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Vision, strategy and tactics

In the second of our series on the Five Step Value Framework – 44’s business tool to demonstrate the value of internal communications (IC) to senior stakeholders – Account Director Phil Parrish explores how its second step, Map the Strategy, gives IC professionals the framework to turn theory into action.

Vision without action is a daydream, in the words of an ancient Japanese proverb.

The saying captures the essence of Map the Strategy, Step 2 in 44’s Five Step Value Framework (FSVF). As outlined in Step 1 (Change the Mindset), the vision in this context is to reinvent IC as a fully developed operational part of an organisation, to be scrutinised with similar rigour as functions like marketing, production or finance.

But how do you turn this aspiration into reality? Citing the Hill methodology (see here) for operational strategy (1993), the FSVF stresses the need for operations managers, in this case IC professionals, to understand the bigger strategic vision that’s driving their work and the many complexities and nuances it entails.

How does the why of what we do relate to the how? In what way is this manifested differently across the organisation? What are the correct processes and infrastructures needed to make sure IC operations fulfil larger overall corporate ambitions? And how do you tie all these elements together in a way that’s logical and measurable?

Dynamic and multi-faceted

Ostensibly a minefield, it’s still an essential one to navigate. Only when the IC professional is well-versed in all these issues can his or her discipline become a bona fide operational function. Moreover, such intimate knowledge is the best way to prepare for the inevitable fluidity of any operational strategy.

No effective plan works on predictable lines. Rarely do you put something in at one end and achieve your desired output as expected. Instead, the best operational strategies are dynamic, continually changing and multi-faceted, responding to and influenced by changing conditions, trends, expectations and events.

Three common levels

With that in mind, what’s the best way to create a coherent IC strategy that works logically and systematically, yet still retains the flexibility for more creative, responsive and situational ways of working?

The FSVF advocates a framework based on three levels common to all organisations – the Corporate Level, the Operational Level and the Value Level – each one underpinned by the classic three-step sequence of Vision, Strategy and Tactics.

All these elements have distinct characteristics, yet are equally dependent on the other. And mastering them will take the IC expert from theory to action in a way that’s clear, comprehensive and co-ordinated.

1. The Corporate Level
The first step is to make sure the IC professional is recognised by the leadership team and has a seat at the top table of decision-making. It’s only when you can appreciate the wider Vision ie. mapping out the corporate mission and describing the what and why of your ultimate destination, that you can grasp the Strategy and the subsequent Tactics that permeate every part of the organisation (see Figure 5 here).

2. The Operational Level
Once this overall corporate framework is clear, IC people can look at how their specific activities support it. As with the Corporate Level, the FSVF recommends a Vision of general objectives for the IC function, underpinned by Strategic areas of IC focus and a suite of appropriate IC Tactics (see Figure 6 here). Whether it’s people, processes, infrastructure, technology, channels or resources, you must establish tangible measurement criteria for each tactic too, something essential for any successful operational strategy.

3. The Value Level
The third and final level focuses on evaluation and the creation of a comprehensive measurement framework. This will give the idea of value as much attention and gravitas as the leadership and operational levels discussed above.

By taking a Vision, Strategy and Tactics approach (see Figure 7 here) to measurement – in other words, a desired outcome, major focus areas and practical next steps – the IC professional will be well-placed to substantiate their work with logical arguments, robust methodology and ample supporting evidence.

Taking a further step, the FSVF identifies eight areas which should be central to any IC measurement framework:

1. Alignment with strategy
2. Operational skills and performance
3. Employee satisfaction and engagement
4. Leadership relationships and support
5. General management communication skills
6. Financial support and investment
7. Organisational structure and culture
8. Impact on service performance.

A balanced approach

Like all measurement, balance is key. Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Business Scorecard is the best-known example of a performance measurement framework, and the FSVF argues for a similarly well-rounded approach when assessing IC (see Figure 8 here).

By examining their function in its entirety, and by taking the time to work out clear relationships with wider corporate, operational and value levels, IC professionals can give their discipline a status, maturity and sophistication that’ll be truly embedded within the fabric of an organisation.

You can read more about the Five Step Value Framework here.

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