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There’s a knack to good communication with internal and external stakeholders.
Humans are creatures of communication, so you would think we’d be pretty good at it. It turns out we’re not.
A recent survey by project.co found that 89% of participants thought effective communication was important. No surprise there. But, 8 out of 10 of the same respondents rated their own organisation’s communication average or poor.
Challenge yourself to improve the standard of your communication with internal and external stakeholders because there are real benefits when you get it right. Effective business communication is proven to translate to better business performance.
This article gives you five tips for effective communication with internal and external stakeholders. Find out how to identify key stakeholders and why you should set communication goals.
We’ll also cover the form of language it’s best to use and the importance of feedback.
What are Internal and External Stakeholders?
A stakeholder is a person or group with a vested interest in something. Investopedia has a clear definition worth quoting, which describes the term’s usage in a business context.
Internal stakeholders are those ‘whose interest in a company comes through a direct relationship, such as employment, ownership, or investment.’
External stakeholders are anybody ‘affected somehow by the actions and outcomes of the business. Suppliers, creditors, and public groups are all considered external stakeholders.’
Internal and external stakeholders are important people. They are your colleagues, customers, and suppliers, and you interact daily with many of them. The results of those interactions impact your business either for good or for bad, depending on your communication’s quality.
1. Identify and Profile Your Stakeholders
You simply don’t have enough hours in the day to treat all of your stakeholders the same. Fair or not, some stakeholders are more important and valuable to you than others. So start your new approach to stakeholder communication by identifying and profiling them.
The identification step is simple enough; list all of the people and organisations you and your team interact with.
Separate them into internal and external stakeholders using the definitions above, then place them in the relevant quadrant on the power/interest matrix shown below.
For each stakeholder, decide whether they have a high or low interest in your activities. Then, rate the stakeholder on the power they hold in relation to you.
Those with high power over, and a high interest in, your actions are your key stakeholders. They’ll likely be senior executives, big customers, and major suppliers. They’ll need regular attention with thoughtful, planned messaging.
Stakeholders with low interest and power are those that you need to keep an eye on and only communicate with when necessary.
The stakeholders that fall in the remaining two sectors need to be kept in the loop. They need enough communication to keep them satisfied and informed.
2. Establish the Goal For Your Communication
Establishing a communication goal helps you to better shape your message. The end goal will determine the words, format, and the medium you need to use.
There are many different types of business communication goals. Here are some examples:
- Raise awareness of a situation,
- Provide knowledge in a report,
- Shape attitudes around you, your department, or the whole organisation,
- Attract sales from customers,
- Support a policy position,
- Change misconceptions about an incident.
Suppose you are trying to change a commonly held viewpoint about your department. In this situation, the goal of your communication is not to simply state information. It’s instead to persuade the recipient that the view they have isn’t correct.
Your communication goal helps you choose the best words and select the right medium to use. Plus, if you set a clear goal, you can measure whether you’ve met it or not.
Set a timeframe for your communication goal so you don’t lose ground amongst your other priorities.
Lastly, a communication goal can be an iterative process: it may take several messages to reach your aim.
3. Choose Your Communication Medium
Choosing the best medium for communication is vital. You waste time when you pick the wrong medium for your message. Don’t opt to give a pointless presentation when an email is a better choice.
Communicate with your stakeholders in a manner that’s appropriate, relevant to the interaction, and is respectful of their time.
Ways of communicating with stakeholders today:
- Instant chat,
- Reports and presentation decks,
- Memos and notices,
- Zoom meetings,
- Face-to-face meetings (remember those!).
You need to select the best format for each interaction, making sure it’s appropriate for where your recipient sits on the interest/power grid.
If you need to remind a junior team to complete a report, a quick internal chat message does the trick.
But if you want to secure a contract with a prestigious business, you’re going to need multiple touchpoints.
4. Communicate Your Message Concisely and Clearly.
Before you start communicating, think about what your audience already knows and where their knowledge gaps might be.
In some situations, recapping information for stakeholders wastes time and lowers productivity. If your audience already has a good understanding of the context, you can confidently launch into the ‘meat’ of your communication goal, transmitting your message more concisely.
Consider the language you use when communicating with stakeholders.
Either way, aim to keep your language clear and easy to understand. Dense impenetrable business language is abstract and hard to follow.
When you use phrases like ‘leveraging efficiencies’ or ‘providing inspiring environments’, you may feel that you are using the language and terminology of business. In reality, you make your message harder to understand.
Take a lesson from Winston Churchill who said—
“To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.”
Make life easier for your stakeholders by using plain language and concise communication.
5. Monitor Feedback and Follow Up
Part of effective stakeholder communication is monitoring feedback and following up on your message.
If you’ve planned your stakeholder communication properly, you will have set a goal. Now’s the time to see if you have met your goal.
Follow up your communication to judge if it’s been received correctly, and use the opportunity to correct any misunderstanding or provide further detail.
Following up helps you to adapt your future communications. Over time, you can improve interactions with your stakeholders and become more effective.
Email and telephone calls are commonly used to follow up, but there are alternate ways of seeking feedback. Consider sending feedback surveys to your stakeholders following pivotal communications.
Internal colleagues are usually happy to provide feedback, and external stakeholders can respond to a polite request if you make the survey process quick and painless. For the unvarnished truth, anonymise your survey responses so survey recipients know that they can be open and honest.
The most important thing about following up and feedback is that you act on the responses.
Follow up, seek feedback, and act upon it.
Improve Your Stakeholder Communication with Automation Software
Building bridges and understanding how to communicate with stakeholders is an invaluable skill and is important to the overall project success. If you would like more information on how to improve your communication with stakeholders then feel free to get in touch with Swift Digital.
Swift Digital works with a number of public and private sector companies – including Government organisations, Universities and Utility companies– to improve their communications and stakeholder management.
Do you need help communicating with stakeholders? Or want to improve your stakeholder management process. Here at Swift Digital, we provide email automation services that can help facilitate your stakeholder communications and help to improve your stakeholder relationships.
To find out how your business can get the best out of Swift Digital’s platform, contact our team today on 02 9929 7001.
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