When strategic intent becomes stale and confused: is there real value in having a vision?

5 years, 8 months ago

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Being strategic by having a vision and mission along with supporting objectives and goals is a concept that gets lectured about ad nauseam at management courses. By Regine le Roux.



Any institution worth its salt in business management focusses on clearly defining and refining the strategic intent of its business. But what does it truly mean? And how does it impact an organisation’s reputation? Has the concept of strategic intent become stale amongst South African businesses? 
 
All business owners know that they need to be strategic; at minimum they must have a vision that is translated into a meaningful mission, objectives and specific goals. It is the first building block of knowing what the business is about and where it is heading. 
 
Despite this, not many companies realise the important link between strategic intent and reputation. Employees play a fundamental role in a business’ strategic intent as their work contributes towards achieving the vision. Communication of the business’ direction to employees is therefore critical.  
 
I have sat around many boardroom tables discussing this connection. When the topic of vision and mission is discussed as an important link to reputation management, the scenario invariably plays out along these lines: the executives nod and think to themselves that they have this ‘sussed’ - they have a vision and mission statement; it’s in a shared folder or on the website and available to everyone.  
 
Someone will then proudly start to recite the vision, only to be interrupted by a colleague announcing that it has changed to something else, with another co-worker chipping in that that version was also recently changed. Chaos and mayhem ensues for a couple of minutes as the colleagues try to remember and define what the company vision actually is. 
 
A moon-sized crater 
 
The initial smirkers then realise that there is a crater the size of the moon between the intended, actual and perceived strategic intent of the company. It goes without saying that this has a major impact on the ultimate reputation of the organisation. When internal perceptions are misaligned and a business’ employees don’t know the vision of the business, how are they supposed to help achieve it?
 
If there is such confusion about the direction of the company, based on a small sample of colleagues around the boardroom table, just imagine how big this gap is between other stakeholders associated with the organisation. If an organisation can’t be aligned internally, there is no way of expecting external stakeholders such as customers, partners or the media to be on the same page.  The bigger the discrepancy and misunderstanding of the strategic intent, the bigger the impact and threat will be to the organisation’s reputation. 
 
Corrective action to bridge this perception gap can be taken by aligning the core concepts of the strategic intent to key communication initiatives. This is done by identifying the key messages that need to be communicated to the different stakeholder audiences and bringing it into all communication activities. 
 
Even though there are different audiences that need to be communicated to, the crux of the message should be the same and aligned to the overall, single-minded strategic intent of the company. Once these messages have been identified, it is important to regularly communicate these messages to the identified stakeholder audiences through the most appropriate channels of communication. 
 
These channels differ from organisation to organisation, however, very often the most effective channels of communication are not necessarily the most expensive. As part of the communication process, it is also important to have feedback channels in place for stakeholders to give their input, as this allows the organisation to confirm whether the messages are being understood, that the initial communication gap is being narrowed, and that the business is heading in the right strategic direction. 
 
The importance of research
 
Research also plays an important role in testing and measuring the success of the business’ strategic intent through its communication activities and the impact it has on an organisation’s reputation. When we measure an organisation’s reputation with our unique Repudometer® tool, we analyse the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the organisation. We test key concepts from each of these elements in the survey to determine exactly what stakeholders’ understanding is of the organisation’s strategic intent. Through the analysis we can then ascertain whether the concepts and terminology used to define the business’ direction is appropriate and understood by all. It allows us to identify gaps and pick up on any misaligned perceptions that may be out there. 
 
From the results, we offer customised recommendations to help take the organisation’s reputation to the next level by shaping the strategic intent into a clear direction and assisting the organisation with focussing on creating new capabilities to maximise future opportunities. 
 
Are visions and missions going out of fashion? The terminology may be a bit stale, but the concepts are unlikely to be eliminated any time soon, especially when it comes to building, enhancing and improving reputations.  
 
 
Author’s Details 
Regine le Roux, Managing Director, Reputation Matters is a corporate reputation specialist. She completed her Communication Management Honours degree Cum Laude at the University of Pretoria in 2001, and completed her MCom within a year. Regine founded Reputation Matters in 2005. She hand picks and manages several teams that implement communication strategies.
 
Regine has gained much practical experience through several Communication, Change and Marketing Strategies compiled for clients in both the private and public domains. These include the following sectors: Government, Waste Management Industry, Asset Management, Education, Human Resources, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Manufacturing, Pharmaceutical and Retail. These businesses encompass parastatals, multinational companies; JSE listed companies as well as privately owned companies. Regine has mentored several students with their MBA thesis submissions at the Milpark Business School in Johannesburg.
 
In 2008, the company expanded to Cape Town. Regine developed the Repudometer®, which is one of the first tools that has been developed to measure organisational reputation. Regine is the Vice Chairperson for the Western Cape PRISA (Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa) Committee, and is also on the Board of the Rotary Club of Newlands, responsible for Public Image. 

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Regine le Roux

Regine le Roux, Managing Director, Reputation Matters is a corporate reputation specialist. She completed her Communication Management Honours degree Cum Laude at the University of Pretoria in 2001, and completed her MCom within a year.

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