Within business communications, the newest buzzwords of “strategic communication” continue to leave some asking, “What exactly is this stuff?”

Practiced and honed within the U.S. government for several years now, the plainest definition of strategic communication (or StratComm) is: “A series of words, actions and images designed to achieve a desired effect.”

As an overall strategy, everything should flow from your company’s strategic communications plan: marketing, advertising, public relations and internal communications.

It also must be:

Leadership driven: Managers at all levels must not only embrace the culture of StratComm but ensure that messages and actions flow downward.

Carried out by everyone: It’s important to note that while StratComm starts at the top, it’s carried out by everyone. If the president is giving a chamber speech but the sales or delivery teams aren’t representing the company well, then that’s damaging to your brand.

Credible: If your company’s mission statement values employee satisfaction but management doesn’t strive to keep morale high, then there’s a “say-do gap,” or the difference between what is promised and actually delivered. This also applies to external communications; keep true to your company’s messaging and branding.

Dialogic: As with social media, this means a true dialogue with those you’re trying to reach. This usually means more listening than talking.

Understanding: Communicators must really learn about their audience – whether it’s an employee, prospect or customer – and how cultural differences might color the perception of received messages.

Persuasive: Every single action sends a message. Even more important, the lack of communication also sends a message, and an audience will fill an information void with speculation. (This is one reason why every company, regardless of size, should have a crisis communications plan.)

Results-based: Key is working toward an effect, and then ensuring results are measured. Do employees feel valued? How do you know? Does your communications plan tie into sales goals, or are you just Tweeting about last night’s dinner? Without some level of metrics, you’re just throwing darts at a board.

As you read this, perhaps some of it seems obvious. Perhaps your company is doing pieces of the standards listed above – if so, that’s a good thing.

But it’s also imperative to think both “big picture” and in detail. Communications continues to evolve rapidly, and a smart, thought-out plan should be considered a valued component of your company’s path to success.

If your company isn’t practicing strategic communication, it should be.