4 stakeholder communication tips for CIOs

4 stakeholder communication tips for CIOs

This digital age presents great opportunities for chief information officers (CIOs), but with those opportunities comes unprecedented challenges. The rapid evolution of technology means businesses are disrupted more than ever before, and if CIOs hope to guide their organisations safely through such disruptions, one of the many skills they require is leadership. As Gartner writes in their report entitled Leadership in the Digital Age, “CIOs will need to become technology-savvy business leaders, much more than business-savvy technology leaders.”

A big part of being a business leader is having the ability to initiate and deliver ambitious change management projects, but, according to a survey by EY, nearly 40% of CIOs said that a lack of support from the executive management team was a huge barrier to their effectiveness. And without complete buy-in from management and employees, the project will be doomed to failure.

That’s why stakeholder engagement is critical.

Here are 4 top tips for engaging stakeholders, and turning doubters and sceptics into project champions.

1. Start with a clear vision

If you want to win the support and trust of your stakeholders, you need to be able to speak confidently and authoritatively about the project. So before you talk to a single stakeholder, you need to be sure you have all the facts and data that you’ll need to answer any hairy questions that are thrown your way.

Having a clear vision, and being able to communicate that vision with conviction, will go a long way in helping you to influence stakeholders.

2. Know your stakeholders inside and out

As well as having a clear vision of the project outcome, it is also crucial to have a thorough understanding of all your stakeholders. For each stakeholder, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is important to them? Every stakeholder wants to know, “What’s in it for me?” Be sure to frame the project to them in a way that addresses their needs, values, and fears.
  • How can they contribute to the project? Will they be heavily involved in the implementation? Can they get other stakeholders on board by voicing their support for the project? Be sure that the stakeholders have the resources and information they need in order to benefit the project.
  • How can they block the project? Being prepared for potential roadblocks early on can help you to mitigate them if and when they arise.
  • How will I engage them throughout the process? Would a formal presentation or a less formal discussion work best? Is a weekly email enough to keep stakeholders updated, or is a meeting more appropriate? Consider how much information the stakeholder requires, what their time constraints are, and what their communication preferences are.

It can also be useful to analyse your stakeholders using a matrix, to help you map the stakeholders in terms of their influence/power and interest. Those that rank as high in both categories are obviously the most important stakeholders, and are therefore where most of your effort and your attention should be concentrated, the ultimate goal being to turn them into project champions. Those that rank as high in just one category are still important, but require less attention. Those that rank as low in both categories only need to be generally informed and monitored.

Stakeholders engagement matrix

3. Communicate and collaborate throughout the process

Stakeholder engagement remains important throughout the project, so communicate and collaborate early and often. (The Agile software development methodology lends itself particularly well to this mindset.)

Stakeholders who have been involved from the start, and feel like they have made a significant contribution to the project, will be more likely to support the project in its implementation.

Making yourself available for feedback regularly throughout the process is also important for stakeholder engagement, as it gives stakeholders an opportunity to voice any concerns they may have. By showing you are listening carefully to these concerns, and dealing with them in an appropriate manner, you can help to breed trust, which, again, will make stakeholders more receptive to the project. This can also be highly beneficial to the project itself – don’t forget, your stakeholders bring valuable experience, expertise and perspectives to the table, and they may be able to flag important issues early on, so they can be dealt with in a timely manner.

Inevitably, there will be some stakeholders that will have responsibilities directly related to the project. Rather than simply assigning tasks to these stakeholders, give them the space to be innovative and creative, while also giving them clear expectations and parameters within which they can work. In short, try to balance accountability with empowerment – remember, stakeholders who feel empowered will also be more likely to drive adoption.

4. Be prepared for conflict resolution

In every project, there is always some degree of conflict, and this applies doubly so for ambitious projects. Let’s face it, change is hard, and while some might see the business benefits, others will be more concerned about day-to-day disruptions, intrusions into their “turf” and subsequent loss of control, or having to adopt entirely new ways of working.

It’s important to try to nip these issues in the bud as early as possible. (Your stakeholder analysis should prove especially useful at this point.) Work directly with the stakeholder to try to resolve their issues in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on the progress of the project or on other stakeholders. Be positive, courteous and professional at all times.

It may transpire that, despite everyone’s best efforts, an agreeable resolution cannot be reached. In this case, you’ll need to sit down with the stakeholder to discuss the reasons why that is the case, keeping the focus of the discussion on the project’s business outcomes.

Making every effort to listen to and accommodate stakeholders will help to ensure their buy-in once the project goes live.

Be a leader, not a follower

With their technological expertise, CIOs have a prime opportunity to take their businesses to new heights, but in order to seize these opportunities, CIOs need to be willing to initiate disruptive projects. By prioritising stakeholder engagement, and turning sceptics into champions, you can give your project every chance of success.

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