Create a Communication Strategy

Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development

It’s Time to Put on Your Marketing Hat!

Let’s assume you’ve got a great leadership development strategy. You’ve identified your key stakeholders. Before you go live and launch, do you have an effective communication strategy in place?

And we don’t just mean who will write and send the email to get leaders signed up! A creative and thought-out communication strategy and execution plan will help make sure everyone is informed, excited, and ready to be part of your program’s success.

What Are the Elements of a Communication Strategy?

To help you build out the elements of your communication strategy, consider the following questions. You can gather your L&D team to think these through:

  • What is our leadership development strategy and philosophy?
  • Who is responsible for our communication strategy, plan, and tactics?
  • How will our leadership development initiatives be communicated within the organization?
  • How can we sustain interest and momentum over time through communication?
  • Who are our stakeholders and what information do they need?
  • How will key stakeholders communicate their commitment on a regular basis?
  • Who will develop and deliver the messages and when?

As part of your communication strategy, develop and incorporate a powerful theme or creative brand and visuals to add inspiration and excitement to your messages. Looking for a place to start? Here are some examples that we’ve designed for our clients as part of their Leadership Development Subscription.

three example materials to communicate the importance of your program and the materials included and how to access, including a brochure of what's included, a powerpoint kickoff presentation, and a welcome letter

Are There Different Types of Communication?

To communicate effectively, you need to align both formal and informal communication efforts. Let’s explore the two types.

Formal Communication

You likely have a variety of internal communication channels already in place. For example, you might have several existing options to share information and updates, such as:

examples of formal communication channels under relevant icons: Employee Portal (an icon of a website is shown), Shared Sites (two links connecting is the icon shown), Internal Newsletters (icon of a newspaper is shown), CEO Messages (a bullhorn icon is shown), Company-wide Town Halls (an icon of professional building is shown)

Some of these formal channels may allow you to take advantage of existing forums, giving the program exposure at times and in places where employees already expect information. Leverage the most relevant channel for each stakeholder group to keep them engaged and informed.

Informal Communication

We don’t just mean the rumor mill! Communication takes place across internal social channels, through team collaboration and chat applications, and even on one-on-one calls.

While you don’t have the time to micromanage all of these, be aware of (or pay attention to) informal communication channels and consider when it makes sense to use them. For example, to maintain momentum with your learners, you could ask a key stakeholder to post a reflection or application question each month on a Teams or Slack channel.

Who Will Communicate What by When?

We know that many teams are strapped for time and resources. However, a clear action plan can help your team juggle everything you’ve got going on. This simple grid can help you:

three column headers, Who, What, When, and then underneath each respective questions, ie. Who do you need to communicate to? Who is responsible for creating or delivering the message? What do they need to know?, What methods will be used?, and When do we need to communicate?

Is It Internal Marketing?

Time and attention…there’s never enough to go around! It’s tough to get leaders or their managers excited with just another email that ends up buried in the avalanche. Plus, the prevalence—and our own personal experience—with “edutainment” and social influencers have changed standards for compelling content.

In short, your communication strategy may begin to feel more like internal marketing. And if this starts to happen to you, you need to persuade your leaders of the importance and excitement of your program. Here are some ideas to jump-start your communication strategy:

  • Call out the WIIFM clearly. If you want them to care and put time and energy behind it, everyone needs to know exactly “What’s in It for Me?” Help your participants understand that this leadership development program isn’t a one-time event, but rather an investment in their careers. Tell managers of learners that this program can improve overall performance of their team.
  • Help leaders feel valued and special. How can you show each leader that this program was designed just for them? Can your executive sponsor prepare a heartfelt message about their own experience as a leader? Consider sending a “you are important” package to their home address with company swag, snacks, a special book, or a gift card alongside training materials.
  • Make it memorable. As you plan your launch, create a memorable logo or icon. Come up with a catchy tagline. Use striking visuals and colors. And use all of these across multiple platforms like your presentation slides, brochures or handouts, virtual backgrounds, video messages, and more.

In Conclusion:

Who, What, and How of a Program Launch

Who: Senior Leader(s)
What: Share: Why are we doing this? What role can they play? High-level overview of program. This could be a message from the CEO.
How: Invite sponsor to speak at kickoff

Who: Managers of Learners
What: Share how to support learners and set expectations. Summarize program goals. Give manager guides.
How: Host a 30-minute to 1-hour program kickoff

Who: Learners
What: Explain "what's in it for them." Link the program to the organization. Define class logistics and the resources available. Provide a learning journey invite and send reminders.
How: Host a 30-minute to 1-hour program kickoff

Who: HR Partners
What: Share how to support learners and set expectations. List the available content. Summarize program goals.
How: Host a team meeting

Who: Individual Contributors
What: Showcase the available programs by contributor level. Give success stories of already developed leaders.
How: Send an internal newsletter or make a website announcement

How Can You Tell If Your Communication Strategy Is Working?

In our work with clients across industries of varying sizes, we’ve seen that communication strategies that look like internal marketing help implementation teams to flip the narrative and do what marketing does best: generate demand.

Over time, these programs transform from initiatives that leaders must complete on top of other work and busy schedules to development opportunities that leaders ask for. Leaders begin to understand a leadership development program as their employer’s investment in their careers.