Blue Beyond Consulting

Communication Strategy: The Ultimate Guide for Leaders

Employee expectations of organizational communications have changed quickly with the influence of digital channels, hyper-curated content, hybrid and remote work, and the disruption (and opportunity!) with AI.

The way organizations and leaders need to communicate and connect is more human, compelling, and visual than ever before. That’s why it’s time to take another look at your communications strategy.

What Is Strategic Communications?

Organizational, business, or company communications encompass the channels, activities, and strategies that leaders and employees use to distribute information, establish behaviors, values, and beliefs, and build community — internally and externally. They comprise both the strategy and execution required to convey a vision, idea, or change that leads to outcomes.

Historically, communications have been seen as an endpoint — think of an email to send to a colleague, a script to read during an all-hands, or a memo that will be shared on an internal intranet. But in today’s noisy, busy, and fast-changing business environment, communications live on beyond their original intention. This means that our approach to communications is due for an update; one that activates business strategy so that both the organization and the people can thrive.


“Big C” Vs. “Little C” Communications

A way we like to talk about the communications ecosystem with our clients is through what we call “big C” and “little C” communications. 

“Big C” communications are:

  • Formal 
  • Structured
  • Official

While “little C” communications are:

  • Informal 
  • Smaller
  • Community-building

A well-considered communications plan should recognize the value of both “big C” and “little C,” the utility of each, and how they should play off of one another. An important “big C” company all hands, for instance, may be supported by 1-on-1 check-ins between managers and their direct reports to get a pulse check on how they are reacting to the news, answer questions, and reinforce key messages. 

The State of Business Communications Today

To understand why it’s important to take a new approach to communications, we must first understand the headwinds and tailwinds organizations are facing.


Cutting Through the Noise

The first reality that leaders must recognize is that today’s workplaces are rife with complexity, making it challenging to keep track of organizational shifts and hone in on what matters most. Of the thousands of global workers polled in PEGA’s workforce trends report, 90% answered that information overload was a top challenge contributing to business complexity. Relatedly, Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar argues that today’s knowledge workers process a quantity of information that is the equivalent of 174 newspapers each day

Our work with clients has uncovered additional findings here. In a recent communications audit with a global financial services company, employees didn’t ask to receive less information, but instead better information — specifically, communications that help them better understand the business and connect their work to business outcomes.

As communications practitioners, we should ask ourselves: how can we make our messages easier to digest? How can we speak to what matters most? How can we provide sufficient context while cutting out the bulk?


Leading Through Uncertainty

If reaching employees who are already grappling with communication overload was already a roadblock, today’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world has only compounded it further. Anxiety is a forerunner for work-related issues, caused in large part by the rise in global conflicts, economic volatility, and civil unrest. According to a recent report from mental health services provider ComPsych, nearly a quarter of all people who reached out for mental health aid did so for anxiety, making it the number one reason why U.S. workers seek support. 

Employees look to leaders to help make sense of the world. Sending the right message to an anxious audience can assuage their fears and create stability around their work. 


Evolving With New Content Mediums

The way we consume information in our personal lives has changed drastically, which has, by proxy, influenced how employees engage with communications at work. Thanks to social media’s widespread adoption of short-form, hyper-curated content, people are used to and expect constant, tailored, and digestible content. 

Digital communication channels have also opened new avenues for building relationships and communities, especially for younger generations who are more green to the workforce. That might explain why nearly half (45%) of workers feel more connected to their teams by using digital communication tools. 

For communications experts, the takeaways here are to consider how their efforts can better lean into community-building experiences; focus on quality, highly engaging outputs; and stay mindful of communications that are too broad for audiences who are used to consuming hyper-targeted content.


Pivoting To Hybrid- and Remote-Work Models

Off-site work is no longer the exception to the rule—it’s our new normal for doing business. Remote communications have evolved similarly in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic. No longer are we figuring out what the right virtual channels are; instead, we are discovering how to use them effectively to collaborate outside the office and emulate valuable parts of the in-person experience. 


Explore our webinar on Empowering Employees through Effective Communication in a Hybrid Work Setting

Watch now

The Relationship Between Communication and Culture

The immediate benefits of an effective communications strategy are clear-cut: improved alignment, trust, agility, and outcomes. However, the benefits of good communications (and, conversely, the business risks of poor communications) are much farther-reaching. 

In our own research polling more than 750 knowledge workers, business leaders, and HR leaders, we found that employees do not see communications and culture as separate entities but rather as fully intertwined pillars of their overall work experience. In fact, 91% of knowledge workers told us that communication was the number-one factor for an effective culture. Yet a staggering majority (60%) of organizations have no long-term plan in place for their internal communications. 

Now more than ever, work is an activity, not a location. Global workforces, off-site work, and digital channels have all disrupted the traditional in-office, 9-to-5 experience. The impact? Internal communications are how employees perceive the credibility of the business and its leaders.

How Communications Teams Are Staying Ahead of Change

So how are communications professionals responding to these new demands? 

By broadening their skill sets. Communications experts have always been good at wearing multiple hats, but now their talents should extend beyond communications capabilities alone.


Future-proofed communications strategists must also be: 

  • Strategic influencers: Communicators need to see beyond a single touch point (e.g., an email, a meeting, or an infographic) and how these individual moments layer into the bigger picture. They understand how target audiences will respond to different communication channels, frequencies, and messages and leverage them to shape behaviors and encourage bias toward action.
  • Change leaders: If change management outlines how the organization plans to address change, then change leadership describes how you will guide your people to that final destination. Change leaders embrace each stage of the change, recognize the time it takes to adjust behaviors and mindsets, and translate big abstractions into bite-size actions.
  • Culture mavens: The modern communications professional understands “what makes us, us.” Their communication strategies and execution are couched within and informed by the organization’s culture, which helps them maximize impact and reach people where they are. 
  • Marketing-minded: Internal communications practitioners are borrowing from the marketing playbook and rethinking how to best reach their colleague audiences. Leaning on marketing best practices for an internal communication strategy helps ensure their always-on, multi-touch approach reaches employees effectively. 
  • Data gurus: Communicators need proof that messages are working and channels are effective. Open rates, view counts, and positive or negative comment sentiments are all performance indicators that are worth monitoring. Communications teams should measure their leading and lagging metrics, monitor improvement over time, and adjust course based on what you learn. 

The Recipe for Success: Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™

At the intersection of communications teams’ evolving roles and organizations’ new realities lies our unique approach to communications: what we call Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™

Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™ are not just a “nice to have” in today’s environment but three interwoven must-haves for leaders and organizations that wish to unlock the full potential of communications as a business driver.

Here’s how each of the three core tenets show up in the work:


Communications that are “human” are emotionally resonant and psychologically sound. They understand and leverage our human instincts to seek out connections, connect the dots, and spot patterns. In practice, this means cutting out the jargon or “business speak,” sending comms through trusted channels, and repeating the message until it sticks.



Communications that are “compelling” are forward-driving,fully grounded in your business context, and clearly explain the “why. Compelling messaging should inspire, inform, and ultimately create an enticing call to action. This happens when communications provide context (what came before and what will arrive after), empower people to take agency, and focus on the experience at the personal level. 



Visual communications make fast meaning out of concepts, spark emotion through art, and increase the digestibility of your content — effectively cutting through the noise and making the most of the precious seconds your audience will spend on your content.

It’s possible to understand the impact that each element of Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™ brings in isolation, but the magic only happens when all three work in concert. Our webinar, Amplify Your Signal: The Power of Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™, further explores why all three are essential ingredients in a winning recipe.

Types of Communications Strategies

Internal Communications

Internal communications consist of all of the communication activities that circulate inside an organization. As a broad communications category, a robust internal communications plan will include several strategies nested within it, such as change communications, employee communications, and leadership communications. 

Each internal communications strategy your organization deploys may be owned and acted on by a unique set of stakeholders, but you still need to think of your internal communications holistically. Consider how different channels, audiences, and initiatives can all feel connected to your mission, vision, culture, and values. 


External Communications

As the name suggests, external communications describe anything sent, shared, or broadcast to audiences outside of the organization. That could mean future employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders, depending on the message and its intent. 

Internal and external communications often exist within their own spheres, but we argue that there can be opportunity and value for the two to intersect. As an example, employees who speak positively about their experience can support talent acquisition efforts when their stories are shared externally with job seekers and candidates. In an information-surplus world, remember also that your external communications can and will be accessible to internal parties. Before you publish, consider how your message will be received by both intended active and passive audiences.


Change Communications

Organizations deploy change communications as part of their change management efforts before, during, and in the wake of changes both transformational and routine. The success of your communications (and your change efforts at large) can be measured by whether you successfully move your people through the transformation from apprehension to enthusiastic adoption. 

As you develop change communications strategies, consider what information will alleviate anxiety, garner support, mitigate change fatigue, and model the new, desired behaviors that align with expected outcomes.

Interested in kickstarting your change management communications plan? Download our Starter Kit today.


Manager Communications

Equipping managers with the right communication materials, skill sets, and background knowledge is an essential piece of the communications puzzle. Mid-level management is critical to the communications chain, ensuring that messages from leaders cascade through the rest of the organization and that employee feedback reaches the right ears. 


In the midst of ever-increasing change, managers have started to deepen communication skills to better support their teams. That includes:

  • Active listening: For many employees, having a manager who actively listens to their problems inside and outside of work has become a top contributor to their experience at work. Active listening improves empathic leadership by helping managers imagine themselves in their team member’s shoes and connect on a human level.
  • Feedback: Constructive, honest criticism can be difficult to receive and even harder to give, but it’s a necessary component of any healthy employee-manager relationship. Knowing how to clearly deliver feedback, attach it to specific examples, and focus on progression is one way that managers can contribute to Deep Trust and High Expectations® cultures.
  • Task prioritization: Part of becoming an effective manager is learning when and how to assign responsibilities to your team. Managers who communicate well know how to give clarity into what needs to be accomplished and how this work will contribute to the bigger picture. 
  • Serving as a connector: Manager communications should help team members understand where they fit and how they contribute to the overall company strategy, purpose, and culture. 

Our Best Boss™ people leader program is a great launch point for managers who are looking to sharpen their communication skills and other critical leadership capabilities. 


Executive Communications

Effective executive communication with internal and external stakeholders is often the forcing function for real business decisions and strategy. It’s the most challenging role that many communications departments have — and for good reason. When we have to communicate it, we have to decide it, and it has to be right.

One could easily argue that messages from executives are the most important communications to come out of a company, but there is room for improvement. According to Forbes, over 40% of workers say that poor communication reduces their trust in leadership. Good leadership communication, however, can have the opposite effect, engendering employee buy-in and confidence in leadership decisions.

If you’re a communications professional, look for ways to set up your leadership for success. Do your best to loop in leadership stakeholders at the beginning of the process to align on your key messaging. Leadership training and development sessions can also help leaders better communicate their vision for the organization and rally their people around the cause.


HR Communications

HR teams are the designers and drivers of the holistic employee experience, so they should be equally close to how key people processes and programs are communicated to employees. HR communications strategies are most effective when communicators are grounded in the employee experience and remember the “human” part of human resource management. Make sure you understand communications preferences (and are not operating off of assumptions), send a clear and consistent message, and solicit two-way feedback for refining over time.


M&A Communications

Few changes are as transformative as a merger, acquisition, divestiture, or other significant transaction. The right internal M&A communications strategy will consider all affected parties — especially the employees of the affected company — that ground people in the context surrounding the deal, create a path through the change, and set a vision for the new business. 

Effective external communications are critical to deal success, and must be executed with deep integration with your deal strategy. Part of the strength of our Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™ approach is its ability to align different channels into one cohesive strategy. Press releases, social media announcements, and interviews with the media may have different audiences than your internal messaging, but the underlying principles remain the same: create content that connects at the human level, grabs attention, and leverages visuals to tell a stronger story.

Discover ways to increase the chances of M&A communication success with our Best Practices eBook.

How To Develop Strategic Communications for Today’s Audiences

If there is one certainty about people-centered communications, it’s that they require intention and planning to succeed. The next time you need to prepare for a major communication, use these five steps to build clarity, alignment, and commitment.

1. Know the Context and Your “Why Now”

How will your audience understand why your communications matter if your leaders can’t clearly point to the “so what” either? Communications need context setting in order to have meaning, and it’s a common misstep to assume that employees have the appropriate level of context when they’re brought into the dialogue.

Leave no stone unturned during this first phase. Ask yourself:

  • What does this audience know and not know?
  • What happened before, and what will happen next? 
  • Why are we communicating this, and why now?
  • Why should our people care about this? How does this affect them?

Your answers should reveal how you need to approach your communications and ensure that all stakeholders are aligned from the onset.

2. Intentionally Develop Key Messages

Once you know the “why” behind your message, you’re ready to move to “what” you need to say. Refinement is a major component of the work here: simplifying language, stripping out unnecessary detail, creating clear narratives or stories, ensuring nomenclature is consistent, and turning concepts into visuals. 

Remember that inconsistent language and excessive jargon will do you no favors in delivering a message that is human, compelling, and visual. 

3. Segment Your Audiences and Identify Their ‘Know’, ‘Feel’, ‘Do’

Now you know why your communications matter and the messages you’ll use to deliver them, it’s time to break down your strategy further into each of your audience segments. Consider each audience individually: who are they, and what do they care about? What characteristics make them unique? What channels are they using the most? And, most importantly, what should your communications make them know, feel, and do? 

4. Use Tools and Channels Effectively

With your messaging cemented and audiences in place, your next step is deployment. Choosing the right channel can mean the difference between communications that take off on their own and those that are never opened. Email, for example, is the default channel for many businesses, but there is often a better distribution system that will more effectively reach audiences, such as a video or posts on the intranet that employees can react to or comment on. 

This step provides yet another opportunity to reinforce consistency. Establish guardrails early on so that you are utilizing the same channels for the same purposes. Finally, avoid reinventing the wheel when possible by auditing how your employees currently use their favorite channels and fitting your communications within that existing infrastructure.

5. Preview, Pilot, and Get Feedback

No communications strategy is complete without refinement. Look for opportunities to improve before, during, and after your communications rollout. Testing your message with a preview audience can help validate that your message carries its weight. Soliciting feedback at multiple points along the way can help you stay agile and responsive to new directions as you further iterate on what you want to convey.

Maximize Your Impact With Our Winning Formula

Communications are among the most powerful tools for enacting lasting change, connecting employees to strategy, enhancing and amplifying your culture, increasing engagement, and more.

Though the work is worth the effort, the world of communications is fast-paced and complex. Fortunately, you don’t need to embark on a strategy on your own. Our consultants have decades of collective experience solving big communications roadblocks and implementing our pressure-tested Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™ approach. 

Learn how we show up in the work and how we can equip your organization for its next communication breakthrough.

Get in touch today