All Great Strategy Starts with “Why”

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What do we want people to know, think or feel as a result of our internal communications efforts, and why? Bruce W. Marcus, author of Professional Services Marketing 3.0 shares a few strategic guidelines.

The answers to these questions are the foundation for any communications activity, internal or external. They define the dynamic of the program, its focus and its program goals. They make possible a foundation for defining and shaping the strategy.

There are three crucial concerns…

  • What do we know as an organisation? What we know defines the information that must be imparted, and to whom. It is the information that must be categorised and evaluated. It is the substance of the communication process.
  • How can we create more value from it? We can define which pieces of information go to which internal or external audience. What information best enhances and leverages the skill, knowledge and experience of each individual in the firm? Understanding and organising what a firm knows creates value by understanding how that information can be used to the best interests of the firm, and how it will be used to serve the firm and its clients.
  • How can we learn faster than competitors? We can learn faster than competitors by applying the defined and refined information to the firm and its practice. When knowledge, unfettered by extraneous information, is focused and directed to the individuals who can make the best use of it, streamlined information becomes infinitely more useful than it is with just random facts. Information management is the key.

The Process

By defining and classifying information, people will get only the information that’s meaningful to them, unencumbered by irrelevancies.

Defining information:

  1. What information do we have?
  2. What specific information must be imparted to each group?
  3. What information is mandatory for a firm’s professionals, but not the non-professional staff?
  4. What information is optional?
  5. Urgent and crucial?
  6. Not urgent nor crucial, but interesting and useful on a particular level?

Six kinds of information to consider are….

  1. Professional. Information pertaining to the profession itself, such as new regulations, rulings, laws, etc. and the firm’s professional skills.
  2. Proprietary. Information that gives a firm competitive advantages, or that might be harmful in the wrong hands. Firm plans and strategies, for example.
  3. Creative. Original ideas and new uses of old ideas in practice development and management and client retention.
  4. Opportunistic. Information that can lead to improvement in the practice, or to competitive advantage.
  5. Anticipatory. Information that anticipates opportunity or crisis.
  6. Competitive intelligence. Important for understanding trends, ideas, competitive strategy.

The information needed by each group is then organised and codified. For example, all accountants in a firm responsible for practice development should be aware of the marketing program, but only partners may need to know long-term strategic plans. The entire firm has to know about changes in certain firm procedures, but only secretaries may have to know about nuances in word processing or rotating work schedules. In each practice group there are some things that every member of the group should know. There are some things that professionals in other groups should know. Social events should be accessible to everybody, and clearly defined as such, but shouldn’t clog sensitive business communications lines. In anticipating a crisis, it is prudent to keep everybody in the firm aware of the crisis, but the core details and crisis management strategy need only be known to those who must deal with it. This should lead to pertinent information being more readily accessed, appreciated and useful.

  • Acquiring information. When people understand the kinds of information the firm is looking for, and the benefits that individuals get in return for supplying it, then the process has a greater chance of functioning well. Feedback mechanisms are crucial. Two factors are important – be specific in defining the kind of information you expect each person to contribute, and use devices to streamline the process, such as forms that can be filled in simply. Motivate and educate the office support staff to gather and transmit important information.
  • Spreading responsibility. Unless you want to maintain a staff of professional internal communicators, you are going to have to establish a process that can be performed effectively by a firm’s professionals and staff. Practice group leaders have the responsibility to communicate within their own groups. The managing partner, in running the practice group structure, has the responsibility for intergroup communication, and so forth.
  • Manage the operation. Internal communications programs don’t work by chance or good intentions. They must be organised and managed, with written agendas, plans, schedules and attention to the details of defining, sorting and classifying information. Appropriate systems and mechanisms must be established. It’s a task that should be in the hands of a dedicated information specialist – a marketing director, a librarian or an information technology director. It’s important to realise, though, that it is not a low-level job.