A few weeks ago I shared a case in which Morris got into a tangle with his internal communications project. Like him, there are many initiatives which run aground and many which soar high. Consider these two.
- Tanmay has worked tirelessly on the launch of an employee communication platform and is looking forward to going live shortly. His attention to detail, the user experience study and program planning has been impeccable. Just as he is about to communicate the launch, he is informed that a couple of his stakeholders don’t believe the platform is ready and aren’t aligned on the timing. Tanmay is shaken by this news and he is unable to fathom how they can put a spoke in the wheel at this crucial juncture.
- Eliza is about to introduce the diversity chapter for her company and is gearing for the large event planned. Realizing how many stakeholders are involved, she does her groundwork months ahead of engaging with each stakeholder, gaining agreement, and influencing those with mismatched expectations. She ensures they know what to expect and will be present at the launch. With all parties on the same page, her chapter is launched with much fanfare and she is feted for a brilliant performance.
Do the above cases resonate with you? Have you seen others experience these situations?
As internal communicators, almost every day we are involved in painstaking hard work that expects us to present, seek views, align expectations, incorporate feedback, move forward, share updates, and demonstrate results. These micro actions are parts of the broader process we undertake to get work done and add value to the function and the business. In essence, selling our work to internal stakeholder and sometimes, even external ones. What’s at stake if the work isn’t ‘sold’ right? Your personal credibility, your team’s respect and the organization’s goals can take a beating.
Very often, the act of selling your work involves understanding human relations, appreciating differing points of views and converging ideas to make a coherent pitch that works for all. Not always, will everyone be satisfied. Although by taking people along the journey and involving them in the process can go a long way in ensuring your campaign or project sails through. There isn’t any point putting in months of hard work only to see it getting derailed or hijacked by stakeholders who weren’t onboard with your approach or direction. A bit of investment upstream can reduce your angst downstream.
So, how does an internal communicator tread this often-treacherous path of partnership and mutual success?
- Build trust in your expertise: People value domain experts and no matter how strong you may be in multiple areas of work, your deep skills will always hold you in good stead among stakeholders. You obviously can’t build these overnight – it takes enormous effort, commitment, and practice to hone your skills. When you are viewed as an expert, there is less resistance in heeding your recommendations, even if there are numerous points of views.
- Know the landscape: The internal environment can be a minefield of scheming elements, one-upmanships, egos and dominating personalities. Overlay that with the ongoing ebb and flow of business changes and varied expectations based on competition and you have a tough environment to navigate. Spend time early and often in identifying who are central to influencing projects and who can be your advocates vs whose perspectives need to be managed. It is a fine balance and yet important if you want your project to succeed.
- Listen intently: There are many signs and triggers which will give you a sense of how your work and you are perceived. Not every stakeholder will be vocal with you and even direct. You may get to hear it from other quarters. By engaging in active listening, you will be able to decipher, what is often unsaid. You will know what stakeholders are proud of and what they are afraid and anxious as well. Getting underneath the issues can help you get you moving forward and at pace.
- Close the loop: No one wants to be surprised. Anytime during their engagement with anyone or in any project. Rather, they would prefer to be delighted! Keeping stakeholders aware of the progress, risks, opportunities, bottlenecks – and what you and others you collaborate with are doing to keep progressing with positive intent. Share updates consistently and with rigor and you will gain credibility.
- Go over and above: Be curious and seek new thinking while you work on internal communications projects. Don’t limit it to the people who are accessible – often, those who you haven’t met before can throw new light on your programs. If you approach an assignment as a task that needs to be completed, your impact will be minimal. However, if you expand your thinking beyond what is asked of you, you not only will benefit from newer approaches but also build strong relationships that will help you in the future. Your proposals and pitches will be sound and solid, and people can see the difference in the value and outcomes.
For all the numerous, abandoned internal communications ideas and projects that lie strewn across organizations, the ones which see the light of day are those which are sold to stakeholders. Selling is what we do everyday at work and beyond. There should be no shame or guilt. Influencing decisions and steering projects are different from being ‘salesy’ when the offering is without substance.
What are your thoughts?