To access power and resources leaders must effectively communicate how their plans and projects will contribute to the organization’s performance and shape its future success too.
To communicate Business Impact executives are armed with detailed forecasts, vision statements and fancy slide decks. All this is great for engaging senior management, as well as the board and the shareholder/investor audience. However, there is a vital dimension that often gets overlooked.
The business case is the rational economic justification for a project or initiative. It has a clear and simple logic (shown in image 1). But there is more to decision-making than the business case. It is personal too (Image 2)
Business Impact is key, but leaders often forget that a business is made up of people – that means they must address the people impact too.
Leaders talk about why their initiatives matter to the business, but often neglect to talk about why they matter to the people involved. The result is a focus on the items on the left of the table, with little attention to those on the right.
|Matters to the Business||Matters to the People|
Speed & Agility
|Job Security Pay & benefits |
Status, Recognition & Appreciation
Learning & Personal Growth
Rewarding/Meaningful Work (e.g. Exciting Projects)
Working with interesting people
Social Connections / Friends at Work
Pause for a moment to reflect on the above table and answer the following questions:
To communicate a rise in business performance or shareholder earnings is not enough. These may mean little to the majority of people who will be involved in or affected by a strategy or initiative.
People have heard it all before and are rightly suspicious. When they hear business benefits, they think people costs. Indeed, most of the business language used to describe the benefits of strategies and initiatives have the potential to trigger negative reactions and emotions. For example, when people hear ‘efficiencies’ or ‘productivity’ they think ‘job cuts’. Thus, as business leaders talk about their initiatives, people can become fearful and go into protective mode.
The question is: Are you using any words that can generate anxiety or fear? Check against the list of words on the left-hand side of the table above. Are there some words that you are over-using?
Most people are naturally going to be more concerned about the impact on themselves, rather than on the business, its over-paid senior management, and faceless shareholders.
It is natural that people will tune into WIIFM that is what’s in it for me. If they’re going to make sacrifices they have to see an upside. To bear sacrifices they have to know that others are making sacrifices too – that those asking for the sacrifices to be made are making the same sacrifices too.
To paraphrase a former English Prime Minister ‘people are more concerned with what is happening in their garden than what is happening in the country or the world’. This is clearly evident in organizations. The implication is that sponsors need to talk about what is happening for people at the ‘garden fence’ level!
There may be 20,000 people working for the organization, but we really only know and care about a small proportion of that number. The most important is our immediate group of colleagues and friends – those whom we work with most closely – our unit, department or team.
Talking about the organizational impact of a strategy or initiative therefore often misses the mark. For most people the local impact of any strategy or initiative matters most.
For every initiative there will be winners and losers. There will also be those for whom the impact will be neutral. So, break your audience into these 3 groups and adapt your approach accordingly. You will be hoping that some of the people who think that they are in the loser group, could with more information, be moved to some other groups.
Even those who are likely to be overall winners may have some misgivings. That is because fear of loss can be more powerful than the prospect of gain. People often spend more time counting their losses than their gains! They will likely need your help to see that they will indeed be better off.
Chances are people are going to have to let something go. To leave something behind or make some change as part of your strategy or initiative. They may have to:
Discover what it is that people fear letting go of and why.
People have heard it all before, so they are going to be skeptical. Is it your job to convince them? Well, go slowly. Sage project sponsors have learned to listen and understand before going into ‘selling mode’ on their projects.
When people are ‘in the dark’ there anxieties and concerns grow. Thus, sharing information is essential.
Letting people talk about their hopes and concerns is a vital first step. That means showing that you are genuinely interested and that their concerns matter. This is an exercise in perspective taking – in stepping into the shoes of others. It requires a certain degree of empathy.
Almost every strategy or initiative has talent implications in one way or another. Calling these out as part of your strategy is important. So too is integrating your initiative with the HDR strategy. For example, what are the implications for people’s development paths, skills development initiatives, and so on.
It is essential that you engage your people in a dialog around what a strategy or initiative means to them – will it help them:
It is essential to engage with people’s genuine fears and concerns. It is not about reaching for the loudspeaker, but rather engaging with and listening to people.
You may be thinking where am I going to find the time to do this? The project team is already likely to be maxed-out in terms of doing the work now there is this additional task communications and marketing challenge as well. The question is how much time will it cost if you don’t do it?