How to be more strategic

Post by Lee Smith, Director of internal comms agency Gatehouse

Tuesday 30 January 2018

To kick off 2018, IC Space will be home to an exclusive 12 part guest blog from Lee Smith, co-founder of internal comms agency Gatehouse. Each month, Lee will explore the key building blocks of internal comms and give you top tips built from 27 years of experience in the industry.


What do we mean when we talk about strategic internal communication?

By definition, a strategy is “a high level plan of action to achieve a long term or overall aim.”  Roughly translated from its Greek roots it means “art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship”. So, to be strategic as a communicator is to be focused on enabling an organisation’s strategy – in short to help your employer (or client) get where it’s going. But, more than that, it’s about taking the lead too.


That word – enabling – is really important. It’s why we exist. As a support function (or ‘overhead’ as my old boss used to describe us) we exist only to help the organisation achieve what it needs to achieve.  This is our reason for being and is something we need to constantly remind ourselves of. If we’re not doing that, we’re not adding value.


We’re not paid to create a happy workplace or to deliver beautiful content or award winning channels (though of course those things may help the organisation achieve its goals). Our ultimate role is to inform, motivate and inspire employees so they can fulfil their roles to the best of their ability and contribute to the success of the organisation. We exist to guide the organisation (and at its most basic an organisation is nothing more than a collection of individuals working towards a common goal) on its journey and to create the right environment for success.


Being strategic means keeping sight of this higher purpose. It’s not about what we churn out (our outputs), but whether we are helping the organisation move forward (delivering outcomes). So, to be strategic is to begin with that end in mind.


On Accelerate, the four day masterclass Gatehouse runs in conjunction with the Institute of Internal Communication, we start off by considering the goals and priorities of the organisation.


  • What is the organisation itself trying to achieve? Where is it heading over the medium to long term?
  • Why does it exist?
  • What are its major priorities?
  • What are the biggest opportunities and challenges it faces in pursuing those goals?
  • How is it doing and what progress is it making on its journey?


These questions should be our obsession as internal communicators. Only when we know the answers should we ask, what can we – as internal communicators – do to help?


Being strategic means taking those ‘big picture’ organisational goals and translating them into internal communication outcomes. It’s all about alignment. With a clear view of what your organisation is trying to achieve, ask yourself, what can I do to move the needle? If revenue growth is a goal, ask what IC can do to help drive sales? If cost efficiency is vital, what can you do to save money? If geographic expansion is a top priority, how can you support this?


There are many things we can do to move that needle – effective communication builds awareness and promotes understanding amongst employees and inevitably a lot of our work is focused here. But is all that adding value? Outcomes go beyond this and are often behavioural. By all means consider what you want employees to think and feel, but better still consider what it is you need them to DO. We’re in the business of behaviour change.


For me, being strategic is not about having a fat strategy document in place (though I would love to see more robust planning used in IC) but about ensuring as much as possible of what you do links back to the organisation’s goals and priorities. If we’re delivering the outcomes that enable these, then it’s hard for anyone to accuse us of not being strategic or to question our value.

Next month: “It all begins with insight” – The importance of research and how to do it well.


About Lee

Lee Smith is co-founder of London-based internal communication agency Gatehouse, a Gallagher

Avatar of Lee Smith

Lee Smith, Director of internal comms agency Gatehouse

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 has spent more than half his life in the communication business – a career that has spanned nearly three decades, covered both internal and external communication disciplines and in-house and agency roles.

He is a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Institute of Internal Communication.

More in this series by Lee:

Hardwiring internal comms to organisational goals

The power of insight