Simon Gawthorne

Simon Gawthorne

September 2018

Portfolio Management| Blog

Getting heard: 5 essentials to avoid turning off your stakeholders

In the world of projects, programmes and PMOs we often make elementary mistakes in the way we communicate with our stakeholders. We just don’t think about it enough – and it is free of charge to think a bit harder and smarter!

Inevitably, the outcome we are all trying to achieve when we engage with our key stakeholders is pretty consistent:

  • “Engage with this programme, it needs your help and support”
  • “Listen to our problems, you are a catalyst for the solution”
  • “Prioritise your resources – doing the job on time is a critical success factor for delivery”
  • “We need your confidence and momentum behind us”

In this context, it seems strange that we often present a one-dimensional picture of the project and hope that everyone will ‘buy in.’ This 'picture' might typically be in a slide pack or a PID or, even worse, a ten page Programme Charter that 90% of senior Execs won’t go near and are likely to exhale groans and moans of displeasure as these formats are circulated to ‘read and approve’.

It's an interesting way to approach selling your ‘story.’ If you were to go into a restaurant and a waiter told you what THEY think you want – how would it make you feel? You're essentially offering a menu with one dish on it and hoping everyone will not only like it but also want it.

People tend to prefer to be asked questions by someone who demonstrates empathy and aligns with what they really are looking for, and then positions the solution to match your individual needs.

Returning to the exec team, each key stakeholder has different agendas comprised of different personal and business objectives as well as different things they relate to or get ‘turned off’ by. Yet so often programme communications that are aimed at multiple key stakeholders are delivered from a single, generic slide deck or text document which has been produced by the programme manager.

It's therefore to look at your target stakeholders and start to formulate a communications plan for each. Here are 5 common errors to avoid if you want to get your key stakeholder on board:

1. Misunderstanding their personal drivers

Take time and leverage knowledge from people who know them to understand who they are, what they like, their personal and business drivers and their preferred style of communication.

This time investment will cost you nothing yet understanding what they want, what they like and how they operate will be highly lucrative. It will also make it much easier to sell them the story that will get them bought in and supportive.

2. Feeding them the wrong food

If your exec is focused on revenue growth rather than cost saving – reposition the story to focus on growth. If they worry about their personal ‘political’ position in the company then concentrate on how your project can help them and protect them.

 3. Serving them the wrong crockery

This is where getting to know your execs' preferences is vital. If they respond best to a chat over a coffee or even a quick conversation in the corridor, then don't waste their time and yours by sending them a two-page project report. If they like concise, snackable information, don't present them with a 200-line Gantt chart, offer them a visually engaging flight plan.

4. Telling them not asking them

Telling execs what you think they want to hear is a sure-fire way to kill their involvement and engagement in your projects. Ask them questions that offer you information about how to manage them most effectively, to get what you want! 

These five steps will help you think harder and smarter about how to get your exec team on board and help your portfolio of projects thrive.

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