Man with megaphone.
“We need a strategy to communicate this,” Bill told me. “We should probably send out a letter to all employees, or maybe a brochure.”

Bill was handling his communication situation the way many business leaders do … skipping critical planning steps that put the real “strategy” into a communication strategy.

The natural tendency for many leaders when facing a communication issue is to jump right into tactics. Unfortunately, by not being strategic, leaders can miss opportunities to more effectively engage employees or others – or worse, produce unintended negative consequences. As in other areas of business, strategic planning for communication starts with defining the desired outcome and then planning the engagements that will bring about that outcome.

There are five basic components of a solid communication strategy. We call it the “5M” Framework, because the messages need to stick even better than 3M Post-it® Notes or 3M Scotch® tape.

  1. Mission/Measurement: Why do we need to communicate? What business outcome(s) does this strategy need to achieve? How will we know if we are successful?
  2. Members: The point of any communication is people … to lead (influence) them, be influenced by them, or nurture a relationship with them. With whom will we communicate? Have we thought about all the stakeholders – everyone who is impacted by this issue or has a “stake” in it? What do we know about them, and what are the gaps in our understanding about them that we will need to fill in?
  3. Messages: What are the key messages we need each stakeholder to hear or read? What are the critical few things we want them to know, believe, or do? Sending too many messages can overwhelm or confuse people, or at best cause them to ignore or forget our core points.
  4. Media: What communication channels or tactics will best connect with each stakeholder? What is the best timing for each tactic? Do we need redundant channels (for example, both Facebook and Twitter, or both email and face-to-face) to ensure everyone hears the messages at least once … or for greater impact, three times? Who will be a credible spokesperson for the messages?
  5. Manager/Champion support: Yes, managers or other key influencers should be identified as stakeholders in the “Members” step above. But over the years, I have learned that involving these highly influential people is so critical to success that it needs a stand-alone planning step. The best leaders go beyond simply providing managers with information to cascade along to employees. They engage with managers early, encourage their input, and help managers to take ownership of the communication and to translate the meaning to their team, in their own words.

In Bill’s case, it turned out that sending a letter or brochure to all employees was not the best plan, at least not at first. Instead, we held a series of meetings with key stakeholders to gather input and support, we created Q&As for two types of stakeholders and a leave-behind brochure to support pilot-testing the program, and we waited for several months of program feedback and improvements before planning a broad mailing and reinforcing communications.

To better ensure that you end up with the outcome you really want, be sure to think through each of 5M components of a basic communication strategy.


Podcast episode 003: 5 Steps to Creating a Communication Plan

Podcast episode 007: 5 Principles for Communicating Strategically (interview with Fred Garcia, author of The Power of Communication)

Video: Plan Effective Leadership Communication with the Target Outcome Scope

Video: How to Use the 1-3-3 Message Map to Make an Impact

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” href=””>How to Use a Stakeholder Analysis to Identify Audience Members

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” href=””>How to Use an Empathy Map to Understand Your Audience