January 15, 2018

Three Rules for Putting Strategy into Action

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Let’s cut to the chase: if your communication initiatives don’t directly align with the objectives or focus from your strategic plan, you’re merely doing busy work. You’re in possession of a to-do list disguised as strategic communications.

3 rules for converting strategy into action from Aespire

I know how you might be feeling right now. You aren’t sure what to do next in your communications strategy, and that leaves you feeling paralyzed with uncertainty.

You’re experiencing a form of paralysis I call “cranial interlock,” a state in which your mind is unable to process what to do next because every communications initiative appears to be a priority.

The real reason you’re experiencing anxiety is that your “strategy” is a to-do list of tactics that you can check off: social media posts, email blasts, maybe a quick video. All these tactics have their place as action items, but outside of a plan give the appearance of communications without achieving meaningful results.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you are a smart individual who wants to make the best use of your time and limited resources to help your organization communicate, raise awareness, and increase revenue, you can apply these three rules for converting strategy into action.

If you’re more of a task-oriented doer than a strategy-focused planner, that’s ok. You can learn how to think strategically and act intentionally, eliminating possibilities to focus on the opportunities that will make a difference and help you achieve your objectives.

 First, you'll need to do the hard work of aligning your communications plan with the strategic direction of your organization.

Rule #1: A Strategic Plan Requires Strategic Direction

“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.” — Jack Welch

With any strategy, the direction your organization follows must align with the purpose that guides it and the impact it promises to make.

Show me a plan with a purpose, and it will reveal an organization with direction:

  1. Purpose influences organization direction;
  2. Direction determines brand and communications objectives;
  3. Brand and communications objectives define strategy, goals, and tactics.

Rule #2: Strategy Is the Path to Achieve Your Objective

“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this question are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desire results? The answer to this you can call strategy.” ― William E. Rothschild

Your communication strategy isn’t going to get you anywhere unless you have a clear direction on where your organization will head with its strategic plan.

An objective is like a target:

  • “More frequent social media posting to raise awareness” isn’t a valid objective. It’s vague and lacks purpose and measurable results.
  • “Fund new programming by increasing net revenue by 5% over 6 months” is a real and tangible objective.

Here’s why:

  • Based on the strategic direction of the organization, a 5% net revenue increase should fund new programming.
  • A net 5% increase is easily calculated based on current revenue.
  • Six months is a fixed time frame. You’ll either meet the objective or fail.
  • Increasing revenue by a net amount requires you to factor in expenses to achieve the objective.

The strategy is the path to follow to arrive at the target. What strategy would help you achieve that objective? Targeting existing customers or donors? Acquiring new customers or donors? Which strategy will cost less to implement?

Now that you have a target (the objective) and a path (the strategy), you have direction. You know which way to aim and how far to shoot.

Rule #3: Strategic Communications Flow Through Narrative 

“A narrative translates the abstract into a story that connects people with the objectives, direction, and path of a strategy.”

A powerful brand begins with a narrative, a story arc that connects the soul of your organization and the personality of your brand with the heart and mind of a person who listens, cares, and takes action.

Focus your strategy on a narrative for this objective:

  • Our objective is to fund new programming.
  • Our strategy is to target existing customers or donors to minimize the cost of acquisition.
  • We will accomplish this strategy through a comprehensive campaign that appeals directly to those whose interests are aligned with the programming.
  • We will accomplish this strategy when we increase net revenue by 5% over 6 months.

Communications plans that don’t align with organizational purpose and direction aren’t plans at all — they’re strategic distractions.

Start somewhere. Begin with one objective or goal to accomplish this month that moves the needle on your brand or marketing communications.

Strategic communications are not an option; they are an essential requirement of accomplishing your mission and realizing your vision. Without a plan, the mission has no focus; without focus, there is no clarity. A communication plan without tactics and actionable items is merely a wish list.

How to Make Strategy a Dimension of your Culture

It’s been four years since the release of “Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.” Hundreds of readers have realized the need to align communications strategy with their strategic direction, making this a foundation for organizational culture and communications.

Strategy is the first of 12 principles based on four dimensions of communications and culture.

Strategically, you can pick and choose which principles to implement, but to create an integrated culture of communications — one in which everyone understands how the communications align with the organization’s direction and purpose — connect your strategic direction with your communications plan.

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