Strategic Thinking in a Tactical Environment- Living the Comms Dream when Faced with the Comms Reality

By Kennedy Soileau, Chief Communications Officer at Washington State Health Care Authority

When I first came across this sketch by communicator Hel Reynolds, I laughed out loud. Never in my career had I seen my professional struggle so articulately and humorously displayed.

We can all relate. How many times a week (or a day) do you hear one of these statements?

  • “We need a fact sheet.”
  • “…an infographic.”
  • “…a funny meme.”
  • “…a video.”
  • “…our totally obscure and niche program to be a household name.”

We often find ourselves working at a pace that requires us to be both tactical and strategic. It can be challenging to balance these two aspects of our work, but there are strategies to stay focused on the big picture while still delivering on the day-to-day needs of the organization. Here are some tips for strategic thinking in a tactical environment.

Treat the tactical request as a starting point rather than a one-off.

When you receive a tactical request from a colleague or stakeholder, it can be easy to view it as a one-off task that needs to be completed quickly. However, it’s important to treat each request as a starting point for a broader conversation. By taking the time to understand the context behind the request and the underlying goals and objectives, you can begin to develop a more strategic approach to their communications needs and goals.

Don’t assume the proposed tactic is wrong.

When someone comes to you with a tactical request, it can be tempting to assume that their approach is wrong or misguided. However, it’s important to approach each request with an open mind and a willingness to learn. By asking questions and seeking to understand the rationale behind the request, you can often uncover valuable insights that will help you develop a more effective communication plan.

Rather than push back, ask questions.

When faced with a tactical request that doesn’t align with your strategic objectives, it can be tempting to push back and insist on a different approach. However, this can often create friction and damage relationships. Instead, try asking questions that will help you better understand the underlying goals and objectives. By doing so, you may be able to identify a more effective approach that will satisfy everyone’s needs.

Not all tactics need a communication plan.

Finally, it’s important to remember that not every tactical request requires a full-fledged communication plan. While it’s important to maintain a strategic focus, it’s also important to be flexible and adaptable. Sometimes, a quick email or phone call may be all that’s needed to address a tactical need. By being selective about which requests require a more comprehensive approach, you can avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary planning and paperwork.

I often share Hel Reynolds’ sketch with my colleagues because I never want them to feel like they’re failing if their world more closely resembles The Comms Reality.

Staying strategic in a tactical environment isn’t easy, but it’s essential for long-term success. By treating each request as a starting point, avoiding assumptions, asking questions, refocusing actions, and being flexible, you can balance the needs of the present with the goals of the future.

Kennedy Soileau is the HCNW President-Elect for 2024 and the Chief Communications Officer for Washington State Health Care Authority. Kennedy leads strategic communications for the Washington State Health Care Authority. Her team helps tell the story of the innovative programs and initiatives that aim to provide equitable access to high-quality, high-value care. 

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