...any road will take you there.”
Many will recall this classic line from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” in the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. As business leaders start looking at how this year will end and begin planning for the next year, it is important they plan through the lens of strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is comprised of the three guiding elements of the business: Vision, Mission, and Strategy. In chapter 3 of our most recent book, “Finding the Missing Piece: The Impact of Effective Communications on Sustainable Success”, we focus on the strategic communications involved in strategic thinking and why it is critical to the effectiveness of an organization’s overall communications strategy.
We define strategic communications as the actions involved in communicating the long-term purpose and direction of the organization. To that end, strategic communications is unique in its application than the operational and tactical communications which we will address in the next two month’s blog articles respectively.
- Vision and Values ~ At its very foundation, the purpose of any organization begins with its vision depicting a future state of the organization. It is not THE future as no one can accurately predict the future. Rather, it is a desired future based on why the organization exists in the first place. In his best-selling book, “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek makes a compelling case for the importance of understanding why the organization exists, regardless of whether it is a for-profit or non-profit, public or private, large or small or any other combination that can define a business. What is uniquely important about communicating a vision is how it evokes an emotional response from the organization itself such that they want to willingly join the journey into a future they’ve quite possibly never been before. At an organizational level, individual and organizational values help support the emotional element of strategic communications. When leaders align their communications to the core values of the organization and/or the core values of the people in the organization, they enjoy a much higher level of success in followers embracing the yet-to-be-experienced future!
- Mission ~ With the organization’s vision ready to communicate to all its stakeholders, the organizational mission becomes the next piece of the Strategic Thinking process. Where the vision denotes the organization’s purpose, the mission presents a more tangible picture of that purpose. Specifically, the mission denotes in more detail what the organization does, how the organization does what it does and for whom the organization does what it does. Together they form the organization’s “What” in the Strategic Thinking process. The most important element of effectively communicating the mission is that it is communicated in the context of the vision. The great thing about the mission is it provides rich content for strategic communications the leader will use to inspire the organization. The leader builds a narrative using the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis providing a structure to identify the tangible pieces of information behind deciding what the mission must be to be competitive. This gives leaders the ability to answer questions and concerns from the organization as they emotionally attach to the changes in front of them!
- Strategy ~ The third piece of the Strategic Thinking process is the organizational strategy. Strategy is how an organization plans to compete in their markets or industries. Again, this is true for non-profits and for-profits, public and private sector and both large and small organizations. Every business has competitors, so it is crucial that leaders outline how they are going to compete in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment. What is important here is the strategy becomes an extension of the SWOT Synthesis process. The SWOT Synthesis process takes the SWOT Analysis information referenced previously to understand the business at a contextual level by creating knowledge from the original SWOT Analysis. This allows the leader to strategically communicate “How” the organization is going to achieve the mission (what) and the vision (why) identified previously in the strategic thinking process. It not only provides leaders with a narrative on what the organization will do to compete but also what the organization will not do to avoid getting distracted from achieving the desired results!
Effectively communicating strategically is the process of setting the organization up for success. The key to effectively communicating strategically lies in the understanding the leader simply cannot communicate all the details of how the organization will compete. Rather, the leader communicates enough of the strategy at a level we call “leader’s intent” meaning there is enough of the strategy shared with the organization that the next level leaders and/or operators know the direction the organization needs to pursue to achieve desired results. Generically, the new narrative sounds something like, “This is how we will execute our strategy in order to accomplish our mission in order to become our vision”!
What will your strategic narrative sound like for your business leading into the new business year? If you’re not sure, we can help.