This is excellent advice. C-level and board level should be encouraged and challenged by the corporate communication department to use the vision as a management tool.
All too often, the vision is a vague jumble of words that doesn't actually mean anything. But if C-levels want a "strategic partner", they should be held accountable for formulating a strong vision. Only then can the corporate communication department deliver with strong communication.
Case: When C&A was attacked in the Financial Times for using forced labor in its supply chain, it reacted with rapid and effective communication. CommunicatieOnline, a Dutch communication blog, complimented C&A on its prompt response, calling it "by the book communication".
It's true that C&A communicated much faster than H&M, but it's also true that C&A has a very clear vision on forced labor in its value chain. This is the e-mailed statement by C&A’s chief sustainability officer Jeffrey Hogue: "We have a zero tolerance policy for any form of modern slavery including forced, bonded or prison labor. If we detect a case, we immediately terminate our relationship with the supplier".
This is easy to understand and easy to communicate. The example shows how a strong vision can help the organization communicate better - and boost reputation. The fact that C&A has such a clear vision does not detract from the communication (or CSR) department. On the contrary, it shows that at C&A, corporate communication and CSR are playing their role as strategic "sparring partners" of the C-suite. There is zero doubt that the corporate communication function helped top management understand the need to make this policy so explicit and clear.
The next job for the corporate communication department is to measure the "reputation" both inside the organization ("culture") and outside ("image"), and to check for any gaps between how the organization wants to be perceived and how it is perceived.
This fits well with Rumelt’s advice on good strategy: It invites us to formulate a diagnosis by looking at what sort of organization we want to be - and how far we are currently removed from being that ideal organization.
In terms of building blocks, this is the right sequence: Update the vision, measure the culture and the reputation. Next look for the gaps and formulate the "strategic intent", before moving on to the communication plan (audiences, channels, budget etc.). For a smaller organization, this is probably all you need.
In fact, you can run through this sequence in a 2-hour meeting with your CEO and some other C-levels if you're a smaller organization.
But for larger organizations, with complicated stakeholder maps, dozens of issues and a dose of internal politics, it does not provide a true roadmap for arriving at a corporate communication strategy.
4. Building the strategy (actions and deliverables for complex organizations)
Fortunately, Benita Steyn, a South African academic, did create a practical process for building a corporate communication strategy, suitable for even the most complex organizations (Steyn, 2000).
The following step-by-step process is based on Steyn's work and our own experiences of building strategies for clients with complex stakeholder environments.
Step 1: Analyzing the internal environment
Before any communication can start, we have to know where the organization wants to go. So the first step is to take stock of the existing vision, mission and values - and to ask top management whether the vision/mission are still up to date. (This is the "vision" part of the Hatch-Schultz diagram)
In parallel, you want to find out how the internal stakeholders are acting and feeling. (The "culture" part of Hatch-Schultz)
The best way to get this information is to talk to HR, and even better is to do an internal reputation survey. Some companies with large customer care departments also have metrics and qualitative feedback on the behavior of employees, like satisfaction scores or focus group reports. These reports will potentially identify so-called vision-culture gaps or image-culture gaps.
Steyn also advises the corporate communication department to take a look at current formal and informal policies inside the company, because they also have an impact on the culture. Imagine a fast growing, venture-backed scale-up that wants to gain access to the C-level of enterprise clients - maybe it’s time to talk about dress code and the use of emojis in e-mails this year?
Finally, it's crucial that top management as well as the business unit directors formulate their (enterprise, corporate and business) strategies and communicate them to the corporate communication department.
Step 2: Analyzing the external environment
Now it's time to look outside. We want to know as much as possible about how the outside world sees us, but also about how the outside world might see us in the future.
Useful instruments here
PESTEL analysis: by analyzing the (P)olitical, (E)conomic, (S)ocial, (T)echnological, (E)nvironmental and (L)egal context of the company, we will understand our relationship to the outside world. This is where the corporate communication department brings in its strategic understanding of the business and the context in which it operates.
Reputation audits. These come in different shapes. Surveys and interviews are a great tool here - either quantitative surveys or qualitative research (like focus groups or qualitative semi-structured interviews). But you can also learn a lot from a deep dive into the media (media audit), using software to identify issues and the stakeholders and publics that organize around them.
Stakeholder identification and mapping. Through the reputation audits, you should be able to identify and map most of the relevant stakeholders.
Step 3: Identify key issues
Through your close reading of media and the communication and reports of stakeholders, you should be able to create a list of all the key stakeholder issues that confront your organization.
Next, identify the publics - that is, stakeholders that organize around issues. Technically, stakeholders are regarded as actors who are impacted by your organization or by the issues in your industry but are not organizing around an issue. Publics, on the other hand, are stakeholders who become active around issues and organize themselves.
The distinction between stakeholders and publics might be a bit nitpicky, and too much jargon can be confusing for your management team.
But it is crucial for the corporate communication department to be able to explain to top management what the status of any issue is: is it emerging and still somewhat marginal, is it maturing, or is it fully salient and likely to create major disturbances for the organization? And if stakeholders are organizing: which other stakeholders are aligning? Where are the overlaps and differences in their positioning?
Lastly, identify the consequences for the organization of the various issues, with special attention for issues that appear small and marginal but are accelerating.
For instance, looking back at 2017, it's clear that some industries were particularly vulnerable to impact from #MeToo, because of how the industry operates, because of their own corporate culture (formal and informal policies), but also because of their business model and their stakeholders. Industries with big power imbalances (like film and television but also the humanitarian sector) are more vulnerable to charges about abuse of power. Companies with tech savvy, plugged-in and connected stakeholders can quickly face angry, well-organized and loud publics (ask Amazon and Netflix).
Do you have a firm grasp of the impact of all these issues on the enterprise, corporate and business level? Do you understand the issues and societal and economic forces bearing down on the company?
It's in this understanding of the inside and outside environment, which is both analytical and intuitive, that corporate communication and public affairs officers truly show themselves to be a strategic partner of the C-level.
Step 4: Issues & stakeholder report
Before you talk to the CEO or top management about any issues for the communication, they need to be filtered and categorized. This is the point where you create an "issues and stakeholder report".
Steyn proposes an elegant categorization of stakeholders, distinguishing between four levels of stakeholders according to their "linkage" to the to the company: