Busting the scary strategy myths

Let’s take a strategic approach to this and develop a strategy. It will make things formal and
important. We need people in suits to create a strategy and we’ll have to set aside a budget.
And time: a few months maybe. Definitely some meetings. With a flipchart. And when we’ve
got a draft strategy we’ll make a Powerpoint about it and present it to the board. Over a
buffet lunch. Then we’ll get it made into a glossy booklet and create a whole new strategy
section on the website, with a ghostwritten sincere and important-sounding intro from the MD
or a trustee, and lots of those photo-library pictures of people with glasses and white teeth
smiling at colleagues around a table or pointing at a big screen. That’s how you get a
strategy.

Or not.

Because the last time I looked, strategy was just a different word for a plan. And being
strategic simply means working out what you’re going to do before you do it. You can get a
really good communications strategy on a single A4 page. In fact, sometimes you can do it in
a paragraph. No-one is going to read a 48-page document to find out how they should be
communicating (or selling, or buying, or training, or whatever – this doesn’t just apply to
communications strategies). They’re the Emperor’s New Clothes those things. Everyone
marvels about the lovely strategy with the smiley people in their funky offices but nobody
really reads it or uses it to guide them through their work or ever looks at it again once
they’ve finished the buffet lunch.

When you strip it down, a communications strategy is a work plan that sets out an
understanding and agreement of what you’re trying to communicate, who to, and why, and
then details of how you’re planning to do it. If it’s a company-wide corporate strategy, yes it’s
going to have quite a bit of content but if it’s going to work as a way of informing and guiding
colleagues, then it needs to stay simple and accessible – and short. Talkable in less than 15
minutes I’d suggest. Whereas a plan – a strategy – for a single piece of communication
activity probably needs be no more than a couple of sentences – a minute or so of
explanation.
People are busy. They think strategies are for managers. They’re not – they’re just plans.
Everyone needs plans. Now I must stop typing and get on with my strategy for the weekend.

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