If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail: Do you have an internal communications strategy?

August 24, 2017by Gregg ApirianLeadership and StrategyInternal Communications

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A little over a year ago I wrote and published an article on Vignette’s blog called Strategy vs. Tactics: Why It’s Important to Distinguish the Difference. To date, it has been one of our most popular posts, read by thousands of HR & communications professionals. I can tell this topic has resonated with our audience because it has led many brands to Vignette, asking for help to develop an internal communications strategy.

But what is so hard for me to wrap my head around is why are so many HR and communications leaders and specialists operating without a strategy? I regularly speak at conferences, and I always ask the audience to show by a raise of hands how many of them are operating without an internal communications strategy. The answer always comes back that 90+% of them don’t have a strategy.

How is this possible in this day in age? Do you think any credible marketing leader at a well-known brand or successful company doesn’t have a marketing strategy? You are right; they definitely have a strategy. Companies of all sizes often proclaim that ‘our people are our greatest asset.’ Then why do they invest so little in effectively studying and engaging their people?  Let’s explore the likely problems.

Problem #1: Leadership Needs to Commit

What we have found is that if the executive leadership of a company is not driving the employee experience, then the outcome will be little to no support or participation from leadership (which is a required ingredient). This results in little to no budget to create a strategy and bring it to life. Executive leaders are expecting their HR and/or communications leaders to present them with a strategy that addresses how to find and hire the best candidates, onboard those who are a good fit, and engage and activate employees, so they are prepared and excited to be part of a thriving business. Anything less is putting the future of your company at risk. And if you are waiting for it to come from the top, you are going to be waiting a long time—if not forever.

Problem #2: HR and Communications Professionals Need to Fill the Gap and Manage Up

Most HR and Communications professionals I have talked to or worked with seem stuck without leadership support, but to me, this is how leaders are born—when given a chance to offer a vision that helps educate and change executive leadership’s mindset. As an example, 7-10 years ago most marketers were late to take on digital and really own it internally. Fast forward to today, and most brands have brought in experts to play the role of Chief Digital Officers (CDO). Their first order of business was to develop a data-driven marketing/customer experience strategy and then align their resources (people, capital, technology) around that strategy. In many cases, these CDOs came from agencies or other companies with digital-first cultures. They built internal teams of specialized talent, which meant moving people out of roles they weren’t a fit for and hiring experienced people (or training those who were capable). These investments and willingness to take calculated risks have changed these companies for the better. You can’t argue that digital marketing has not delivered amazing business results to most who invest and have evolved.

Time for HR and Internal Communications to Transform

HR specialist weren’t trained to be modern day internal communicators, yet many of them own this responsibility. Adding to this, not every company has its own internal communications staff. The outcome is a team of people still operating in silos without a current day vision or strategy, and worse with no resources to really do much. Times have changed and your employees (and at times, candidates) can see through to what your HR and communications people are capable of (or not). People expect a lot from their employers today, and many companies seem ill prepared to deliver on these common and realistic expectations.

If you are one of these people operating in a role without the right vision, strategy and capability then ask yourself what are you doing and how much longer are you going to continue doing this? It is time to take action and here are a few ideas to help you do this right.

Option #1: Hire People Smarter and More Capable Than You

One path is to hire a senior, experienced person to lead internal communications at your company. This person should come from a strategic marketing and creative background, be capable of creating or leading the creation of a strategy, knowing what everything costs, have expertise with creative of all forms (copy, design, imagery, videos, etc.), expertise with measuring and reporting. This person needs to be someone that has a strong voice, so executive leadership is excited to learn from and follow this person and their strategy.

At Vignette, our most effective work comes from the collaboration of working with clients who have a healthy mix of vision and skills. Between ours and theirs, the work that our partnership delivers is met with positive feedback from leaders and employees alike. This type of experienced hire will reflect back on you positively and likely lead to bigger better things for your future career.

Option #2: Find the Right Partner

Another option, is to hire a consultant or agency to help you develop and implement an internal communications strategy, but this is still not a perfect scenario because working with an outside group can still leave a wide gap on your internal team. This gap is very visible to the agency, your leadership team and employees. Any prospective agency partner will be looking for this leadership in a partnership—and more importantly, your company and employees require it from you. While this is a solid option, combining option 1 and 2 are likely to give you everything you need to be successful.

It is never too late to do what is right

The employee experience continues to be a key ingredient to a company’s success. When delivered right, it helps you recruit and retain top talent, but more so creates a movement that results in a positive culture and perception of your company. Do you want to be known as a great place to work or be an employer of choice? If this doesn’t matter to you and your executive leadership, it really should. Always remember, if they are qualified, candidates and current employees have many employment options.

HR and communications professionals have a responsibility to their company, employees, and to themselves to master their craft. Be more self-aware of your gaps and begin to address them with the right balance of continued training to advance your own vision and skills. Bring balance to your team by hiring people who have a core expertise of studying people and their behaviors to understand your employees and their preferences. This will enable you and your team to create and deliver experiences that your employees want more of.

If you need to help to create an internal communications strategy, reach out and let’s talk.

Gregg Apirian

As the Managing Director of Vignette, Gregg is responsible for agency-wide vision and strategy, operations and finance, business development and engagement management. With nearly 20 years in entrepreneurial and executive-level roles, Gregg has been an instrumental leader at many distinguished agencies. Prior to Vignette Gregg was EVP, Digital Marketing at Trailer Park, EVP at Schematic (now POSSIBLE), and began his agency career as co-founder and CEO of BLITZ. Over the years Gregg’s leadership and combined experience drove growth, profitability and delivery of innovative and effective solutions for brands like GE, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Target, Verizon, OWN, Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Johnson & Johnson, HSN, Ann Taylor & LOFT, Nike, and Reebok.