August 25, 2015
Any decent Communication Strategy will integrate offline, online, internal and external communications. But what about your organisation’s Innovation Strategy?
(update: in early 2017 I developed this into something slightly easier to follow over on Medium: Reframe your communications strategy as part of your Innovation Programme to sidestep internal politics)
I’ve been developing integrated offline and online communications strategies since my first database-driven website in 1995 opened my eyes to the possibilities content databases – which, in essence, help you keep track of your stories – offered offline communications tactics as diverse as press relations and event management.
Working that through kept me busy for a while. And then I joined the European Commission.
One of my projects was the EC’s first “thematic portal” – a cross-silo external communications project which taught me the importance of integrating internal and external communications – you can’t have the latter without cultivating the former.
Yet although this is now widely understood, you still often see entirely separate internal and external communication strategies, run by different teams using different tools, management structures & rhythms, taxonomies and more.
Another project was the EC’s first Web2.0 community of practice – an early exercise in online co-creation that showed me how inextricably entangled innovation management is with internal and external communications.
That was in 2002, but today crowdsourcing, ideation, social CRM and more (should) have made all organisations incredibly porous, with ideas and information entering and leaving organisations at every level. And yet often this useful information does not circulate well within them, where they could provide immense benefits.
Why? And how can your Information & Communication strategy become an Innovation & Communication strategy?
As my physics prof used to say: Draw a Diagram!
I developed the following framework to disentangle innovation management, internal and external communications as a necessary first step towards understanding how best to integrate them:
This post will build up the above diagram up from its component parts, from left to right. Some of this will be Comm Strategy 101 before we get to Innovation Strategy, but that can’t be helped.
Before aligning anything, you first need to define What the organisation Offers and How it does it, as these are the starting points from which everything else stems.
This breaks down into defining:
- the organisation’s Offer, best expressed in terms of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
- their management structure and processes for delivering it,
- the organisational culture
Normally the organisation should have this written down somewhere, but IMHO it doesn’t hurt to go through the exercise of writing it out anyway – the exercise often flags up differences of vision within an organisation which will need to be tackled sooner rather than later.
Communication strategies need to be audience-centric.
- who they are (audience class)
- what their needs are relative to the client’s USP
- what the client’s business goals are for each audience class
Such exercises tend to result in inch-thick documents of fluffy text, yet a set of interrelated tables are usually enough to clearly answer these interrelated questions and get everyone onto the same page. From there, user personas, journeys and job tasks flesh the answers out further.
In parallel, “Management structure and processes” leads inevitably to the internal audiences – the people within the organisation. These should be defined using exactly the same approach, above: who they are; what they need; and what the organisation needs from them.
Integrated communication strategies
Defining audiences, obviously, is only the first step in defining a communication strategy.
- editorial messaging and (where needed) visual identity, portraying the organisation in terms that speak to the audience’s needs, defined above;
- the products, activities and channels for getting those messages to those audiences as efficiently as possible
- the techniques and processes used to optimise these processes (metrics, monitoring tools, analytical and decision-making processes and schedules, etc.)
And this is where we get the first objection: how can these two strategies be usefully integrated? After all, communication strategies have to be audience-centric, and these strategies have different audiences.
It’s a good question. And it’s why, in the framework, you see two audience sets, feeding two strategies which do appear separate.
However, if you use the same approach in describing both strategies, you can:
- ensure consistent editorial messaging – you cannot have entirely different messaging internally and externally! In fact, if you can’t create one editorial messaging document for both strategies, then you are saying entirely different things internally and externally. Prepare for problems next time someone leaves your organisation.
- identify content strategy overlaps, where both internal and external strategies deal with the same issues, stories and raw material (contacts, photos, etc.). Why manage all this in separate systems?
- establish the content partnership you need between your organisation’s subject matter experts (part of the internal audience) and those tasked with internal and external communications.
- identify communication products and activities which serve both audiences – you’ll be surprised how many there may be;
- optimise both strategies using the same tools and processes. Apart from creating economies of scale, this allows internal and external comms to be linked together using the same metrics, allowing analyses of how improvements in one may support results in the other.
None of this, of course, is new in any way.
Enter the Innovation Strategy
However, “Management structure and processes” and “Organisational culture” are also key inputs into most organisation’s Innovation Strategy.
This will vary from one organisation to another, but should include range from HR processes (e.g., training) right through to process and product development, research, ideation, etc.
All of these processes must be supported by internal communications.
Good internal communications are as essential to your Innovation Strategy as they are to external communications – some example reasons:
- internal innovation activities target the same people as internal communications, and so require the same understanding of the same audience
- internal innovations must be communicated internally
- most innovation programmes will be delivered via internal communications tools (intranets, meetings, project management & training systems, internal campaigns, etc.)
- the tools you use to monitor and optimise internal communications can often do the same job for innovation programmes – not only do you win economies of scale, you will also be able to track how internal communications supports your innovation programme, and vice versa.
Recap: So external communications need to be integrated with internal comms, which in turn needs to be integrated with innovation programmes. Moreover, as we’ll also see below, external comms also connects with innovation programmes.
Hence this framework, which supports the development of an integrated innovation & communication strategy encompassing, linking together and supporting:
- management processes
- internal communications and knowledge management
- external communications.
Strategies are all very well, but they also need to be implemented.
Internal communications & innovation systems
A range of requirements therefore drive these internal (innovation & communications) systems, which need to support:
- basic business processes: project management, resource planning, etc.
- internal communications, knowledge management
- innovation: knowledge sharing, collaboration, ideation, training, informal learning …
Most organisations will have many such systems: project and resource management and planning tools, knowledge management databases and social intranets, training repositories and of course email, meetings, calendars, Slack, enewsletters … frequently with different Product Managers, separated by turf wars and rarely linked together to achieve the integration most organisations need.
Internal innovation community
One way of bringing these tools together is to view their collective mission as supporting an Internal Innovation Community, within which everyone has a role to play in delivering the organisation’s Offering by sharing ideas and information, accessing and providing mutual support, giving and receiving training, etc. This community also becomes an ideal vehicle for improving company culture.
External communications & community management
As mentioned earlier, the external communication strategy sets out the products & activities designed to carry a message to the external audiences. These will range from classical mar-comms through to online community management (OCM), where the external comms team manages two-way communications via the organisation’s own site and social media.
I mention OCM because what’s often overlooked in external comms is that OCM allows them to gather ideas, useful innovations and market intelligence for the organisation, through both explicit two-way communication with the audience, and through analysing online user behaviour, social media monitoring, etc.
Integrated teams implementing integrated strategies
All those insights need to find their way back inside the organisation.
In fact, if the external comms team is genuinely interested in holding a two-way dialogue with their audience, this feed of ideas from their audience needs to be plugged into something deep within the organisation, which then needs to take it on board.
So suddenly the external comms teams finds itself involved in internal communications and innovation. All three are connected together … or need to be.
The best way of making those connections work is to build:
A) An Integrated Communications Team
which is both inward- and outward-facing …
B) … implementing an integrated Innovation & Communication Strategy
which brings me back (finally!) to my original figure:
In summary, this integrated team therefore:
- supports the internal innovation community, thus supporting training, knowledge management, internal information flows, ideation, etc.
- discovers useful internal content for external communications, and then transfers it outwards via external communications.
- transfers useful external information inwards, notably market intelligence, ideas and questions from the external audiences, etc.
Every day I read, tag and publish useful resources on my Hub – the most relevant tags here are community, creativity, digital transformation, EmployeeEngagement, ideation, innovation, internal, ocm, strategy.Mathew Lowry