the more effective you will be.
Next comes the communication outcome itself –what, specifically, does communication need to deliver? This will, of course, depend on what you are focusing on, but that outcome would typically be one of the following:
Again, be as specific as possible.
The final two ingredients are target and timeframe.
The target is important – as this is the measurable bit! A target is a clear, measurable level of achievement you are aiming to deliver – a movement from X to Y. Of course, to state a target you need to first know how you currently perform – you need a baseline measure – which is where insight (see my previous post) fits in. The good news is, if you get this piece right, it will also identify how you will measure the success or failure of your communication. Good objective setting paves the way for evaluation and measurement.
And finally, every good objectives needs a timeframe built into it. Realistically by when do you hope to reach the desired level of achievement? Again, this will depend on what you are trying to achieve – changing ingrained attitudes, opinions or established behaviours tends to take longer than merely raising awareness levels.
If you craft clear and meaningful communication objectives – or, if you prefer, outcome statements, with those four ingredients baked in, then you will be laying one of the key building blocks of strategic internal communication.
Lee Smith is co-founder of London-based internal communication agency Gatehouse, a Gallagher company. As part of a Fortune 500 business with offices in 33 countries, he advises some of the world’s biggest and most complex organisations on how to engage, motivate and inspire their employees. He is a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Institute of Internal Communication.
You can follow Lee on Twitter – @gatehousegroup
More in the series by Lee: