Regardless of what your role is communicating to your leader, stakeholders or employees is so crucial for succeeding with your tasks. Or making a career. If no one understands why you are doing what you are doing, and how it’s going. How could they support you or engage in your missions?!
In this post I will have the approach from a project- or program leader perspective, but the structure and tools are probably just as applicable and valid for you as an employee with good ideas and intentions, or a leader that want to implement true change in your teams or organization.
If the stakeholders involved, or employees in your team, understands why you are doing things and understands what and how you are going to do it, without having to ask you for information, they will most definitely support you more. Your internal “brand” will get strengthened and your initiatives will have much higher engagement and success.
When you start up your mission to complete a task, whether it is a very high-level strategy plan or more simple things that you would like to improve, you start with listening to your stakeholders. Of course, more extensively the more complex the task is. This is so that you truly understand all the angles of the issue, and not only that one opinion of your key stakeholder, or your own truth which could be bias if you haven’t yet fully understood the big picture of the task. Please note that “stakeholders” could also be external i.e., customers that are affected by what you’re up to.
I usually start interviewing my key stakeholder and ask who else I should talk to. I am particularly interested in meeting people who are in charge. After that I book 1-to-1 meetings with these people, about 30-45 minutes is usually enough, and very often you get hints of other people you should also talk to. In a large organization this could become a quite large list of people, but I would say that this is a very well invested time in the beginning of a new task. Especially if it’s complex or you are new at the position.
At these meetings you will have the opportunity to communicate who you are and what you are up to, you build a network of important people that gets to know you and your mission. You create trust from these people by being a good listener, showing that you want to empathize with what their needs and thoughts are. You have now started to create engagement in your initiative and mission to improve something. These stakeholders will probably want to follow the progress from now on.
Sit down, look back at all your notes and analyze if you see any clear patterns, so that you can build a first version to communicate back of what the task is all about. Usually, you find it quite fast as stakeholders often think the same even though they don’t think they would. Compress it as much as possible, the big picture of the mission (your why) is more important than the details, even though the details will help you later, it won’t be clear enough if you include details at this stage. Put it together and communicate it back to your stakeholders, not only that one key stakeholder, but all of the stakeholders that you have interviewed. This is a check-point and feedback session to see if you got things right and hopefully get their thumbs up.
This way you show the people, that are important for the initiative, that you have listened to them. That you understand the problem. If you don’t get “full thumbs up” you will have the opportunity to fine-tune it with their feed-back.
Now you have the purpose of your initiative and by communicating and listen to their eventual feed-back, you keep their engagement.
Now it is time to make the plan of how the mission, of making things better, is going to be realized. Whatever task you are up to the purpose of making plans is to make something better, however big or small, these tasks of continuous improvements are so important, and you can use the same toolbox for it just in different scale.
When you do the plan in how you would achieve your mission, it is basically about what you are doing and how it is going to be done. At this stage you can be more specific and detailed in your communication in who is going to be involved, what they will be doing and how it will work. A good advice is to use the plan as a guiding star but with an agile approach, you will often bump into things and learn as you go, so the plan needs to be adjusted to be valid over time.
If it is a project, program or larger initiative I usually set up at “Business Reference Group” in parallel with the traditional Project Steering Group or Business Owner check-ins. This works particularly good in large organizations when you need to engage and involve a lot of stakeholders. The group should consist of people with business-know-how who you need support from, to reach the expertise and engagement needed to succeed. The people involved in this group is best appointed by the head of their business unit or department. That is why I particularly wanted to interview people in charge when starting up the initiative. Doing that you get the management commitment at an early stage. They understand that this is an important mission to accomplish, and they understand the purpose of it. That way they are often willing to appoint relevant and good people to represent their departments.
During your initiative communicate regularly to your key stakeholder, the Business Reference Group, the Management teams and all of the initial stakeholders that were interviewed in the beginning. Why? Of course, to keep them well informed and engaged in the initiative. The effect is that it will give your initiative focus, commitment, engagement and contribute to true change when done.
From now on you have the “forces with you” and of course all eyes are on you, but that is a good thing and nothing to be afraid of. Go with the flow you have created, if something goes wrong (which it does sometimes) communicate that clearly and your mitigation plan. I’m sure you will have very good understanding and sympathy from your stakeholders, why things went wrong, as you have accomplished to build a high level of trust and understanding by now.
At all times show that you are open for feedback or questions, that you want to continue listening to your stakeholders.
To summarize what I’ve tried to share in this article, I have created a few points:
Sometimes I think people overdo it, makes it to complex so that they can’t keep it up. Set the structure and keep it simple. You will create a strong network of engaged stakeholders that will support and help you succeed in your mission. True change is made.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have feedback or questions. And good luck in becoming a communicative leader in your daily work, it will engage your surrounding and make every day at work so much more fun.