3 rules for successful stakeholder communication

By Robert Half 23rd May 2017

Effective communication with stakeholders is one of the key drivers for project success. Getting buy-in from the right people can mean a well-oiled, smooth running and well-funded project. Making progress without the engagement and support of the right people can be like pulling a snow sled without the help of an enthusiastic pack of huskies.

Not all stakeholders are created equal though. Even with the best communications strategy in the world, some stakeholders will always be harder to handle than others and they will require decidedly stronger people skills. Unfortunately often those who fall into this category are also the most important ones to have on your project’s side.

Studies have shown that poor communication is a primary factor as to why projects fail.  According to the Project Management Institute, ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.

Don’t let your project be part of the death toll. Here are the 3 rules of successful communication which will help to ensure your project always has the buy-in it needs to succeed.

Rule 1: Know your stakeholders

In order to make friends with and influence your senior stakeholders, you absolutely must understand how your project looks from their perspective. This first step requires some sleuth-like investigation to discover what is important to them, what their priorities are and how your project impacts them. It requires some initial groundwork but, ultimately, if you can link your project to their strategic context,they are far more likely to get involved and be your project’s biggest advocates.

Rule 2: Communicate using the right format at the right time

You must also take time to figure out how your senior stakeholders prefer to receive communications. Do they prefer telephone calls or emails? What are the best days to get in touch with them? Would they rather you schedule a recurring meeting for catch ups, or receive updates on a more informal, ad-hoc basis? This is perhaps the most simple and obvious step but unfortunately it is one that is often missed.

Related: How to develop effective communication skills

Rule 3: Less is more

The more seniority your stakeholders have, the less time they’ll have to spend reading your project emails. Your senior stakeholders are busy people, so make your communications easy to read and only send them the information they need.

Always tailor your messages to senior stakeholders; don’t just send them the same message you send to the rest of the project team. If you want to grab and keep their attention, your communications to them should be crafted specifically for them; addressing the things you know they will be interested in (see Rule 1).

If you do need to provide lots of detail, include a “what you need to know”summary at the top of your message and be very clear about whether or not a response is needed if from them.

Related: Find out the top 5 deadly project killers

Attention is a two way street

The theme of these simple but important rules is customisation. Senior stakeholders require a little more attention than your average stakeholder. Your communication to them shouldn’t form part of your generic communication plan – senior stakeholders need their own customised schedule, their own communications and a separate communication strategy. In order to do this successfully and keep their attention, you must first and foremost understand what makes them tick and how they operate.

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