Strategy, strategy, strategy. We talk about this a lot in the industry so how do we do it, how do we get buy-in and how do we truly embed one? Here’s a new case study to give the inside track on how.
by Lucy Denton
Purpose. Openness. Together. Humanity. Four values that unite and guide the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), an agency of the Ministry of Justice. And for the first time, values that underpin the OPG communications and engagement strategy.
We have a strategy because it holds us to account in terms of our delivery, but it is also a contract between the comms team and OPG - establishing what our priorities are for the year ahead, based on the needs of the business and our people and allowing us ammunition to fight back against the dreaded SOS (‘send out stuff’) black hole.
This is our first ever comms strategy for OPG internal and external communications and I’m very excited to highlight some of my experiences of getting buy-in from senior stakeholders to take a step towards achieving that holy grail of working less tactically and more strategically.
The OPG 2019/20 Communications and Engagement strategy
Our communications and engagement strategy will involve people in the work and purpose of OPG, through high quality communications that are easily understood and accessible to the public and our people and which encourage genuine two-way discussion and put our values at the heart of everything we do.
We will build trust and awareness of OPG in a way that is based on insight and focussed on the needs of our audiences, while supporting the needs of the business.
We’ll be blurring the lines between our internal and external communications, telling a single story, and doing it well. Because it’s our stories that make OPG unique.
Gaining buy-in for the strategy
The finished strategy was the culmination of 2 months of work and 6 months of showcasing the value of comms back to senior leaders, after joining the organisation as the new Head of Communications in late November last year.
I’ve looked back to try and learn something about the process and what I could share with others struggling to gain buy-in from their own senior leaders. I’ve had experience once before when developing GDS’s first ever comms and engagement strategy last year.
And to be honest, some of the wording of the strategy is tellingly similar (self-plagiarism anyone?!!) - maybe because at the end of the day the foundations of good communications remains the same regardless of the organisations we work in? Or maybe just because it’s the way I like to work! (be conscious of your own biases!)
To refine it down to its purest nugget though - the key to getting buy-in was to listen and truly reflect the needs of the business and senior leaders. I’ve outlined some of my approach below, it may seem to some like common sense but I think there’s no harm in repeating them:
Take a break
Have a 1-1 meeting with each member of the senior leadership team in the early stages, and present your early ideas to them, chat them through what your perceptions are and reflect their comments/concerns in the strategy. I did this with a very brief presentation I put together so we could focus on the presentation itself as a talking point. Never under-estimate the value and the power of a face to face chat over coffee – the glorious power of nemawashi.
Know your audience(s)
Do your research – what were the most troubling results in the annual people survey? What were the most positive? How can comms add value here?
What is the stakeholder research saying? Do people like what we did/how we communicate or the channels we were on? Use any data you have at your disposal to build your case and use that data as the focus of the conversation and the reasoning behind your intentions.
Remember who you’re talking to
Throughout the process, you’ll be justifying a comms strategy to people who aren’t comms professionals. Speak to them in their own language, treat them like you would any other audience – understand them, understand how they like to take on information. Tailor your discussions to what they’re interested in and show how you can make their lives easier with strategic comms.
Trust in me
Gain the trust of the CEO/top brass – this isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight. As I mentioned above, I have been working for 6 months to get to a position where senior leaders to trust communications to propose its own workload, its own strategy, rather than just being asked to send out stuff.
Take advantage of showcasing successes back to the top. If you can get a regular meeting in the diary - make use of it! If you report back to the Board regularly be sure to show them results that interest them. Be open to their goals, and show how you can enhance them through comms.
Some background reading
A friend introduced me to the theories proposed by Fisher and Ury in their book ‘Getting to Yes’ – and it offered some very useful tips when considering how you negotiate your position and gain buy-in. There were 2 points in particular that resonate –
1. Separate the people from the problem - a great quote from the book is “don't deduce their intentions from your fears”. We’ve all been guilty of going into a meeting thinking that the worst-case scenario will play out! They recommend removing that that conscious (or unconscious) bias from your mind. Think about the problem you’re trying to solve and have clear concepts and justifications and try and understand how you can convince them positively.
2. Focus on interests rather than positions - “your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide.” It’s good to understand your senior leaders’ motivations, as it will allow you to understand their interests and how we can support them as communicators. Rather than focussing on the fact this person always asks for an animation or a press release (these might really only be their enthusiasm shining through) ask instead what are they really trying to communicate – this is the ‘why’ we should always be asking.
Get in touch!
Our communication and engagement strategy is an internal document but if you’re interested in seeing it for reference do get in touch and we’ll see if we can send you a copy!
If you have any feedback on the strategy or want to discuss getting senior buy-in, please get in touch with me.
Lucy Denton is Head of Communications at the Office of the Public Guardian. You can say hello on Twitter at @RadioLucy
Image via NASA on the Commons