Communication strategy vs. communication style: how are these two different, and why does it matter?
As most managers and business leaders will tell you, communication is important in the workplace.
Yet without a clear definition of what communication is, it can be all too easy to fall back on generic tropes and avoid taking concrete action steps.
To better understand the actual role communication plays in the workplace, we’ll explore the difference between communication strategies and communication styles.
Knowing that difference is the first step towards creating communication plans that generate tangible, measurable business results.
Communication Strategy vs. Communication Style
Communication styles represent the way in which someone communicates.
A communication style could be described as:
- Analytical. Analytical communicators like data, hard numbers, and facts.
- Intuitive. The big picture is the biggest focal point for intuitive communicators.
- Functional. Functional communicators like to talk about concrete plans and details.
- Personal. This style prefers emotional connection and understanding how other people feel.
This list, incidentally, is not the only method of categorizing communication styles. There certainly are others.
The point, however, is that styles are unique to each person.
Though understanding individual communication styles can be extremely useful for managers, it is a distinct topic from communication strategies.
Communication strategies are planned communication activities that have specific goals.
In some cases, a communication strategy can refer to a standing strategy, such as an organization’s internal communication strategy. In other instances, communication strategies refer to those designed as part of specific business initiatives.
For example, when implementing a business transformation program, change management communication strategies can focus on targets such as:
- Building awareness of the need for change
- Improving employee engagement
- Cultivating a desire to support change
- Reducing employee resistance
These are examples of measurable objectives that can be targeted by a communication plan.
Below, we’ll explore how communication strategies work and how you can use them to achieve specific business objectives.
How to Use Communication Strategies
Here are a few steps to creating communication strategies that generate real results:
Understand the Context
Every business scenario is different, and the very first step to building a communication strategy is to assess needs and understand the circumstances.
To this end, it is useful to ask questions such as:
- What problem is this project is solving?
- Who are the stakeholders?
- What are the goals of the project in question?
- How can a communication strategy help?
- What is the project’s timeline?
- What information do employees need to succeed?
Pre-project assessments can help answer many of these questions.
The information provided can then help project planners create more relevant, effective communication strategies.
Define Your Goals
Every business project will have its own set of goals. A good communication strategy should support those goals, in part by mitigating risks and helping project leaders overcome obstacles.
Here are a few examples of goals that can be achieved with the right strategy:
- Keeping stakeholders informed of progress and decision-making
- Increasing engagement from employees by inviting participation
- Reduce errors and miscommunications by clarifying expectations
- Improving employee productivity by standardizing and documenting best practices
- Minimizing the potential for pushback from employees by staying transparent
Ideally, managers should be able to measure these goals in some form or another.
Employee surveys are one example of a tool that can be used to measure the progress towards certain goals, such as employee satisfaction.
Create a Communication Strategy and Plan
A strategy is an overarching approach to solving a problem.
Tactics are the specific techniques used to approach that problem.
A plan is the roadmap of actions, or tactics, to take in order to implement the strategy.
Here is an example:
- A strategy statement, concisely worded, would outline the core problem(s) the communication strategy is designed to solve and the strategy’s scope
- The plan would transform that statement into a concrete plan, that can include actions such as implementing communication protocols, defining timelines, articulating messaging, and so forth
- A narrative, or “story,” gives stakeholders a structure that they can easily grasp and remember – this story can describe the journey that stakeholders will take throughout the project in question
- Tactics are the specific actions to take, such as using a centralized HR portal to communicate with employees or using digital adoption platforms (DAPs) for a self-service help desk
Once the actual plan is in place, it will be implemented in conjunction with the business initiative in question, assuming that the strategy is part of an initiative – in some cases, the strategy will be a plan in and of itself.
Implement and Evaluate
To ensure that communication plans are actually achieving their desired results, it is important evaluate them as they are executed.
This can be accomplished by:
- Establishing metrics and KPIs connected to communication objectives
- Tracking those metrics through mechanisms such as polls, surveys, and real-time data
- Continually collecting feedback from employees and stakeholders, then making adjustments to the communication strategy as needed
In today’s digital-first workplace, it is a good idea to leverage the latest tools and technology, because they include many tools that can vastly improve communication.
Many workplace communication apps, for instance, include features that make it easy to receive immediate feedback and respond quickly.