How to improve business results through action-oriented strategic planning

6 October, 2010 - 07:59
In today’s competitive business environment, having a communications plan is not enough. Instead, more companies are relying on a dynamic platform that delivers measurable business results under any circumstances. Douglas Rozman reports.

By Douglas Rozman

It’s Monday morning. You’re on the way to work - checking emails, voicemails and keeping track of today’s “new” priorities. Sound familiar? This phenomenon of shifting priorities due to crises, unforeseen events, or even the boss’ whims, can derail the best laid plans and limit our proactive contribution to business objectives.

According to Towers Watson’s 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study, high-performing organizations are 2-3 times more likely to have a documented communication strategy than low-performing organizations. But, in today’s competitive business environment, having “a plan” is not enough. It must be a dynamic platform that delivers measurable business results under any circumstances.

While we’re busy putting out fires, the organizational landscape continues to shift around us. Baby Boomers are retiring and incoming Millennials will comprise nearly 50 percent of the workforce by 2014, according to Harvard Business Review. This new class of employee has very different communication preferences and intrinsic motivators than their predecessors. Today’s workforce is also more-mobile and harder to reach, influenced by a 75% increase in flexible work arrangements since 2005.

Additionally, the prolonged recession has put new pressure on corporate overhead functions to contribute directly to business performance. “CEOs and business leaders increasingly see all functions within an organization through an ROI lens. As they allocate precious resources in response to funding requests, they are thinking about bottom-line impact, not feel good programs” says Jim Ivey, an internal communication executive in the financial services sector.

What does all of this mean for communicators?

First, we should consider why organizations invest in internal communications and determine where we can have the greatest impact. We can start by looking at functions that directly contribute to business results, like sales. Or support roles, such as customer service, that are held accountable for “hard” metrics like customer satisfaction. As communicators, we too need to create a similar link with business success.

We can start by re-adjusting our focus toward influencing employee actions. Traditional communication objectives like increasing awareness, knowledge and commitment, while important, stop short of action. I recall a situation within a large financial services enterprise, where we created metrics related to increasing employee traffic to the Intranet. When asked by a senior executive how that supported business growth, we said it would improve employee understanding of the company’s strategies. He then asked, “And what will that cause them to do?”

Most companies view employee engagement as the embodiment of focused employee action in support of business objectives. According to BlessingWhite, “Engaged employees are more productive, profitable, and customer-focused. They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals. They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”
At Communivation Consulting, we studied the causal relationship between engagement and communication. We extensively analyzed industry data and specific business cases, concluding that communication is “the driver” of employee engagement. It’s not the mere existence of a world-class “rewards and recognition” program, for example, that engages employees. Rather, it’s the targeting and customization of the content through various forms of communication that activates and strengthens engagement.

By fully integrating engagement into communication planning, strategy, tactics, content, delivery and measurement can be shaped by an engagement lens to more directly influence employee productivity. This strategic linkage creates an exciting opportunity for communicators to connect their activities to business performance. And by driving employee action, the effectiveness of communication is increased substantially.
Consider this checklist to determine if your communication plan is optimized to drive employee action, engagement and business results:

1) Review your current communication goals. Are they focused on facilitating behaviors or actions that help achieve company strategy, or on increasing employee knowledge of the strategy? For example, are your metrics for measuring employee contributions based on improving knowledge scores from an employee survey? Or, are you measuring progress on specific behaviors?

2) Have you identified the “drivers” of effective communication for your organization, i.e. timeliness, relevance, etc.? Do you know how they are weighted by different groups such as corporate staff versus a call center? At a leading discount brokerage, a targeted focus on the drivers yielded a 41% increase in satisfaction with communication and a nearly 20% increase in employee engagement.

3) Have you segmented your workforce functionally and by demographic profile? Do you understand their communication preferences and key motivational factors, i.e. how different segments prefer to receive information and what engages employees in each group?

4) Are you delivering targeted and customized communication based on employee preferences and motivational factors? For an issue like increasing customer fees, are sales and customer service staff treated as priority audiences? Do they receive exactly what they need to operate effectively?

5) How connected is your communication plan to employee engagement? Are you still “promoting” the engagement concept and tactical initiatives related to an engagement survey? Or, have you mapped communication activities to motivational factors and found a way to influence content?  

Creating communication plans and programs that reach, motivate and engage today’s workforce is increasingly challenging. But, the stakes are high for communicators to deliver more relevant and measurable results to their organizations. For communication to directly impact business success, it must be adapted to changing employee preferences and motivational factors, and linked with engagement. So, remember what time management expert, Alan Lakein says: “Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.” And, there’s no time like the present to build an action-orientation into your communication strategy and begin reaping the rewards.

About Douglas Rozman

Douglas Rozman is Founder and Managing Principal at Communivation Consulting, an innovative provider of internal communication services that influence the actions of employees and leaders to drive productivity, engagement and business performance.

He is a former Fortune 500 chief communication officer and 18-year corporate communications executive with leading brands such as MasterCard Worldwide, Mercedes-Benz and TD Waterhouse.

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