Creating the Perfect Fit: A Practical Approach to Aligning Internal and External Communications

Ensuring your organization knows what to communicate next as part of a clear, holistic story

What is the “Perfect Fit?”

The “Perfect Fit” is what an organization needs to be communicating at a specific moment for its story to unfold properly. Communicators are often blessed (or plagued) with multiple choices to communicate to the world that are plucked from myriad business functions, product and service areas, announcements, events, processes, geographic areas and personnel moves.

At the senior-most levels of the company where there is often an eagerness to build momentum, executives want to tell a variety of stories at once – often a hodgepodge of news about products, services, technologies, environmental initiatives and investments, among other things.

What’s often missing is the apparent linkage among the stories.

As chief storyteller, however, the communicator must identify the Perfect Fit – the next chapter in the organization’s evolution that both strategy and logic dictate must be told now in order to build or sustain organizational momentum. And it’s important that the communicator know how to identify each successive chapter.

Think of a puzzle that reflects your company’s value, purpose and future direction. And with each moment or milestone, a puzzle piece so to speak is identified and communicated to continue filling out the picture.

Identifying the Perfect Fit

Knowing that you need to create the Perfect Fit is different from knowing how to identify it. Sometimes it’s easy: if your industry’s leading trade publications or national business media claim you’re the best at what you do, you’ll probably want to build on that reputation. But for most organizations, the Perfect Fit is harder to come by. Particularly in transformational or change efforts when all bets are off with regard to past practice, brand image or corporate reputation. Fortunately, identifying the Perfect Fit requires the same skills and strategies that many corporate communicators leverage every day.

The Process

An integral objective to achieving alignment in narrative is the ability to view and manage communications – both internal and external – in a synergistic manner. Establishing a Situation Room is a key approach that demands a frequent coming together of all communication areas comprising internal and external stakeholders. It is here that a disciplined, yet fluid methodology is employed to guide discussion and inform decisions regarding the business and the right sequence, channel and cadence for communications. The purpose: a coherent, clear and believable story that allows people to follow the organization, increasing both interest and affinity in its success.

Powering the Situation Room process is an analytics-based system that continually identifies stakeholder needs, concerns and interests to allow communicators to view the business from the “outside in” and “inside out” in order to best determine how the story needs to evolve.

Note: An actual Situation Room template is depicted below.

A Look Ahead

A critical component of the business’ context is a look forward, trying to anticipate external events that may have a positive or negative effect on the business. Anticipating these events can also help establish an understanding of impact to help in contingency planning.

Answering these questions – certainly not a simple task if approached seriously – allows communicators and managers to inform decisions and plot priorities. The act of answering these questions also facilitates an open, ongoing dialogue between all communication functions and ensures that internal and external communication are in sync. A complete picture of the company, its audiences and its marketplace is painted – often for the first time.

Ultimately, the answers are the only things that truly enable a company to develop a cohesive story inside and outside the organization – who we are, where we’re going, how we define the future, short-and long-term goals, and how success is defined and measured.

Thinking Differently

To identify the Perfect Fit, it’s imperative that organizations do several things:

  • Integrate functions and departments that currently exist in solos
  • Gear communication toward whatever is promoting momentum and growth in the marketplace
  • Understand the factors critical to the organization’s success, such as
    • quality
    • cost reduction
    • ability to deliver cutting-edge products
  • Take a realistic view of consumer opinions and media interest

Acting on the Information – Telling the Story

It is critical that someone – preferably the company’s chief communicator – serve as a mediator to keep the storytelling process moving. The chief communicator acts as chief strategist: in sync with leadership, defining the Perfect Fit for vital segments of the organization, constantly reiterating why it’s the priority message, mapping out how this chapter will be told inside and outside the company – from media, investor and employee perspectives – and putting measurements in place to ensure that the story is being received as planned. Ultimately, the chief communicator determines when the next piece of the puzzle must happen to make sure the story stays on course and sustains momentum.

Staying on course is about sensing and responding, rather than force-feeding. Too often, companies make the mistake of telling or selling stakeholders instead of allowing people to discover the story for themselves in a manner that reflects their interests, needs, concerns and satisfaction.

– Gary

 

THE SITUATION ROOM: DEVELOPING AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO COMMUNICATIONS

Introduction

The Situation Room is a mechanism that allows an organization’s communications function to easily organize their thinking and prioritize activities to drive the business forward. It allows the following questions to be addressed:

  • Where is the business today in light of the “real” world we operate in?
  • Where is the business going?
  • How is the business perceived externally?
  • What elements within the company and in the marketplace are propelling the business?
  • What elements within the company and in the marketplace are impeding the business?

Purpose

The purpose of the Situation Room model is to make communications a powerful driver of the organization’s growth – “a means to an end.” It achieves this by:

  • Plotting priorities on a regular basis
  • Ensuring internal and external messaging are in sync
  • Developing a cohesive story inside and outside the organization – who we are, where we’re going, how we define the future, short- and long-term goals, how we measure success

Strategy

The Situation Room brings together all facets of communications with a mediator in an agreed-upon venue to identify weekly and monthly priorities. The discussions are driven by industry and marketplace events that impact the company in order to understand and articulate the current reality – what people are hearing and saying inside and outside the company.

Why It Works

  • Content is fresh
  • Dialogue is going in an actionable direction
  • Breaks through budgets, egos, silo mentalities, departmental priorities and the “myopic” view of communication planning
  • Pools resources from all areas of communications
  • Discusses what’s happening within each facet of communications to ensure consistent messaging and awareness of internal and external changes
  • Identifies what communications can do as a team, not as an individual function or department
  • Builds a complete understanding of what people are seeing, thinking and feeling
  • Develops a holistic view of communication

Situation Room Logistics

Representatives from each area of communications are engaged in the Situation Room process. A particular space is designated for weekly meetings, and easels, paper and markers are placed throughout the room to ensure participative and dynamic discussions. Responsibility for managing the Situation Room might rotate on a quarterly basis.

Situation Room Framework

#1: Where Are We Today? Building Momentum

[What Are People Talking About Inside and Outside the Company?]

  • Hot/new products/services
  • Industry recognition
  • New management hires
  • Performance
  • Financials

#2: Key Organizational Initiatives/Internal Priorities

[Do recent happenings propel or impede our business and organizational priorities?]

#3: Current Industry Issues

#4: A Reality Check: Macro Issues Going on Around Us

#5: A Look Ahead

What factors on the horizon will propel our business and organizational priorities? Which will impede them?

#6: What’s the Story?

What does this tell us? What should we be doing?


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Gary Grates
Gary Grates

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