Change initiatives often meet with resistance. Many people find the idea of change unsettling, especially when it leaves them asking questions that can’t be answered until the end of the project. Knowing this, communicating effectively with everyone affected should be seen as a key aspect of managing a change project.

Taking a structured approach to managing communication with stakeholders should help you get people engaged. This will help to streamline the implementation of your change programme and maximise the likelihood of it resulting in sustained improvements.

Because truly understanding the stakeholders of your change initiative is absolutely paramount in developing that communications plan, we’ll share with you the 5 powerful questions we go through with our clients.

But first, a step back…

Before we do that, we invite you to take a step back and ask yourself: Have you already mapped out a well-rounded overall picture of the stakeholders of this change?

To do that (something we call “Stakeholder Mapping”), you might want to consider the below:

1. List all those who are directly or indirectly involved in the change initiative. They are your “customers” of change.
2. The stakeholders may be internal (eg staff and contractors) or external (eg employees of partner organisations and actual customers). It will generally be easier to keep in touch with internal stakeholders so, in theory, they’re likely to be more in the loop. Communicating with external stakeholders may involve complications like scheduling challenges, which can make it more difficult to build up a dialogue. However they are less likely to be caught up in the politics surrounding the change.

3) Prioritise your “customers” of change by their influence on the change initiative. Highly influential people MUST be involved in discussions and meetings to decide the direction of the project. They will feel overlooked if they are not consulted, which could have a negative impact on the dynamics of the project and dent progress. It’s a good idea to spend some time anticipating the needs of the highly influential people, so you can respond to them quickly and efficiently.

4) Further classify them by whether they are likely to be supporters, detractors or on-the-fence. This measure needs monitoring on a regular basis, ideally weekly, because supporters can be put off by something as small as a comment in a meeting. Consider what you might do to reduce the risk of this happening and to boost overall support and keep this in mind for your communication plan.

Tailoring your communication plan using these 5 powerful questions

Having done that, you now have a clearer view of the various “customers” of your change initiative. Answering the following 5 powerful questions for each category of stakeholder will help you gather the information you need to develop a workable communication plan.

1) What effect will the project have on them?
Consider whether the success of the project would benefit the party or not.

2) Will they be openly supportive, negative or ambivalent?
Ideally you should aim to identify vocal members of middle management who are supportive. They’re in a prime position to share their views with their direct reports as well as senior leadership.
Without the support of this group, it will be difficult to proceed, so make sure to consult with them throughout the project.

If you identify people who you suspect will speak out against the project and try to block progress, you should consider ways to get them on board. At the very least you should make sure they feel listened to and taken seriously.

3) What are their expectations and how can these be managed?
You can gather this information through interviews, brainstorming or surveys.
If it emerges that expectations are straying from the reality, you need to be ready to identify why this is and how to manage it.

4) How will you communicate with stakeholders?
How will you keep stakeholders informed about progress?
Email updates? Formal briefings for managers so they can cascade information down to their teams? Town hall meetings? And how frequently will you communicate with them?
It’s important to ensure consistency in your communications to avoid mixed messages creating confusion. This needs good internal team alignment, so informal chats by the water cooler don’t lead to Chinese whispers.

5) Who would be the best person to interact with the stakeholders?
It might be that different people will be best suited to communicating with different stakeholders. Who communicates with who may be dictated by the company culture, and how hierarchical it is.
However it will always be important for the project manager to liaise directly with the CEO, or the most senior change champion behind the initiative.

Ensuring effective two-way communication
Taking the time to go through this exercise could be CRUCIAL to the success of your change programme. Miss this step out and, however big or small the project may be, the chances of failure will be higher.
Ideally coming up with the answers to the questions above and drawing up the communication plan should be a team effort, to avoid conflict and confusion further down the line.

The key message – communicate regularly with the right people in an appropriate way and ensure they know that the team managing the projects is open to feedback. And as the project progresses, make sure everyone on the team keeps an ear to the ground, so you can respond quickly if supporters become unhappy for any reason.

At Renoir our team has accrued years of experience in running change initiatives. Stakeholder management is just one of the tools in the Renoir Toolkit that helps to ensure the success of every project we work on. Why not get in touch to discuss how we could help you embed change more successfully within your organisation?