Savvy communications: The key to accelerating strategic initiatives
Updated: Jul 25
With universities turning the page on the pandemic and refocusing campus communities on strategic planning, branding, and other strategic initiatives, it's time to reconsider the role that communications can play at these critical moments. Crisp and clear communications, especially during times of uncertainty and change (read as Covid surges, campus housing shortages, and staffing challenges), can be a significant lever in moving organizations towards a unified vision.
The authors of Crafting Strategy in an Accelerated World, excerpted in this Knowledge at Wharton post, make the case that embedding strategic communications from the start can ensure initiatives succeed by:
Elevating conversations with outside perspectives and new insights
Reframing long-held perspectives that can inspire new thinking
Distilling insights and outcomes from campus-wide discussions
Gaining faster and stronger alignment around important decisions
Executives crafting strategy often miss a powerful trick — instead of making communication a top priority throughout the entire strategy development journey, they typically focus on communication only as they approach the final stages of their work.
A framework for strategy development success
Organizations can leverage communications in five ways to elevate and enhance the strategy development process:
Central Questions - Great strategy work starts with great questions. I've led teams through the "headline" exercise asking leadership teams and boards to respond to this prompt: "What headline do you want written about this organization in five years?" Discovering the throughline across the range of responses and voting responses up/down guides leaders to reflect on and generate a shared vision.
Foundational Knowledge - Ensuring everyone understands key concepts about a university's history, competitive landscape, and industry trends can accelerate decision-making. This is where industry advisory groups such as EAB (education), Forrester (technology), etc. can level set leaders and boards around benchmarks, trends, etc. based on industry research.
Core Concepts - These are higher-order communications that become important assets to focus strategic discussions and give rise to ideas, frameworks, scenarios, options, choices, aspirations and goals. Like many, I believe taking the time to develop a well-crafted pyramid, Venn diagram, or 2x2 can crystalize important concepts.
Touchstone Narratives - Given humans are wired for storytelling, compelling narratives can help make meaning of new concepts and propel ideas forward as they are shared throughout the community. In the course of shaping narratives for clients ranging from neuroscience research pioneers to elite universities, I work to distill complex ideas into exciting and tangible messages that are woven across communications.
Thought Leadership - Communication teams can repackage and amplify key ideas that arise from strategic initiatives, as such content can fuel brand and reputation. I helped the team at Education Design Lab share their work scaling micro credential programs through a digital content series (annual reports, briefings, etc.) that served as a launching pad for a national conference, Op Ed articles, and blog posts.
A note on breaking through
As leaders, we know that moving organizations towards a unified strategic vision demands breaking through the clutter of competing voices, interests, and initiatives. Aligning with expert communications partners - from the start - can help ensure your efforts gain the support and attention they need across the organization.