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The Twelve Dimensions of Strategic Internal Communication


By: 
Date: July 1 2005

Thomas J. Lee Principal of Arceil Leadership Communication and member of the editorial board of Strategic Communication Management Magazine, provides an overview of Strategic Internal Communication. With more than 25 years of professional experience in communication, Tom has developed innovative approaches to communication modeling, planning, and evaluation systems with broad strategic applications. In this section he shares his knowledge.


1. Strategic Orientation and Imperative
 
Communication is an organization''s lifeblood. The fundamental purpose of communication in an organization is to enable and energize employees to carry out its strategic intent. Organizations need the capability to rapidly identify, send, receive, and understand strategic information that is credible, sensible, and relevant. But successfully executing a strategy, or bringing about operational or cultural change, or achieving stretch or breakthrough goals requires something more: the broad awareness, understanding and acceptance of strategic intent by people as a foundation to their commitment. Decisions on strategy and policy must take into account the imperative and the challenge of communication, and the tools and talent of the communication function must be oriented to the organization''s strategic priorities.
2. Integrity and Integration
 
Communication must, above all else, be credible. The cornerstone of credibility is integrity; the foundation of integrity is constant and complete consistency between communication and conduct. The challenge of building credibility is the work of integrating an organization''s formal, semi-formal, and informal voices. The rhetoric by which an organization manages its affairs and presents itself to others is manifestly important, but its impact as communication is never equal to or greater than that of the organization''s decisions and actions. For through such decisions and actions, an organization continually tests and defines itself.
3. Dignity and Respect
 
Communication thrives on mutual dignity and respect; together, these are the fundamental building blocks for relationships of trust and accountability. Organizations that are blessed by such relationships will, over time, develop greater internal commitment and thus outperform and surpass organizations that are not. An organization''s success ultimately depends on the fully aligned, discretionary, principled, and inspired effort of its people. Communication characterized by mutual dignity and respect, because it builds relationships of trust and accountability among people, is foundational to such effort and therefore to the success of the organization.
4. Flow of Strategic Information
 
Information is the currency of communication. Just as the flow of money creates wealth, so the rapid and steady flow of strategic information enriches and empowers an organization. Organizations must nurture and sustain the systematic flow of credible, sensible, timely, and relevant information - up, down, and across their structure - so as to bring all their resources to bear on the execution of their strategic intent. That requires the full commitment of leadership, the application of appropriate technology, and the broad participation and support of employees. The upward flow of information is critical; leadership''s receptivity to upward thrusts of negative information, especially, is a reflection of the trust it holds in people. For better or worse, the flow of strategic information through an organization is a barometer of its ability to compete.
5. Clarity and Power of Messages
 
Clarity is a hallmark of excellent communication. Its absence leads to confusion, complacency, even chaos. Clear and powerful messages are, first and foremost, carefully considered, so they do not conflict with other messages. Though often repeated, they are few in number. Clear and powerful messages strike a balance between simplicity and complexity; they are expressed with an economy of words but a wealth of meaning. Their language is the language of ordinary people in everyday conversation. Because clear messages address the concerns and needs of listeners, they naturally take the form of a conversation more than a lecture or announcement. Finally, clear and powerful messages are coherent, consistent, and complete; they acknowledge their own limits, they explain their rationale, and they speak to whatever questions they have raised.
6. External Perspective
 
An organization''s internal communication systems require an external perspective and orientation. Strategy, of course, is the means by which an organization copes with its external environment - its customers, competitors, and suppliers, as well as the communities and governments where it operates. Individuals and teams in an organization seeking to implement a strategy must understand not only the strategy itself but also the reasons for it and the measures of its success. Only a communication system anchored in the company''s external environment can provide that information in a compelling way and place it in a tenable context. The external orientation may include the arenas of public policy and philanthropy; in its totality, information with an external bearing must be balanced, strategic, and truthful.
7. Roles and Responsibilities

A high-performance system of communication depends on the timely, energetic, capable participation of employees throughout an organization. Each employee has a role in communication; some have multiple roles. All employees should have clearly defined responsibilities for vertical (upward and downward) and for lateral communication appropriate to their position. These responsibilities should explicitly address both receiving and sending information as well as building relationships conducive to rapid, credible, strategic communication. Responsibilities should specify what information ought to be communicated, to whom, when, how and why. Accountabilities should include the real consequences of fulfilling or not fulfilling these responsibilities. A healthy communication environment should encourage and reward employees for active communication within the organization regardless of the information or message they communicate.
8. Listening and Visible Presence

Listening is the fiber of good communication. The best communication resembles not so much an eloquent announcement or persuasive admonition as it does a balanced conversation and robust discussion. There can be no communication without listening, and there can be no listening without genuine receptivity and a real inclination to act in response to whatever information or message is being communicated. Good listening is more than polite silence and attention when others speak, and it''s altogether different from manipulative tactics masquerading as skill. It is rather a high virtue, a value, and a reflection of bedrock belief that learning what other people have on their mind is a wise investment of one''s time. It requires intellectual humility and the willingness to learn from people at all stations of life. Through visible presence, one not only learns by listening but also establishes a welcoming rapport that builds relationships of respect and dignity, conducive to frequent, candid and rapid communication.
9. Training and Support
 
Recognizing each employee''s vital role in communication, organizations must ensure that all employees have the capability, the tools, and the support to fulfill their responsibilities. Suitable education and training will depend on the nature of the industry and the particular needs of the individual and the organization; in any case it will furnish the capability for busy people to communicate competently and comfortably. Appropriate and adequate tools will include both the technology and the resources for regular communication. Support for communication will include a stream of strategic information, time on the clock, channels of upward communication, and the physical facilities conducive to good communication; above all, it must include simple respect and the presumption of good faith, so as not to "shoot the messenger for the message"; Without this foundation, an organization cannot realistically expect people to communicate with the timeliness, clarity, and credibility that are essential.
10. Structure and Process
 
The structure and process of internal communication should reflect the fact that communication is a means, not an end, to success. The fundamental purpose of workplace communication is to enhance the business performance of the organization. Communication succeeds only to the extent that it enables and energizes employees to align their work with the organization''s strategic intent. A preoccupation with artistry or diction may divert attention away from the business issues at hand. The responsibility and tools for strategic communication should be distributed throughout the organization, so that each employee is an integral part of the process. The communication function should build alliances with the management teams of operating units. Given a choice between centralizing and decentralizing the communication function, the latter affords more regular contact with line managers, which in turn builds mutual understanding between line and staff functions.
11. Measurement Systems
Measurement is a vital aspect of a high-performance system of strategic workplace communication, but it must be undertaken with care and skill. It is a myth that everything of importance in organizations is measured; integrity, perseverance, teamwork, agility and other essential attributes of a vital work culture all but defy measurement. The importance or value of strategic communication is not an appropriate subject for measurement; by definition, it is always and precisely the value of the strategy or the change or the goal that it supports. Nor are the tactical and mundane aspects of communication a worthwhile focus of measurement. Rather, the measurement of communication must concentrate on its effectiveness with respect to strategic direction, so as to adapt it to changing circumstances, to engage management in the essential tasks of leadership communication, to establish a basis for accountability, and to chart progress. The best measurement processes address not only formal communication but also semi-formal and informal communication. They focus on outcomes, not outputs or inputs. They measure against a progression of awareness, understanding, acceptance, and commitment, and they reflect the fundamental purpose of communication as a bridge between strategy and its successful execution.
12. Continuous Improvement
 
More than just another management fad, continuous improvement is a never-ending quest for a better way. It is both a personal and professional habit, and an individual and organizational commitment, to change, progress, and growth. Without it we become stagnant, and we cease to grow. The philosophy, processes, and tools of the quality literature offer abundant means for improving strategic workplace communication, but they require a genuine receptivity to improvement. The time and resources devoted to a thoughtful, well-managed program of continuous improvement will return their investment many times over. Research into best practices should be undertaken from time to time with the understanding that each organization is unique and must ultimately find its own path to its own future. Above all, our processes must be driven by the legitimate needs of the customer, whose satisfaction is our reason for being.

© 2001 Melcrum Publishing
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