A full-scale communications research assessment to analyze the implementation of a new strategic vision
Strong organizational identity
A strong organizational identity needs to be rooted in authenticity, reflect of an organization’s culture and ensure its stakeholders feel a sense of belonging. In particular, organizations undergoing an identity and branding shift need to examine three specific elements: its vision, defined as management’s aspirations; its culture, as in the values, behaviors, and attitudes of its employees; and its image, or the outside world’s overall impression of the company. Misalignment between the culture, vision and image can result in a poorly defined organizational identity – or worse, potential backlash.
When the University of Michigan College of Engineering began its new strategic vision, outlining a path for the College to move from “great” to “best,” it was critical that consistent and strategic communications be deployed to ensure success. Two years after initial deployment, I engaged in a strategic communications assessment research project to evaluate how progress was being made, and whether or not a gap remained.
When Dr. Alec D. Gallimore began his tenure as Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering in June, 2016, he did so with more than twenty years at the College – along with an ambitious goal. In his assessment, the College was already a leader, but it needed an extra push to achieve the recognition it deserved, and empower its students, faculty and staff to reach greater heights. He engaged top leadership and external advisors to lay down a vision: to become the preeminent College of Engineering serving the common good. The accompanying mission and set of twelve values were not a reinvention of the College, but instead “a clear path” for explaining who it was to the world.
Over the following year, Gallimore’s leadership team, supported by the efforts of the Communications and Marketing office I ran, articulated the new framework to its stakeholders. To achieve this balance of moving towards a strong vision while maintaining its values and mission, it was critical that the College was intentional and strategic in its mode of communicating to internal stakeholders.
Two years after launch, I undertook an assessment of how the College was communicating to its community about its vision, mission and values, and identify whether a gap remained between the College’s vision as defined by leadership and the awareness or adoption of that vision with the College’s employees, namely faculty and staff. This assessment focused on three research questions:
- Is the College effectively communicating its vision, mission and values to its employees?
- Does the College’s vision, mission and values inspire its employees?
- Do the College’s employees believe leadership is creating an environment to encourage goals or progress towards the vision or mission?
This research was undertaken to provide College leadership with a snapshot of progress, as well as a benchmark and mechanism for measuring change over time. It identified where knowledge or alignment gaps exist, and specific actions could be taken to address them.
The assessment was conducted in a highly transparent process, sampling a large swath of the community. To ensure we captured the experiences of all College faculty and staff, we reached into the academic departments, administrative units and research labs to create awareness of and participation in the assessment. A mix of clustered and clustered stratified sampling methodologies ensured a mix of demographics and roles were represented, in particular around position and reporting unit.
A mix of both quantitative and qualitative data was generated to provide information about what people are aware of, how they perceive of or feel about it, and why. It included:
- An all-employee survey to gather a large amount of quantitative information
- Individual interviews to understand more about the behaviors, feelings and sentiments of individuals
- Observational diaries to identify the communications network where the vision, mission and values are and are not present
In an effort to bolster efforts meant at aligning and expanding the College’s mission, vision, and values with its employees, the study has identified where knowledge or alignment gaps exist, and specific actions can be taken to address them. Specifically, these include:
- Increased frequency of shorter, mission-specific communications to all employees
- Utilization of email, verbal and visual/physical communications as primary mechanisms
- Identifying specific mission phrases and providing real-life examples of individual employees or groups making progress towards achieving them
- Providing consistency and guidance through templated language and tools
- Further examining departments and units with higher reported examples of touchpoints, understanding and relevance to identify specific actions other under-performing groups could undertake
- Engaging in two-way, receptive communication with faculty, with follow-up to ensure they feel a sense of buy-in and commitment
- Evaluating incentives and rewards, both providing mechanisms for celebrating daring behavior and communicating around those activities that are bold
- Creating culminating communications pieces to clearly articulate progress and implementation successes
Because no dedicated office or individual currently exists to facilitate internal communications at the College, introducing a resource whose role it is to identify opportunities and make recommendations for improvement would be conducive to achieving these goals. This individual could be charged with crafting and reviewing materials, spot-checking regular communications and providing resources to ensure ease of consistency across all units, departments and groups. They could also be responsible for internal communications overall at the College, helping to ensure policies, programs and employee information are disseminated thoughtfully and consistently to increase overall awareness.