Change Agents are often asked to draft and deliver specific messages as a part of stakeholder communication.
Whether a given communication event will take place by sending an email, posting website content, releasing a video or conducting a meeting, it’s easy for the details to fall through the cracks without proper planning and diligence. Hence today’s advice for Change Agents:
Change Agent Tip #38: MASTER Communications.
Today I’ll offer a quick way to remember six critical components of effective stakeholder communication. Stick to these six cues and you can MASTER the art of reaching the people who will be most impacted by your change.
Of course, M.A.S.T.E.R. is an acronym – and here’s what it helps me remember to do when planning change-related communication:
Message – Audience – Sender – Timing – Entree – Reinforcement
M – Message - Ensure your message is clear, complete and concise. What are the key points that your message needs to communicate? Is there a critical event coming up that people need to attend? Are you updating the status of an important project or an on-going initiative?
Consider what the receivers might need to know about your topic and balance brevity with richness of content. Make sure everything they need to know is included while keeping the message as short as possible.
Outline the message before drafting it and be sure to review it with a few stakeholders before it goes out to ensure it makes sense.
Consult your stakeholder map so you don’t miss anyone. Also, decide if there are groups or individuals who don’t need this particular message.
Sometimes over-communicating to a given group can lead them to ignore other critical message due to sheer information overload. If you don’t believe me, read my recent post on email ground rules or try including “Company-All” on the CC: line of your next few emails and see if you get a reaction…
S – Sender – Decide who the message should come from. Who is the best person, group or entity to send the message? If your change has a clear Executive Sponsor, it can be useful to leverage them as the “voice” of your change.
Maybe your project has a steering committee or a management team that should speak for the initiative. Is the Project Manager, Product Owner or Lead Researcher the right person to send this particular message? Choose your senders carefully and choose them consistently.
The consistent use of appropriate senders can reduce confusion in your stakeholder community and reinforce the sense of alignment for your change.
T – Timing - Consider when the message needs to be delivered. Do you need to allow lead time for stakeholders to perform some task or prepare for some event? Is there such a thing as sending this message to early or too late?
Should your message “piggy-back” on the monthly newsletter, be added to the quarterly company meeting or be includer in the weekly client update? Should it be released as a stand-alone message?
Finally, avoid communication “black holes” and steer clear of times when stakeholders will probably not be tuned in. For example, sending a critical message out late on Friday afternoon before a 3-day weekend might not get much attention or action!
E – Entree – Carefully leverage the best channels to reach your stakeholders. How will your content enter their span of attention? What communication channels do they listen to regularly? Do they read email? Does your organization have a well-read newsletter? Could your message be cascaded through a series of staff meetings?
Consider videos, websites, posters, bulletins or anything that has worked well to reach people in the past. Consider that different people may pay attention to different channels so mix it up a little by trying channels which haven’t been used before. The newness of the delivery method might be enough to get their attention!
Choose your channels wisely to optimize your communication resources. Consider sending the same message down multiple channels just in case people pay attention to different communication “entrees”.
R – Reinforcement – Plan to gather feedback and reinforce your message based on that feedback. Even the most effectively-delivered message needs to be verified and reinforced. The best way to verify that your message was received to to gather feedback as directly as possible.
If your stakeholders are close by, you might walk around and ask people how clear the message was or how well it addressed their need for information. (I call this the water cooler gossip method) If your stakeholders are more spread out, you may need to reach them through web-based surveys, targeted phone calls or by tapping into your network of change champions in the various locations to gather feedback more directly.
Remember that listening to feedback implies that you’ll do something with it, so based on the results of this feedback, you may need to fill in gaps to reinforce any parts of the message that were not well-understood. Another component of reinforcement is to follow up on a given communication through repetition just to keep the most important aspects of the message in the front of your stakeholders as your change approaches.
Summary: Stakeholder communication is so important to successful change that it needs to be consistently effective. MASTER the process I’ve described above and you’ll be on your way to focusing your valuable time and attention on the other critical parts of your role as a Change Agent.
Questions for Chatter
- Which of the six elements of communication have you found to be the most critical?
- Have you experienced the case where the right message was sent to the wrong stakeholders or vice versa? How can Change Agents recover from that mistake?