When I audit communications teams and functions for organizations, a crucial part of the process is leading informal focus groups with key stakeholder groups. In almost every case, I encounter team members from different departments who are frustrated with each other because they are not fully aware of changes before they are implemented.
Make your internal staff and stakeholder team the first stop on your communication plan.
Every new launch brings some type of change or transition along for the ride, which is why stakeholder engagement is a crucial ingredient for success. Here are some healthy tips to keep in mind if you’re serious about being an effective advocate for people affected by the change of your launch. (And, if you’re serious about your launch being successful.)
- Share inside scoop. Before you get too far down the road with specifics and “no-turning back now” decisions, let people know what you’re working on. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers and, for Pete’s sake, don’t make any promises. Just foster a conversation about the big idea. In the process, you’ll discover what kinds of questions people ask, what kinds of fears arise and what ideas you may have overlooked. You don’t have to use everything you learn, but the more data you gather on the front end, the better.
- Give people something to champion. If you can’t articulate the real, common source of pain this launch addresses, it will be hard to sell the need for anything new. Your winning talking points are only about the things that matter most to everyone, not the things that matter most to you. Talk about the real problems this launch solves, practically what’s at stake and why the change curve is worth it.
- Don’t waste their time. When it does get closer to launch date, people don’t need an exhaustive report on the full project with every detail in the user guide, every feature on the site or every milestone in the campaign. Make their day with the “need to know” highlights about the biggest wins and the biggest changes we’ll be facing together. In no more than 5 bullets (email) or 5-10 minutes (face to face meeting), walk through a high level overview of what to expect when and where. Save the real demo and more “under the hood” specifics for inquiring minds at a future show and tell. Pro tip: food is always a crowd-pleasing incentive for the follow-up. Consider hosting an open house Q&A brunch with donuts or a lunch and learn with pizza.
- Stay curious. Even when you think you’re done, you’re not. “That’s a wrap” is a magical unicorn; you’ll never catch it. In the eleventh hour, or even after launch, continue to make space for formal (and informal) feedback. You don't have to solve everything in the conversation, but demonstrate your commitment to your stakeholders by actively listening and making room for their voice. Ask a lot of questions and take a lot of notes.
Stakeholder engagement is 80% emotional/relational. And, without it, there’s 80% your plan will fail before it even begins. If you’re getting ready to do something new and want a successful launch—don’t miss this—you’ve got to set your internal team up well with inside scoop and space to be heard.