Communicating to engage

28th June 2022

Communicating to engage

 

A common topic of conversation when it comes to change programmes is that of communicating.  It’s crucial to ensure that stakeholders are kept informed of what is happening, and there is typically a juggling act to ensure that the right people get the right information at the right time.  Announce a change in process too early, and it will either be ignored or cause unnecessary angst.  Announce it too late, and people won’t have time to get up to speed.

Although these issues are often seen to relate solely to communication, perhaps a different angle that warrants consideration is engagement.  In the vast majority of cases, a programme team will be communicating in order to engage. Of course, the level of desired engagement might vary significantly by stakeholders—end users might provide detailed requirements, whereas a sponsor might want only high level updates unless a major issue is detected.  By thinking of engagement alongside communication helps in building a more holistic engagement approach.

Engagement, of course, starts by being engaging.  It’s important that we understand who our stakeholders are, the level of interaction we want from them, how they perceive the proposed change (whether they have a positive or negative view) and so on.  In many ways this could be thought of as ‘audience analysis’; we are deliberately seeking to understand our audience so that we can communicate and engage in a way that works for them.

 

Getting Beyond The Noise

This is particularly crucial as stakeholders tend to be busy people. It wasn’t that long ago when the only practical way of getting an urgent message to someone was by going to see them, or by phone or fax. Now information flows around organisations so quickly that we all swim in a sea of noise. Whether it’s those instant messages that are pinging away, the emails that are accumulating, the new pages on the Intranet that you are supposed to have read or the actions that have been assigned to you on a collaboration platform… there is an awful lot to focus on! It will be the things that are compelling that will get priority attention.

When planning communication, it is worth thinking about what they (the recipients) want, as well as what we (the sender) wants.  Let’s imagine that an organisation is in the early stages of planning a process and IT change. This will result in call centre workers needing to use a new system and there will be a short amount of system downtime during the transition.  The call centre managers are already aware, but there needs to be wider communication amongst the team. When planning to communicate and engage with the call centre team, we might conclude that:

 

What the sender wants (programme team) ●      Ensure the call centre team are aware that change will be coming

●      Identify ‘superusers’ who can help define detailed requirements

●      Help identify volunteers for business acceptance testing

●      To open communications channels generally so the team know they can raise concerns (so they can be addressed)

●      Try to ensure as many people as possible are ‘on board’ with the change

What the recipient wants (call centre workers & managers) ●      Understand how this impacts me

●      Understand when the change will happen

●      Understand how I can be involved

●      Be reassured it does not result in major job change, organisational change or job losses

●      Be reassured that my input will be taken into account

●      Be reminded when any downtime will be so managers can plan around this

 

A short exercise like this can help crystalise the purpose of the communication & engagement. This can be enhanced by considering factors such as channel, depth & formality.

Channel: There are many channels available in a typical organisation: You could send an email, make a phone call, send an instant message or even send something in the regular mail. You could arrange a meeting or send a short pre-recorded video walkthrough or even voice message. Deciding which channel works best for the stakeholder, and whether to communicate synchronously (e.g. a meeting)  or asynchronously (e.g. an email or pre-recorded video message) is important.

Depth: How much information does the person need? A 50 page report might work well for some stakeholders, others might prefer a 1 page email summary. Others might prefer a quick Q&A, or even a visual ‘explainer’ that highlights the key points. Diagrams and visuals are an excellent way to communicate and engage too!

Formality: How much formality is appropriate? If a contract is being sent between organisations, then formality probably needs to be very high. If a couple of user stories are being discussed by colleagues, its likely that less formality is needed. In situations where less formality works, quick sketches on a virtual whiteboard might be entirely appropriate.

 

Communicating & Engaging Rely On Feedback

Finally, it is worth highlighting that both communication and feedback require a two way interaction. If there is no feedback at all, then messages are being ‘broadcast’. The danger here is that they might not be received, if they are received they might not be read/actioned, or they might be misunderstood. It’s important to ensure that there’s a clear and respectful two way channel open for communication to get back to the sender too.

If these factors are taken into account, and if empathy and engagement are kept front-of-mind, communicating becomes easier. With better engagement and communication, better relationships are built, and with key stakeholders on-board, hopefully any foreseeable project pitfalls are avoided!

 

by Adrian Reed, Business Analysis Expert