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The communicator’s quick guide to organizational strategic planning

17 Aug, 2020 Annual communication plans, PR planning, strategy, budgeting

Developing an annual communication plan is a complex task. You need to gather information from a range of sources about organizational activities that need a communication program to make them more effective. Then you use your professional judgment to prioritize the activities, checking that they support the achievement of your organization’s corporate and business unit goals.

Finally, you assess which activities are feasible within available budget funding. Your annual budget generally originates in either of two ways: (1) a lump sum allocated to your function by top management (probably as a percentage increase over last year’s budget), or (2) lump sum covering the cost of your proposed annual program of activities that top management has approved.

Firstly, the context

Your annual communication plan needs to developed as part of your organization’s strategic planning process, which applies at the organizational/corporate level and then at the business-unit level supporting it. Guided by the strategies at the corporate and business unit levels, you need to gather information from a range of sources about organizational activities that need a communication program. Once you have prepared your wish list of activities, you prioritize the list to fit within your available resources such as staffing and budget. Simple? Not really, but you can learn more about the process in this article.

Organizational strategic planning

Strategic planning starts the ball rolling in setting the direction, and initiating the activities of the organization. The organizational strategic plan is the sum of individual programs, projects and campaigns, so you can identify the target audience behavior/s and the measures for the outcome being sought under the plan. In more detail, strategic planning is used to:

  • set priorities
  • determine operational and administrative activities and resources
  • strengthen operations
  • ensure employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals
  • agree on intended outcomes/results
  • assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to the changing business environment.

Strategic planning is a disciplined activity that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning outlines where an organization is intended to go,  the actions needed to make progress towards the desired destination, and also how it will know if it is successful.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a document used to communicate the organization’s direction and the broad actions needed for the organization to head where the decision makers want it to go.

Vision and mission lead the way

Here’s the ‘big picture’ of strategic planning in organizations. Firstly, the corporate priorities are decided during corporate strategic planning sessions, and then the various business units decide how best they can support the achievement of organizational priorities. The corporate communication in turn supports both the corporate priorities as well as operational priorities.

The communication team acts both at a corporate level, and at a business unit level using communication to support the activities of the various business units. These units can be corporate like HR and marketing, as well as operational like supply and production.

Organizational vision statement

An organizational vision is defined as forming a picture of a desired organizational state in the future. A number of studies have suggested that describing and providing vision is vital for leaders.

A vision statement is a description of the organization as its leaders want it to be. It involves seeing the desired future for the organization and briefly describing this vision. The description might include how things will be, where, with whom the organization will be doing business, what it will be doing and how its employees will feel. Ideally, the organization’s vision statement:

  • describes a future state at a selected time
  • is described briefly
  • is quantifiable
  • is generally agreed – ideally developed through group participation, not just the senior management team, but also through other employee levels being asked to comment.

Some examples:

  • Alzheimer’s Association: Our Vision is a world without Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.
  • Amazon: Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
  • Devon Energy: To be the premier independent oil and natural gas company in North America.

Organizational mission statement

Once the vision is developed, the organization can compare its present position with its desired future to determine ways to close the gap between the two – often known as gap analysis.

A mission statement can then be formulated, which describes the broad practical steps to close the gap between the unsatisfactory present and the desired future for the organization, as summarized in the vision statement. Each word in the mission statement should be carefully crafted so it can be defined and measured. It is pointless to have good intentions expressed in vague words.

A mission statement is a statement of an organization’s unique purpose and the scope of its operations in product and market terms. The organization’s mission statement should be:

  • consistent with, and supporting, the organization’s vision
  • the broad ‘road map’ describing how the organization will reach its vision
  • telling people what the organization’s purpose is
  • the source of strategies that collectively create a business plan.

Different mission statements focus on different aspects. Four main types of emphasis within mission statements have been identified by research:

  • Purpose                               – why the organization exists
  • Strategy                               – supporting the purpose
  • Values                                  – providing the ‘moral link’ between purpose and behaviors
  • Standards and behaviors – management style and interpersonal relationships.   

Some examples:

  • Caterpillar: Our mission is to enable economic growth through infrastructure and energy development, and to provide solutions that support communities and protect the planet.
  • Target: Our mission is to make Target your preferred shopping destination in all channels by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional guest experiences by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less. Brand Promise.
  • Devon Energy: Devon Energy is a result oriented oil and gas company that builds value for its shareholders through its employees by creating an atmosphere of optimism, teamwork, creativity, resourcefulness and by dealing with everyone in an open and ethical manner.

Together, the vision and mission statements show where the organization is going and how it is going to get there. If management and staff can’t clearly state the purpose of the organization and how they are going achieve it, then the organization is disadvantaged.

Some organizations may use slightly different terminology but invariably the words cover the same broad concepts.

Organizational goals

Renowned management consultant, Peter Drucker, said organizational goals flow from the mission, and show the fundamental long-range direction of the organization. Goals are overarching and there should only be about 5 at the most.

Drucker used the example of an art museum:

Mission: To bring art and people together.

Goals

  1. To conserve the collections and inspire partnerships to seek and acquire exceptional objects.
  2. To enable people to discover, enjoy, and understand art through popular and scholarly exhibitions, community education, and publications.
  3. To significantly expand the museum’s audience and strengthen its impact with new and traditional members.
  4. To maintain state-of-the-art facilities, technologies, and operations.
  5. To enhance long-term financial security.

Organizational objectives

Drucker said building around mission and long-term goals is the only way to integrate short-term interests: “[Organizational] objectives are the specific and measurable levels of achievement that move the organization toward its goals.”

Examples of organizational objectives:

  • To reduce workplace accidents by 10% within the next 12 months through coaching all operational managers to implement the new procedure for training employees in workplace safety.
  • To set up partner arrangements with customers by 10 June to provide solutions to ongoing customer dissatisfaction with new product performance.

You can read more details about how communication strategy supports organizational strategy in my articles, “How communication strategic planning supports organizational strategic planning – the big picture explained,” and “How corporate communication can play a bigger role in organizational strategy.”

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About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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