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We need to talk about strategy

A strategy shouldn't be something you put on the shelf to gather dust. It should provide a plan of action, guiding the decisions you make and the priorities you focus on. So how do you get make a strategy meaningful? Simple! You talk about it! Read on to find out how we've helped ARMA (UK) build a strategy they could be proud of sharing, in five simple steps.

Talking about your strategy

We've worked with ARMA over the last few months to develop their new strategy. The plan looks at the current operating context and identifies activities that can improve the membership offering. As well as developing the strategy, we've also helped to develop an approach to communication, so members and other stakeholders know about the activities and can get involved. We've summed this up in the following five simple steps:

Step one: think about communication from the start

Strategic planning is pretty exciting, so it's easy to get carried away. You shut yourself away in a room with other directors and senior managers, talk about what's happening outside your organisation, perhaps reflect on what staff or members have said, and then decide what the strategy should focus on. If this is your approach, then you've missed out on the first - and perhaps most important - step to communicate your strategy. Of course, you'll need to have the conversation with directors to identify an initial list of potential priorities. But before you focus in too far, or spend time crafting the right language, you need to get your ideas out there. With ARMA, we did this by engaging different elements of our membership to get their input and shape a readable draft, before putting this out to our entire membership for consultation. And we let our members know that the planning was going on, through social media channels, newsletter updates and meetings.

Step two: be mindful of different audiences

Most of us work in complex organisations, with a network of relationships that cover a range of other organisations. So, as you're developing your strategy, think carefully about the groups of people you need to talk to. It's useful to map out the different constituents so you don't miss anyone out. For example, if you work in a university, you'll think about different groups of staff as well as students, partners and the local community. For ARMA, our thinking focused on different groups of members, like the Special Interest Groups, committee members, members studying for an ARMA qualifications, and more.

Step three: listen to feedback

I've been involved in strategy development in the past that seemed to be going about it the right way, but - in reality - was pretty much determined ahead of feedback being received. This is one the of the worst things you can do. All people really want in these situations is to be listened to. They don't want to waste their time getting involved and sharing their ideas if they think decisions have already been finalised. The lesson? Make any and every consultation authentic. If you ask for people's ideas, make time to evaluate them on the same basis as other priorities you might have identified. For ARMA, this process of listening and evaluation took place over a number of months, resulting in a range of suggestions from members being incorporated into the final plan.

Step four: develop a range of resources

Once you've finalised your strategy, you might be tempted to produce a fat, glossy brochure. But is this the best way to communicate with your range of audiences? It might look good on a press release, but is it really adding value to the strategic process? For ARMA, we took a different approach. We'd working with the Association on a new website last year, so used that as a platform for communicating the strategy. We created pages for different audiences - external stakeholders and ARMA members - with a different focus for each area. We developed content for news pieces, email updates, newsletters and the ARMA member magazine. And there's a version that can be downloaded from the website. Finally, we created a framework to monitor and communication the implementation of the plan, keeping members engaged throughout.

Step five: get talking!

Once you have the information prepared, you then need to take the final step and get talking! Done well, your strategy will frame the conversations you have, helping you focus on priorities with external stakeholders and on progress with your members or staff. Use every available opportunity to keep the strategy at the centre of the conversation. For ARMA, we've developed a communications plan to help the team coordinate their messaging across different channels.

Successful strategies are those that position the organisation well. But to be successful, they also need to be talked about. Building communications into your strategy from the start of your planning will help you get your message across.


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