You’re starting a new project and things are looking good. You’ve got your senior management team on board, you know who your stakeholders are, and all that’s left is to go ahead with your plan. Right?
Well, not quite.
If you want to succeed long term, then it’s important to create a strategy for effective stakeholder communication to take you through the weeks and months ahead.
The relationships you build with your stakeholders are just as important as the ones between you and your senior management group or your clients. Negative stakeholder relationships often lead to project delays, confusion, and expensive revisions.
Fortunately, we have some great tips to share for your stakeholder communications.
- Start Communicating Early
It’s helpful to start conversations with your stakeholders as early as possible, so you can begin developing a sense of trust. The more your contacts hear about project updates and issues from you, the less likely it is that they’ll get their news from the rumor mill instead.
Create a transparent image of your company by making a list of all the stakeholders that you need to engage in the early stages of a project.
Reach out from day one with an introduction. Then create a schedule for how you plan to deliver feedback over time.
Although you might have to have a few impromptu conversations with stakeholders when things in your project change, it’s most beneficial to have set times when you follow up. Making the decision to send a weekly update even when nothing major is happening will set expectations for your contacts going forward.
- Be Honest and Consistent
Transparency is essential to effective stakeholder communication. A good relationship with essential contacts is built on a foundation of trust. It’s impossible to create that trust if you’re not being honest with your updates.
Even if something doesn’t go according to plan, you’ll want to avoid making the mistake of trying to sweep it under the rug.
Although your stakeholders might show some disappointment when you tell them that something has gone wrong, they’re far more likely to stick with you if they believe in what you say.
These strategies will help you to maintain effective communication with your stakeholders:
- As well as maintaining a constant stream of honesty, ensure that your communication feels consistent.
- Back your messages up with statistics and graphics when possible to make information more accessible.
- Stick to the same tone of voice so that your shareholders can feel more familiar with you.
- Communicate Often, Listen Always
As mentioned above, it’s advantageous to have a schedule in place that allows you to connect with your stakeholders often.
Do pay attention to how frequently these contacts ask questions and request more information, however. What feels like a regular back-and-forth for you might be too slow for them.
When a shareholder reaches out to you, respond with a quick acknowledgement, if nothing else. This will demonstrate that you’re accessible and available to answer their questions.
Ensure that your stakeholders can tell that you’re listening to them!
If a stakeholder offers a suggestion on how you can change something in the project, avoid just saying “thanks” while ignoring their input. Take the insight seriously and discuss it with your team.
Respond by letting them know how your team responded and how you’re going to implement what they’ve suggested into your plans going forward.
If you don’t think the suggestion is a good idea, explain why and offer an alternative. This will help stakeholders to feel like they’re collaborating in the project, rather than just being informed about what’s happening.
- Experiment with Different Kinds of Communication
Different people prefer to communicate in different ways. Some of your stakeholders might like to be kept up to date with regular emails or messages over WhatsApp. Others might prefer a more intimate face-to-face discussion with you and your team – even if that’s delivered over a video conference.
Give your stakeholders more than one way to get in touch with you and allow them to choose what fits best for them.
Although it might feel more time-consuming to organize video calls at the end of each month with all your team leaders, a happier stakeholder is worth investing in.
Be aware of the people in your contact list who would rather not be so deeply involved with the feedback process too. Busy professionals might prefer to give quick ratings or send brief messages over SMS, rather than getting into a full phone conversation.
- Be Flexible
Finally, remember that stakeholders are people. Since all human beings are different, the strategy that works with one group might not work with the next. Being flexible in your strategy for communication will help you to build better relationships with a wide range of people, no matter what their preferences might be.
Pay attention to the information that your stakeholders give you about your communication process and listen to any complaints or concerns they might have.
As you learn more about each other, there’s no doubt that your relationship and ability to communicate effectively will evolve.