The Gatehouse Blog

The Art of Strategic Planning

Helen Schick is the Head of Internal Communication and Engagement at Alzheimer’s Society. Since 2016, Helen has been building engagement and ambassadorship to drive support for the charity. In this article, she explains how.

Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer. Every three minutes, someone in the UK develops dementia, and by 2021 over one million people will be living with the disease.

Founded in 1979, the Alzheimer’s Society aims to unite everyone against dementia. It is dedicated to supporting those affected and, one day, eradicating the disease. It is the only charity that works in all fields of dementia: direct support for people affected by dementia and their families, activism to champion the rights of people with dementia, and research into care, cure and prevention.

The charity employs around 2,800 people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and has a volunteer network in the thousands.

Slow and steady wins the race

In 2016, the charity introduced a new brand while simultaneously embarking on a new growth strategy. To support this strategy, Helen and her team implemented a five-year internal engagement framework, identifying and capitalising on the real drivers of engagement that make people want to come to work, be a part of it, and talk about this both inside and outside of work.

The long time-frame was key for Helen, who argues that all internal communication professionals should make plans for the longer term: “Whilst you can make some improvements quickly, to build real impact and lasting change needs strategic planning and commitment over a couple of years.”

Importantly, to truly support the business this plan needs to understand and directly help to deliver the desired outcomes you’re trying to achieve. It also needs to listen to the voice of your people, to make sure it connects and resonates with them.

The five-year plan allows for flexibility in how things are implemented: “You don’t want to be rigidly set in stone and not able to meet the needs of the organisation as they change, year in, year out. Our framework allows us to create long-term impact, but also pick and mix which levers we want to pull in any one year, so we take advantage of opportunities and meet the biggest need in the organisation.”

Using leaders to stay in the lead

Five drivers form the basis of the Alzheimer’s Society internal communication strategy: channels, events, managers, strategic narrative and employee voice. To get off to a flying start in promoting the new strategy internally, Helen’s team opted to focus on strengthening the connections between leaders and the organisation, which instils more trust in the charity’s leadership all whilst building an “in it together” approach to the mission ahead. There is higher understanding and support of the strategy from the frontline, but also a stronger incentive to commit to it with all decisions taken higher up.

Events are the primary channel which has been used for this: “Face to face events can be expensive, so we use a mixture of virtual and on-site. There really is nothing as engaging at enabling great conversations. Genuine listening, genuine collaboration, and always action and outcome focussed”, explains Helen.

“We used to have a small leadership tour around the country. We’ve expanded that to be 13 events over the summer which we’ve changed them from presentation heavy to lively round table-based listening sessions. The transformation was phenomenal. People left feeling listened to, and the leadership group was delighted because they had genuinely learnt more about the organisation and found solutions to problems they’d been facing for months.”

The five-year plan allows for flexibility in how things are implemented: “You don’t want to be rigidly set in stone and not able to meet the needs of the organisation as they change, year in, year out.”

Line managers are the key

The five-year plan allows for flexibility in how things are implemented: “You don’t want to be rigidly set in stone and not able to meet the needs of the organisation as they change, year in, year out.”

Among the techniques used to do so are – surprise, surprise – events. And making these interactive is central to their success. Think influencer away days, where people are handed the key messages and then given the opportunity to rehearse them in a safe space; with mockup interviews where people are asked how they would pitch Alzheimer’s Society to an outsider.

The objective is to enable managers to be excellent role models. Crucially, according to Helen, this means not restricting people to just what’s in their job description: “People want to be part of something. I think that organisations sometimes pigeonhole people – ‘that’s your job, and if you achieve your objective, then great.’ We try and enable people to step outside their box. If you work in operations and you’ve got a brilliant fundraising idea, tell us. If you know somebody outside of the organisation who just happens to be incredibly influential or able to donate to us, then tell them about what we do.”

“We’ve just had our engagement scores back and 93% say they’re aware of the strategy. Incredibly, 88% of volunteers and employees now see themselves as ambassadors for Alzheimer’s Society and do something outside of their main role to support the charity.”

“We’ve just had our engagement scores back and 93% say they’re aware of the strategy.”

Keeping the momentum

Despite extremely positive results, there is no doubt there have been some challenges along the way – particularly with regards to maintaining momentum after the initial launch.

As Helen explains, “I think the second year of a strategy is something to really watch out for – it’s natural for it to be a time for people getting their heads around the needs, data and designing the plans around how we’re going to get there. There’s a risk that, for the rest of the organisation everything can go a bit quiet and you don’t want people wondering what’s going on…”

It’s important to maintain the awareness that is built up over the first year so that the momentum doesn’t dissipate and you capitalise on the interest generated. Because of this, maintaining regular communications with people is vital. The best route is to spot any green shoots of progress as they start to appear and use them to reinforce the vision of the road ahead. Also using more personal insights from the people involved in designing the plans works well.

“As the organisation was changing to grow and expand its reach, we encouraged people to see the role we all play in shaping and delivering the strategy. We wanted to avoid making this a complex process, so we had this idea of doing a short video where our people say, ‘My name is Fred; I work in data analysis, and it might sound boring, but without me, we wouldn’t have the vital information to make sure our services run well and meet the needs of people with dementia.” It was really moving and inspiring to see the pride people feel about the role they play and the shared sense of pride in others when they saw the film.”

“There’s a risk that, for the rest of the organisation everything can go a bit quiet and you don’t want people wondering what’s going on…”

 

Biography: Helen Schick

Helen Schick is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. She previously worked for financial organisations across Australia and New Zealand. Upon returning to the UK, Helen took on the position of Head of Internal Communication for the British Red Cross, and she has been working in the charitable sector ever since.