Engage with your stakeholders more effectively – stop talking about communication!


Guest blog by Fran Bodley-Scott, 25th August 2016

Editorial note: I came across Fran in my work for the APM Enabling Change SIG. She has developed an ‘ABCDE’ model for communication, which she offered to coach me on in support of a publication that we are preparing.

ABCDE logo for shaping communications, from Fran Bodley-Scott

ABCDE model for shaping communications, from Fran Bodley-Scott

I was very impressed by the effectiveness of this model at taking us through a structured process for thinking about our stakeholders and how we would engage with them. It’s a model that I think would help any line or project manager plan their communication activities. I asked Fran to write something about her approach. This is what she wrote…

Communication plays a big part in the ability of managers and teams to influence others.

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Managers and their teams don’t operate in an isolated world. They operate in and are influenced by their environment, and the ability of the team to deliver services and benefits depends on their ability to influence other people (their stakeholders). Partners, suppliers, sponsors, clients, experts and operators need to be engaged, persuaded, informed and supported. So, communication plays a big part in enabling a team to perform effectively. Unfortunately, poor communication can throw all sorts of spanners in the works:

  • Information can be misunderstood or interpreted in different ways depending on an individual’s expectations, assumptions, bias, prior experience or what’s going on around them. Making assumptions or not asking what people understand can result in confusion and mistakes.
  • Too much, too little or complex information can create a barrier to productivity: people become disinterested in working with you leading to delays, duplication of effort or poor quality.
  • A report can go unread, or a business case be rejected simply due to the way information is presented. The subsequent rework, delay and loss of confidence add cost and risk to the project.

Poor communication continues to be an issue

Poor communication costs money and impacts the team’s ability to be effective. This is not new: people have been saying it for years and yet it continues to be an issue: why? I believe there are three fundamental reasons:

‘SOS’ – sending out stuff: We’ve become accustomed to thinking of ‘communication’ in terms of output not outcome. Communication is defined as a two-way process of reaching a mutual understanding, yet discussions about communication frequently centre on what’s going to be produced: a website, a brochure, an email, a newsletter. People leap straight into writing content before considering who it is they need to reach and why.

Complexity: Communication is actually quite complicated. There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account even for something as seemingly simple as getting a yes/no answer from the client. Without enough information about who you’re trying to engage with, it can be easy to overlook key issues that may help or hinder.

Difficulty: Communication also involves a number of different skills. An individual’s ability or confidence can affect whether they perceive ‘communication’ as an opportunity or a problem. The challenge of using social media, creating a video or emailing a senior executive can be a barrier if they feel they don’t have the skills, lack the time to work it out, or don’t want the risk of making a faux pas. If it’s not a priority for them, communication will just not happen.

Focus on attitudes and behaviours rather than communication.

So, if you want to improve the effectiveness of your team, my recommendation is that you stop talking about ‘communication’! It puts people in the wrong frame of mind and introduces all sorts of problems. Be confident about this: the raison d’être of your team is not to do communication. Focus instead on what attitudes and behaviours you need people to have and exhibit in order for your team to be successful.

Here are three simple steps to get you started:

  1. Measure outcome not output: Output is a measure of the team’s activity, what ‘stuff’ has been sent out. Outcome considers how effective the activity has been, whether the intended objective has been achieved. Choose criteria that help you understand how your activity has performed. For example, instead of a tick-box that checks whether a brochure has been received, evaluate how well the information provided has been understood, the level of confidence about using a new process, or motivation to change behaviour.
  2. Create solutions not challenges: Make it easy for the right messages to reach the right people at the right time. For example, provide team members with ready-to-use messages and guidelines for different platforms; format data to integrate automatically with another team’s process so that cascaded information is accurate and consistent; facilitate client feedback by being visible, accessible and flexible.
  3. Be audience-led not technology-driven: Instead of simply doing what’s convenient (eg. sending an email) or what everyone else does (eg. social media), take time to consider who it is that you need to reach and the most effective way to impact their behaviour or attitude. For example, seeing the finished product can influence confidence and commitment much more effectively than receiving a picture via email.
    “If the best way of reaching and influencing your audience is to stand on a box with a loud hailer, do that.” Stephen Hale, Head of Digital at the Department of Health

About the Author:

Fran Bodley-Scott is passionate about helping individuals and teams use communications effectively to achieve business goals. As a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Marketer Fran’s approach is both customer-focused and systematic, applying core marketing principles and the ABCDE communications process in order to drive business performance.

Her company, Marketing In Control Ltd, provides training and coaching in communications effectiveness and stakeholder engagement, as well as consultancy and marketing services. If you are interested in talking with Fran about your project, email scottf@marketingincontrol.com.

ABOUT THE EDITOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

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