Creating usable strategies instead of dust collectors
Within our institutions we invest a lot of sweat, time and money in designing and developing strategies to steer our work.
Whether it’s an institutional strategy, communications and marketing strategies, content strategies, or just about any kind of strategy, it’s imperative that they see the light of day and don’t just become documents gathering dust while “business as usual” takes over.
In this post we’ll focus on five considerations that you or partner consultancies (like us) should take into account when designing a strategy, and ensure that it will get implemented. They are:
Let’s take a look at each…
Strategic plans that consider the who and the when (not just the what and the why) are far more likely to succeed. Accountability forces us to focus in on the who and the when. In doing so we hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable for ensuring that the strategy comes to fruition.
– Consider including an implementation workflow and role descriptions in your strategy. This identifies role types needed to get work packages done (i.e. “content creator”, “content approver”, etc) assigning tasks and levels of responsibility to each.
– When you’ve worked out the role types required, think about using a RACI framework to assign those types of involvement to each role. A RACI framework identifies who is responsible, accountable, consulted or involved for each step in the work flow or implementation plan.
– Adopt a continuous stakeholder engagement approach from the very beginning of your strategy development work. By involving and consulting stakeholders and designing your strategy out in the open, you give them the opportunity to watch and ask about your progress. In doing so, you increase the likelihood that you’ll actually implement your strategy, and increase the likelihood that they’ll help as they’ll feel involved and thus bought into it.
Actionability ensures that we don’t just develop an overarching vision through our strategy, but actually break that down into the steps that we need to leap from strategy to reality.
– Consider including an implementation plan for every strategy you develop. This should include a realistic timeline, a project plan and a resource plan, covering people power and other resources needed such as money, technologies, etc.
– If you’ve developed a marketing, communications or content strategy, then develop a content plan or content calendar (or both) to offer clarity with what to do and when. In doing so you break a giant vision down into manageable and smaller implementation “chunks”. It also forces you to translate sometimes vague strategic statements (“we going to create a vlog with useful tips for students”) into actual editorial items (“video one will offer five things that you probably should leave at home when moving to university”)
– If you’re working on a content strategy for a website, you could design page tables to show content contributors exactly how to put your strategy into reality. When we developed the overarching content strategy for Nord Anglia Education’s global network of schools ahead of them all getting new websites, in order for each school to translate that vision into reality, we developed page tables – a content plan – for every single web page of every one of their new websites, ensuring that the strategy could then be realised through clear “instructions” on how to create content for each page.
Circumstances change. Priorities change. Pressures change. Managers change their minds…
All too often the reason for a strategy never seeing the light of day is that – when the time comes to implement it – so much has changed that the strategy no longer seems to serve our purpose. Allowing for flexibility within your strategy helps to mitigate this and keep it alive even when things do change (they will).
– Include a risk assessment and analysis in your strategy that actively sets out “change” as a risk to the success of the strategy and outlines what you will do in the event that different scenarios of change play out. Consider what those changes will be and plan for them (“if this happens, we will do this…”).
– Create a strategy that features different levels or layers of approach, or a combination of approaches. That way, when circumstances change, you’re strategy will still offer something that can be used and implemented (“we can’t do that thing from page 8, but instead we can pursue the approach outlined on page 11”).
– When you define roles and responsibilities, ensure that these align to role types and not actual individuals. That way, if someone within your implementation team should resign or change role, the responsibility to complete the task of implementing the strategy need not leave with them. Weave it into succession planning and handover documentation too.
Strategies that stand alone are more difficult to implement when they only touch on one aspect of your role or your team’s objectives. For example, you might complete a strategy for social media content and channels, but if social media is just a small part of the campaign or activity that you’re leading, then your strategy can easily get buried under competing priorities. Instead:
– Think about creating integrated content strategies and plans, instead of individual platform and channel plans.
– When you plan content for one channel or platform, consider how that content can be repurposed and used on other channels and platforms, thus making the content – and your strategy – go further and have greater impact and efficiency gains.
– Familiarise yourself with other strategies and plans within your institution and find points of intersection between yours and theirs. Develop yours in support of theirs. How can your content strategy, for example, support the implementation of your institutional strategy or your brand strategy?
The process of developing a strategy and implementation plan presents a great opportunity for you and your colleagues to learn new skills, gather new insights, and adapt your working or thought processes. Especially if you have an agency working on your strategy, you’ll maximise your chances of actually implementing that strategy if you’ve treated the process as a learning opportunity, transferring the consultant’s knowledge and skills to you and your colleagues. Think about:
– Embedding training and coaching as part of the consultancy package alongside your strategy work. Challenge them in the procurement phase to show you how they’ll transfer knowledge instead of just producing a document.
– If the consultancy is conducting audience research as part of your strategy, make sure you commission a full report of their findings so that you can transfer those insights to other projects, not just this strategy.
– Have the consultancy work with you during the implementation phase, being on hand to ensure that its knowledge and skills are transferred to your team, thus empowering and equipping yourselves to be able to take the strategy on yourselves and keep it live.
At Pickle Jar Communications we have over 10 years of designing and helping education institutions to implement their strategies and plans, especially content strategies and digital development plans. Speak with us about how we can help you to develop a strategy that you’ll actually use, or how we can help you to dust off those older strategies and breathe life back into them.