A lesson in strategic planning from …Thomas Hardy

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Earlier this year I took a break from planning my new business and picked up a novel off my bookshelf – Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy.

Far from taking me away from the world of communications, Jude Fawley’s plight struck me as a cautionary tale for organisations with half-baked mission and goals.

You see it’s all well and good having an inspiring vision, but the key to success lies in knowing how you’re going to get from A to B, understanding the barriers you might face along the way, and what resources you need to get there.

Hardy’s last novel revolves around the life of a man who feels a strong calling towards academia and his tireless quest to resist the prosaic life to which he is otherwise destined. As a young boy determined to realise his aspirations, he begins reading books whilst steering his horse on his early morning milk round. Eventually, he moves to the university town of Christminster where he earns a meagre living as a stone mason and studies slavishly by candlelight each night.

One day he has a moment of realisation: he’s wrenched himself from his home town, extricated himself from a bad marriage and has studied diligently, but still has little hope of ever entering one of the noble seats of learning amongst which he now lives.  His books are out of date and his applications to university have been rejected. This was a man with a vision, for sure, but little grasp of the reality of the world he wished to enter, the financial, physical and mental challenges of his chosen path, and the social conventions (at that time) which would eventually conspire against him.

So what’s this got to do with corporate communications, I hear you cry? Well my point is this: just as ‘no man is an island’, it’s also true that organisations do not operate in isolation from the outside world. As such, at the outset of any strategic communications campaign, a thorough situational analysis should be undertaken.

Otherwise known as the PESTEL analysis, the following factors should be thoroughly considered:
▪    What political support do you have for your work?
▪    What economic factors are there?
▪    What are the social, cultural or demographic factors? What is the general opinion about your area of work?
▪    Are there any relevant technological advances to support your activities?
▪    Are there any environmental factors or issues of sustainability?
▪    What’s the legal framework in which you’re operating?

The PESTEL process will help you understand areas of potential threat or weakness, identify where your allies and key influencers are, who your competitors are, and what steps you need to take to make your mission a reality. The information gathered can not only inform your corporate strategy, but also how best to position your brand and what communications support is necessary to underpin your strategy.

The intelligence gained from a situational analysis can be a bit overwhelming, but well worth it to arm yourself with the intelligence and insight needed to address factors affecting your vision and ultimately, help you achieve your goals.

If only poor Jude had known.

image courtesy of freedigitalimages

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