Communication Strategies for Stakeholders


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Stakeholder management involves everything necessary to control relationships with all the individuals a program has an impact on or affects to ensure the achievement of the program’s objectives. One of the primary concerns for any program manager should be stakeholder management, as it is an ongoing process that is never completed.

Our Guide to Stakeholder Management walks you through this critical process:

Part 1 of 6: Identifying Stakeholders
Part 2 of 6: Assess the Stakeholders’ Power
Part 3 of 6: Build Stakeholder Relationships
Part 4 of 6: Build Relationships Among Stakeholders
Part 5 of 6: Communication Strategies for Stakeholders
Part 6 of 6: Lead the Stakeholders

Part 5 of 6: Communication Strategies for Stakeholders

Effective communication builds and establishes trust. Although consistency in communication with stakeholders is the goal, it is equally important to meet with each stakeholder and find out what his or her communications needs are. Also, you need to identify how each stakeholder may want special communication (face to face or by telephone). With high-level stakeholders you should also identify who they want you to communicate with when they are unavailable. Define for the stakeholder ahead of time the criteria for special communication. Program or project emergencies and items of political significance may warrant special communication with the customer.

Take care to avoid or minimize specialized regular briefings of stakeholders who are outside the regular communication process to minimize duplication of effort or to imply favoritism. Therefore, prearrangement on report structure, frequency, and format at the beginning of the stakeholder relationship is advantageous. The program manager should strive for a common structure for all stakeholders and avoid giving stakeholders too much detail.

Milestones are important communication opportunities for dealing with stakeholders. The program manager should start communicating the status to the stakeholder well before the milestone. The goal of the pre-communication is to eliminate any possibility that the stakeholder will be surprised by something at the milestone review and assure that he or she is adequately prepared for the review and the sign-off of any deliverables associated with the milestone.

The following are actual communication techniques that help in delivering information:

  • Whispering. It is always appropriate to whisper bad news or significant information to a stakeholder. By whispering I mean communicating to the stakeholder the needed information under casual circumstances before the information is publicly or widely known. Whispering means you intentionally bump into the stakeholder somewhere. To do this effectively, you need to know the stakeholder’s habits and/or schedule. Knowing where stakeholders parked as well as their arrival and departure times always gives me many opportunities to casually bump into a stakeholder. Whispering also is very important when you need to prepare stakeholders for a negative risk event that may happen. Letting them know ahead of time about the potential event, your plans to prevent it, and how you will deal with the consequences if it occurs minimizes any negative reaction and/or response when the event actually occurs. When stakeholders accept or add to your plan for the risk event, it becomes a shared risk; this minimizes the likelihood of stakeholder overreaction if the risk event materializes. Additionally, a shared risk establishes a positive framework for development and/or execution of the contingency plan to deal with the materialized risk.
  • Cheat sheets. High-level stakeholders may manage a multitude of tasks and issues concurrently. Therefore, it is often difficult for them, or any other human for that matter, to keep abreast of every activity. To make it easy on them, provide a cheat sheet before major meetings. After you provide it a few times, you will find that they will start to ask you for it. On the cheat sheet, include bulleted succinct information about major issues, including any questions they should ask at the meeting and the anticipated outcome and/or purpose of the meeting. This cheat sheet typically should be no more than half to three-quarters of a page long and should rapidly bring them up to speed on key items. Cheat sheets are a means of providing condensed and concise information to stakeholders throughout the life of the program, thus minimizing a lot of issues that often arise from miscommunication and speculation.

Stakeholder management involves building effective relationships and constant communication to keep programs on track and successful. WorkOtter helps you keep stakeholders informed of important project status and build collaboration between those involved in the program. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can help you build your stakeholder relationships.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.