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A perfect marriage: how to bring together organisational and communications strategies
It goes like this: an organisation faces, or is hit with, major transformational change. In some cases this is unexpected (hello, COVID); in others, there are known milestones, challenges or opportunities ahead. Think venture capital raising; an organisational restructure; or massive inflow of government funding for a major project.
The execs or founders leading these organisations FEEL prepared, and often have a strategy in mind or in place. They are super-keen to tell the world their exciting story of transformation, growth or innovation … or to explain to stakeholders how they’re managing the current challenge. They often think that their communications and engagement strategies aren’t fit-for-purpose as they look to engage with the world, or their teams, about change. They might think they need extra resourcing, campaigns, upskilling of spokespeople, or at the very least, to review the existing comms strategy.
We are usually brought in at this point, where they want a review of and redevelopment of their communications strategy. But we also know a sound organisational or core strategy when we see one - and more importantly, we can see immediately when it’s missing critical elements. We understand the dynamics between core strategy and successful comms or visibility strategies, and that when one is below-par it will undermine the other.
A mediocre core strategy is the biggest risk to an organisation’s communications strategy and resulting reputation. Using communications to put bandaids on or shine up core strategies that are weak or inauthentic is as much of a reputational risk as the underlying problems you are trying to solve.
Equally, putting huge weight behind a core strategy, and not investing in a communications strategy that translates it for those invested and affected, is one of the primary reasons strategies fail to be successfully executed, resulting in a tragic waste of time and resources, and ultimately undermines overall potential impact. It also means that some of the best potential success stories about the organisation and its people never get told.
A big part of what we do is helping leaders understand this special relationship and do something about it, quickly, ideally before the coming change is upon them or opportunity has passed them by.
When we say “core strategy” this could be anything from:
Overarching organisational or corporate strategy
Individual business unit or department strategy
Transformation / change management strategy
Social impact strategy
5 elements that can make or break the relationship between organisational & communications strategies
There are five common elements that we see make or break the relationship between organisational and communications strategy. In addition to the critical importance of them cross-pollinating one another, the other element that’s most commonly overlooked is the lack of skill within executives as ambassadors for both the strategy and communications: AKA executive visibility strategies.
We’re in the midst of an ideal version of this three-pronged process - organisational strategy and comms strategy redevelopment and a concurrent executive visibility program - with a large health institution, so thought we’d capture why it’s going so well and share the key lessons.
Have your core strategy foundations in place first: Core strategies that don’t rest on the bedrock of purpose, vision and values are often disconnected from the people and the primary purpose that they serve. We start here, always, and guide organisations through this process. We recommend that everyone does, even if that’s to ask: what role do our purpose / vision / values play in this strategy?
Visibility starts with co-creation: Visibility is ultimately referring to a collaborative engagement process. Knowing where we sit with key strategic ideas from the beginning - through feedback, stakeholder engagement and co-creation - is an act of visibility, and means that by the time you get to creating a communications or go-to-market strategy, you already have buy-in, input and activators (more on this later).
Consider the role of visibility and communications when creating core strategy: Bring your communications team or brains to the core strategy process, so it’s embedded from the start. This enables the engagement strategy to influence the core strategy thinking and vice versa. Ask yourself: what role does visibility and communications play in activating this strategy?
Nurture your leaders as visibility champions: What’s the point of having beautifully merged strategy and communications strategies if your most senior leaders can’t explain them, or act as ambassadors for the process and outcomes? Invest in supporting their mindset, skillset and individual strengths as visible leaders and you’ll add huge firepower to strategic success.
Bring the activators in early: Don’t wait until your strategies are fully complete to connect with the people that will activate your strategies: start implementing the quick wins. We see so much value in test-and-learn, particularly when it comes to visibility.
We bring more than 40 years of combined experience in organisational and communications strategy, and have developed a unique process for concurrently upskilling execs through our exec visibility programs. Get in touch if you’d like to share your own strategic challenges or would like to know more.
About Visibility Co.
Working at the intersection of leadership, strategy and visibility, we seek to be strategic provocateurs and catalysts of systemic change, supporting you to unleash the potential within so you can create a better world from wherever you are.
While we’re not big on labels, we’re often referred to as social impact and communications strategists, or strategic leadership advisors, or visibility experts.
Fancy words for a business, led by Julia May and Sarah Anderson, that brings together purposeful leadership, strategy and communications in truly integrative and innovative ways.
We see everyday that every single one of us has barriers to visibility, and there are some common ones we hear regularly. The great thing is, when you're able to sit in a safe space with other purposeful people with huge potential, you get to hear that everyone has these hang-ups. We mean everyone.
One thing that consistently amazes us in the work we do is how even the most accomplished, capable leaders underestimate their own potential and influence. It often takes us holding a mirror up to them, and describing them back to themselves as we see them - or challenging them to be bolder in their visioning, for them to see what’s possible for their own impact and career.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners — the Kulin Nations, particularly the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, and Wadawurrung people — upon whose ancestral lands we live and work. We pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and acknowledge the pivotal role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within the Australian community. Sovereignty was never ceded.