One of the most important skills for any Internal Communications professional in a business environment is stakeholder management. Influencing senior managers and leaders is essential if you want IC to be a credible business function that supports and shapes strategy and messaging.
One of the difficulties for IC practitioners is that being positioned at the heart of the business you can often be in the middle of conflicting agendas and priorities. This can create issues where you can be trying to translate conflicting messaging into a consistent narrative.
As Internal Communications as a profession has evolved senior stakeholders are becoming more open to using the IC function to translate complex messages. This has real benefit to an IC practitioner as it creates a holistic view of what is happening across a business; it really empowers you to tailor your communications to drive the priorities and objectives of a business by bringing the entire narrative together.
One of the critical tasks for an IC practitioner is to act effectively as the business diplomat to ensure conversation between stakeholders. A common example of this is when the people agenda which is the driver behind engagement can be in direct conflict with cost and commercial pressures; creating a real risk to your engagement strategy.
Sitting between HR (people) and Marketing (commercial) an IC practitioner can have a unique insight; it is an insight that can be used to guide stakeholders to a solution that works well for the business and suits all parties.
This example is just a micro-issue where an IC practitioner can act as the conduit to resolving business conflict. To do this effectively you need to be able to elevate IC to a level where it seen as a credible business function by stakeholders.
In all businesses there can also be rogue stakeholders; those that don’t buy into change or the strategy and may work in isolation. These are the critical stakeholders to engage as one rogue stakeholder at a senior level can have a real impact on overall engagement and culture where silo working becomes an issue.
I have found that the key to effective stakeholder management is to shape your approach to your stakeholder. It is essential that senior stakeholders feel that you are listening and acting on issues specific to them. It is important to be a credible adviser and to avoid falling into conflict; there are occasions where the best ‘communications’ solution will not always be embraced. It is important to stand your ground, but on occasion to take a step back and look at the solution from a different perspective.
Regular meetings with your senior stakeholders are vital – without the insight from the key players in the business it is difficult to give strategic solutions. Positioning yourself right at the heart of the operations and developing relationships is the fundamental key to being an effective stakeholder manager. Getting yourself invites to operations briefings and meetings, trying to get a regular slot at leadership meetings are all effective ways of being pro-active in managing stakeholders.
In my experience effective stakeholder management is becoming the key skill to building a successful IC function and engagement strategy. It is also about making business stakeholders better communicators, and working with them to develop a consistent narrative.
Stakeholder mapping is a really effective tool to use in defining who your stakeholders are; besides the business leaders there are key managers within a business where a strong relationship will really elevate your status.
When developing a communications or engagement plan it is a really useful exercise to sit down with key stakeholders and talk them through the rationale. Taking your stakeholders on the journey with you gives you a head start when trying to drive change.
For the IC practitioner of today, stakeholder management and diplomacy are arguably two of the key skills required in addition to technical communications expertise.