3 rules of successful stakeholder communication

The way we communicate can make a big difference to stakeholder engagement. Many professionals, especially those working in specialist sectors like finance, accounting and IT, can no longer rely solely on strong technical skills. Increasingly, the ability to communicate with a broad cross-section of stakeholders is seen as an essential skill. There are good reasons for this. Research has found that stakeholder communication is a key factor underpinning successful project management. On average, two out of five business projects don’t achieve their intended goal, and 50 per cent of these failures can be traced back to ineffective stakeholder communication. Figures like these highlight the value of developing a well-planned communications strategy, and following three core rules for stakeholder management can help your message hit its mark.

Rule 1: Know your stakeholders

Identifying and understanding your stakeholders gives you a better idea of their likely position on any message you deliver, and this is instrumental in shaping what you say and how you say it. Bear in mind, stakeholders may be both internal and external – and each group can have different attitudes towards your message. Internal stakeholders may include colleagues, senior managers, department heads and possibly even the Board of Directors. External stakeholders are likely to be a more diverse group comprising shareholders and other investors, banks and customers as well as suppliers, and also government and possibly non-government organisations.

Rule 2: Use the right format and timing for your stakeholder communications

The timing and communication channel you use can be critical to the success of your message. Online mediums like emails and website notices are useful for reaching a wide audience in a timely (and low cost) manner. But for interaction and engagement it’s hard to go past face-to-face communication in the form of meetings, presentations or seminars. These options also offer the additional advantage of allowing immediate stakeholder feedback. When you have determined which type of communication is most appropriate, strengthen the odds of making your message a success by working out the timing that works best for various stakeholders. Consider the most appropriate days to get in touch, and think about whether key stakeholders would prefer a recurring meeting for catch ups or a more informal, ad-hoc approach.

Rule 3: Less is more

No matter which stakeholders you are addressing, good communication has one significant characteristic. It provides need-to-know details rather than nice-to-know information. So keep your stakeholder communications short, sharp and to the point. The more senior your stakeholders are, the less time they have to read your communications. And, many stakeholders will be bombarded by multiple messages each day. Make your communications stand out by making them easy to read and only supply necessary information. If you need to include extensive detail at any stage, add a “what you need to know” summary at the top of your message. Taking the time to tailor your messages to senior stakeholders can be more costly than a one-size-fits-all message. But it’s likely to be a good investment. Customising your stakeholder communications offers a valuable advantage - you will grab and retain the attention of people who matter, and ultimately, that’s what effective communication is all about.

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