The Role of Internal Communications in Business Strategy

A company’s business strategy is a critical document that defines a company’s vision, objectives, values and business model, and contains essential details on how the business will remain competitive and distinguish itself within its industry. A clear business strategy is critically important because it offers key information that will help direct and motivate employee activity. And communicating this strategy effectively to employees helps ensure that each individual is actively working to advance key goals.

Employees at every level of the organization must understand and demonstrate the company’s key values for a business strategy to work effectively. It’s not enough for upper management to understand this strategy; leaders must have key lines of communication in place to properly disseminate this information to others, down to the front-line employees.

Communications professionals must take on the challenge of summarizing all key points of the company’s business strategy and sharing these throughout the organization. The complexities of this task are the focus of a course in USC’s online Master of Communication Management program. Here, we’ll explore some of the core topics covered in the course, including:

  • How business strategy impacts a company’s day-to-day operations.
  • Essential lines of communication that drive internal sharing.
  • The dangers of a poorly communicated business strategy.
  • The benefits of effectively disseminating business strategy.
  • Effective methods for achieving strategic alignment within the company.

A communications manager begins to map her company’s internal strategy.

The Business Strategy in Action

A company’s business strategy may start as a sleek outline on paper, but when these values are fully embodied, they shape the entire face of the organization. Effective internal strategy communications will ensure that employees provide a cohesive experience from one location to the next, and it influences everything from the tone and typography that’s selected by the marketing team to the type of greeting that in-store employees offer when a customer walks in the door.

For example, a key feature of the business strategy for the coffee behemoth Starbucks is the “third place experience.” This refers to how Starbucks has set itself aside as an inviting alternative to work or home, where customers can settle in and enjoy their time.

Properly communicating the idea of the “third place experience” to employees is critical so they’ll understand and appreciate the value of the customer who settles in with a laptop. Employees won’t rush visitors away or treat them as though they should be out the door quickly when they understand this aspect of the business strategy.

The Hazards of Poor Communication

Internal alignment with corporate strategy is crucial to ensure that employees’ decisions are ultimately guided by the right purpose and shaped by the company’s current vision. When employees lose sight of the company’s deeper purpose and long-term goals, they can easily fall into a mundane routine without a greater vision to drive them forward to new developments and innovative procedures.

In many companies, falling into any kind of routine is detrimental to the underlying strategy of that business. For example, at Apple, innovation is at the heart of the business strategy. However, employees also need to understand the business’s focus beyond the sheer push to move forward. As Tim Bajarin explained it in Time, “Ideologically speaking, [Apple’s] an operating system and user interface company first, hardware company second.” This is a critical distinction for communicators to make for employees to focus their efforts appropriately.

Rebekah Iliff, Chief Strategy Officer of AirPR sums up internal communications with an intriguing analogy. She notes that strategic targeting is typically used for external communications, yet also highlights that “…when you think about it, ‘internal communications’ is just marketing to employees. And just like in traditional marketing, the more you cater your message to a niche audience, the more effective it will be.”

The Importance of Communicating Business Strategy Effectively

Efficient communications models are crucial to any business today. An effective strategy defines some of the most critical points of business operations and should be handled mindfully to ensure that it’s readily accessible within the company. Communications professionals are tasked with outlining the proper path for strategic communications.

The manner in which this is done will vary by business, but there are several valuable approaches that can be utilized. A communication professional might implement quarterly meetings, newsletters or break room posters to highlight key points of the company’s strategy and make sure these points are always front and center. The best option for any individual company is a carefully tailored blend of communications that suits its own corporate personality.

Achieving Strategic Alignment

Communications Insights attests that strategic alignment must begin with business goals. The communications department is then responsible for developing streamlined strategies for obtaining information on those strategies and goals and filtering it down to individual departments and leaders. These leaders should also be equipped with the proper tools and skills to communicate strategy effectively to each employee.

But it doesn’t stop there. Communications professionals are also charged with keeping everyone current on the company’s intent and focus, even when this can change day to day.

The following steps can enhance internal communications and ensure that the company’s strategy is being shared effectively with employees:

  • Maintain cloud-based documents that outline the strategy.
  • Cut back on email communications to drive more attention to those that are sent out.
  • Create motivational visuals that summarize key points.
  • Survey employees regularly to determine their awareness level regarding the current business strategy.
  • Implement training programs that emphasize actionable ways to implement the business strategy.
  • Host internal events that embody and encourage key corporate values.
  • Specify clear strategies for two-way communication regarding business strategy, such that employees at every level have their voices heard and questions answered.

Getting your employees on board with your business strategy will effectively make every person in the company a valuable brand ambassador who can help further the company’s goals. As Koka Sexton, Sr. Social Marketing Manager formerly of Hootsuite and LinkedIn puts it, “When you can activate your entire company to be brand ambassadors, the full effects of social selling can be felt globally.”

Communications professionals play a critical role in activating employees in this manner. A successful approach to the company’s business strategy will result in a highly engaged employee base, where all actions are ultimately driven by the company’s core values and targeted toward furthering essential internal goals.

Honing Communications Strategy

A business strategy is only as effective as the employee implementation that puts it into action. A strong communications professional can help ensure that critical strategy points are shared effectively throughout the organization, so employees are aware of not only the business’s overall goals but also how they can contribute to best support these goals. From educating new hires on the company’s core values to sharing new approaches effectively across the entire organization, communications professionals are tasked with keeping everyone well-informed of the strategy that’s in place.

In a world where communication is constantly evolving, it’s important to stay current on the latest tactics for communicating effectively to employees at all levels within an organization. Courses in the online Master of Communication Management program at USC Annenberg address the importance of internal business strategy communications, as well as other key topics, including marketing, communications theory and strategic corporate communications.

Sources:

Forbes, Building the Bridge from Communications to Business Strategy
Harvard Business Review, Eight Ways to Communicate Your Strategy More Effectively
Communication Insights, How Can Communication be Aligned with Corporate Strategy?
Inc., How Communication Technology is Changing the Future of Brand Management
SME Strategy, 5 Steps to Stakeholder Engagement in Your Strategic Plan
Research Methodology, Starbucks Business Strategy and Competitive Advantage
Time, Learning This 1 Thing Helped Me Understand Apple’s Strategy
LinkedIn: Creating a Basic Internal Communications Strategy
Forbes: Best Practices for Effective Internal Communications
Marketing Insider Group: How to Activate Employees and Harness the Power of Internal Experts