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Communication Is Power: Use It Well

Communication is power and like all power, how you use it matters. Communication can shine a spotlight on problems, making them easier to see and offering a stage to popularize solutions. It can call people to the streets, and it can bring people together. Silence is communication and actions are messaging without words. Every organization communicates every day. But not every organization uses the full power of its communications to advance its ambitions. Instead, its communications become a noisemaker, a shame and blame purveyor, or a demotivator making everything seem impossible except curling up in the fetal position. Every day, leaders choose to communicate, and Spitfire wants to do all we can to make sure they make good choices.


Nineteen years ago this week, I started Spitfire, a woman-owned firm dedicated to advancing racial, economic and social justice, protecting the environment and expanding opportunity. Shortly thereafter, I wrote the original Smart Chart®, which aimed to put the power of strategic communication at anyone’s fingertips. I was convinced strategic communication was not a mystical practice that you needed a PhD for or something you could only do if you hired an outside consultant. I believed then and I believe now that every organization needs to be a communicating organization, and that means knowing how to do top-notch strategic communication.


This week we are sharing with those doing good in the world the latest version of the Smart Chart: Smart Chart 4.0.

Dennis Poplin, our chief of learning, will share what’s so smart about this version of the chart. But before he does that, I want to make the case for how this chart helps organizations use the full power of their communications. Ask four questions to assess whether you are firing on all cylinders or sputtering.


Are your communications fully aligned to what you want to accomplish as an organization?

The Smart Chart forces focus. In a world with so much going on, we can communicate about anything with anyone at any time. The strategy comes in knowing where communications can make the most difference. When Spitfire does communication audits for organizations, we often find there is a disconnect between what an organization wants to focus on and what its communications are focused on. People will say they want to expand beyond their current audiences, but 80% of their communications are that audience with language that resonates with them. The Smart Chart forces the tough decisions so that you keep top of mind who you really need to engage to achieve something important, then line up energy behind that objective. Do your own check — look at all the communications your organization sent in the past month, consider internal communications to staff and board, external communications via social and earned media, newsletters, speeches, webinars, the works. Can you map each one back to a clear objective it was meant to achieve? If not, you have the chance to improve the purpose of your communications. Seize it.


Are your communications designed to engage and motivate or target and disseminate?

Organizations often know who they want to reach and what they want to tell them. That is “target and disseminate” — a one-way strategy. This is very different than “engage and motivate.” Engaging means you know enough about your audience to get their attention and have some rapport to start or advance conversations. You know what matters to them, how they make decisions, what they already think about the topic you want to engage on and who they listen to about it. You understand the not-always-linear way their minds work when they think about this topic, what emotions it brings up for them and what conflicts about it live side by side in their minds. Only by knowing all of this do you have a shot at getting them to stop and think about your topic. If you want to go further and get them to act, you need another set of intel about what will motivate them to do that. Knowing something and doing something are very different. People act on things they believe are personal, they can do something about, and will matter in the grand scheme of things. Go back to your one-month audit. Think about the audiences you communicated with. What intel about them informed how you communicated? Can you see how they were centered in your communications, or does it now seem like your communications are based on assumptions and hunches?


Do your communications advance your values?

You likely have a Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) statement. When you look at who you put on your panels, do you deliver on your DEI commitments? You may say you are partners with the communities in which you work. Does the language you use to describe them cast them in their best light and call them neighbors or does it refer to them as vulnerable, at-risk and disengaged? When you look at who you give stages to, is it those most impacted? Look at who you cast as the problem and who as the problem solver. Is this aligned with your values? Are your communications a shield that promotes more of your intentions than your actions? Do your actions tell a different story than what you are communicating?


Is your communication strategy dynamic and does it get results?

Change is constant. What people know, think and do is in constant flux. In times of great change (e.g., NOW), this is even more true. Are your communications based on taking a pulse of where your issue stands now? Do you have a good sense of how people are talking about it and how this has evolved? As you look around at the climate in which you are communicating, you should have a very clear sense of whether the winds of change are at your back or lashing your face, and your communications should account for that. If you are communicating well, you can tell. You will get traction and feel momentum, and the growing buzz and increased volume of conversations going your way will do what you really want: encourage change. And you need to know if this is, in fact, the result of your communications. When you share your updated strategy with staff, is there excited chatter or crickets? When you take to social media and ask your audiences to write to lawmakers, register to vote or boycott something, do you get a positive response? I don’t mean likes, although they are nice. I mean, do you see people going to register to vote? Honestly, many organizations will say they don’t know. They may have analytics, but that’s not the same as designing feedback loops that give you sense of whether you are actually motivating people. What touchpoints do you have to assess the changing climate for communications? What feedback loops do you have in place (and check in on) to adjust communications in real time? Without these, it is hard to know if you are moving—and moving in the right direction. You might just be talking about it.


If you are a strong organization, you’ll communicate every day. This is a renewable resource. Every day you’ll have a chance to communicate with staff who can serve as messengers. Are you directing all of that power wisely? If you said no, no worries. Tomorrow you have a chance to get it right. Smart Chart 4.0 is right here. Use it to harness the full power of communication.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 8, 2021 at 09:40 am and is filed under Communication planning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.