How to be strategic

A group of people in a modern office environment.

The word “strategic” is one of the most over-used and poorly understood terms in organizations today. Everyone wants to hire a “strategic” contributor and it’s become shorthand for complaining about a task that’s not up to par (as in “Well, the blog post is fine but it’s really not strategic”).

The first thing about stepping up your game as a strategic communicator is to be really clear on what the notion of “strategic” implies.

I define strategy as “The art and science of directing a systematic plan of action toward a specifically intended result.” The essence of being strategic is intentionality and focus – it’s the idea of having laser-like clarity on where you’re going and then setting up a path to get there. Put another way, if you don’t know what success looks like, by definition you cannot be strategic.

The antithesis of being strategic is to have tactical tunnel vision. This is a common affliction among communicators who become so consumed by running on the hamster wheel of production that they’ve lost touch with where they’re going and how they’d even know if they got there.

A good way to shift from tactical tunnel vision to a strategic mindset is to ask yourself “why?” For example, let’s say you work for a not-for-profit and you’re up to your eyeballs organizing a media event. As you’re juggling the logistics, materials, briefings and social outreach, stop for a moment and ask yourself why you’re doing this activity to begin with. Your first answer will likely be “to get media coverage.” But that of course is not a satisfactory response, because there must be a reason for wanting media coverage. The media profile is simply a means to some kind of end. Keep probing with “why” questions. You may find, for example, that the reason your organization is seeking media coverage is to raise awareness of a cause as a first step in a fundraising campaign. Now  you know what your event is really about – it’s about raising money.

That understanding will unlock all kinds of insights on how you can organize the event, who you want to invite, and what you want your key messages to be. In this way, you’ve shifted from a tactical to a strategic mindset – you’re really not organizing a media event, you’re contributing to a strategic business goal of fundraising. Approaching your work from this angle will immediately elevate the quality and value of your work. It will also be foundational to building a closer and more productive relationship with your internal fundraising program clients and executives.

The top 10 questions in strategic communications

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