In the article Six Tips To Deal With Resistance to Change we mentioned how in order to drive change effectively, project leaders must communicate up, down and sideways and increase support through relationships within their network, in order to help ease the transition process and ultimately, move the business forward.
This week we will look at communication in more depth – in the context of how important it is in successful strategy execution.
There are many reasons why it can be difficult to communicate effectively with people in positions higher than us – but with communication being more critical than ever to business success, it is more important than ever to be capable of it.
How we communicate involves what we say, how we say it and the way we use body language to say it.
Simple tools to prepare ourselves include anticipating questions, pausing before answering to collect our thoughts, how we present ourselves and our materials as well as facial expressions and the physical connections we make like handshakes and eye contact.
Some of the biggest challenges to effective communication include the following:
- Lack of a plan: effective communication requires forethought, especially when the target is an executive audience that you don’t regularly speak to
- Not understanding your audience and their communication needs: to ensure your messages get through you need to put them in a context that matters to the executive. To do that well, you need to be able to see things from their perspective, not yours.
- A confused or unclear purpose to your communication: you need to be clear why you are communicating and what you expect from the executive.
- Poorly structured content: without correct context and organisation, the executive will miss – or worse – misinterpret your message.
- An inability to empathise with the C-suite: understanding the C-suite’s perspective helps create the right context and builds trust that makes your communication more effective.
- Poor audience engagement: effective use of verbal and nonverbal communication will help ensure the executive hears you
- Failure to evaluate communication effectiveness to gather lessons learned: effectively communicating up is a life-long journey. It’s important to take time after key interactions to step back and evaluate how well you did and document lessons learned.
It is also very important to learn about the person you are trying to influence by understanding:
- What their title or position is
- What their usual communication style is (direct, spirited, systematic, considerate)
- What their business perspective is (strategic, operational, interpersonal, personal)
- What their current level of knowledge/understanding is
- What information they require
Three Purposes of Communication
You will also need to determine which purpose your communication falls into out of the following:
Inform – the anticipated outcome is to share knowledge. No action is expected of the receiver. No deadline or time frame is required
Persuade – the anticipated outcome is to change attitudes to effect an action. The executive may or may not take the action, depending in whole, or in part, on the strength of the communication
Direct – the anticipated outcome is to initiate an action. The outcome can be measured by whether the action occurred. Usually, a deadline or time frame is stated explicitly.
One you have determined the essential information you need to communicate, based on the executive’s current and required knowledge, think through the risks by considering how you will answer any potential objections and correct any misconceptions.
Always keep the executive’s perspective and your purpose in mind, and develop a brief list of the main ideas you want to convey and the order you want to convey them in. Check your notes to ensure you avoid acronyms, jargon and other language that could be a barrier to the executive’s easy understanding of your message.
Empathy and Communication
Finally remember that empathy is essential to effective communication. The more you can understand and share the C-suite’s perspective, the more you can communicate with context and vocabulary that executives can relate to. Empathy is also essential to building trust with any audience.
Four key ways to achieving empathy are:
- Consideration of the C-suite’s knowledge, perspective, time pressures, goals, etc
- Understand why they have the perspective they do
- Reflect on what it must be like to be that executive
- Express your understanding of their perspective in what and how you communicate
As a final preparation, before you begin ask yourself if you have sufficiently:
- Defined the outcome, measurement and timing of your purpose and analysed the executives you will be speaking to
- Organised your content
- Identified risks and determined your responses
- Understood the executives’ perspective, expectations and potential questions
- Practiced – by focusing on all that you are communicating, not just what you say
In addition to the above, using examples to illustrate key points, asking for clarification on details and inviting questions to confront concerns will all help – as will documenting lessons learned including what worked well and what you would do differently next time.
For more on how project leaders can use effective communication to create the conditions that allow everyone to take risks, try new approaches and, if necessary, change direction (something which is now essential in today’s volatile and complex business environment) read our previous blog: The Impact of PMO Communications on Delivering Strategic Objectives.
Strategy Execution has responded to the current VUCA business environment by launching the Adaptive Strategic Execution Programme in partnership with Duke Corporate Education. For more on VUCA, and the skills that help project leaders and their teams navigate unpredictable waters, read the article, Navigating Ambiguity – Using Performance Multipliers to Enhance Team and Project Results