Four Steps for Ensuring Effective Stakeholder Communications

April 16, 2015

How many times have you received an email or meeting request that caused you to wonder, “Why did I receive this, what is expected from me, and why should I care?” Unfortunately, this kind of poor communication happens on a daily basis inside many enterprises. Failure to effectively define expectations and communicate “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM) can derail a project quickly.

The following four steps will help you build a communications plan that allows for proper tone and focus:

• Create a core message that captures the intent and purpose of the project
• Identify the unique attributes of your audience
• Tailor the messaging to be efficient and meaningful to your audience
• Deliver the message in the best manner

Step 1: Establish Your Core Message
Once the ink has dried on the SOW, it’s time to begin thinking about the true purpose of the project. At The Shelby Group, we use the Project Charter as a means to capture the core purpose of the initiative. The core message defines the reason for the project and its business benefit.

Once established, your core message can be tailored for specific audience segments to address their unique interests and concerns.

Step 2: Identify Your Audience
Let’s examine a typical Sourcing project with 3 different Stakeholder levels:
• Executives
• Business and Process Owners
• Sourcing and Category Managers

Each level is different and will require a different approach. Why? Let’s look at what makes each one unique.

Key Executive Stakeholders are the most influential members of a project and identifying them is one of the most important first steps; this level of stakeholder is critical to maintaining governance and emphasis on a project and, most importantly, the final sign-off on the results.

Business and Process Owner Stakeholders own the relationships with vendors and will be very sensitive to any changes that impact their vendors.

Sourcing and Category Manager Stakeholders are typically involved in the day-to-day aspects of the project. This level is critical to managing project details.

Now that the key Stakeholders are identified, you need to apply some analysis to fully understand what motivates them and how they define success.

Step 3: Analyze Your Audience
Stakeholder analysis aims to identify the level of influence, project expectations, and motivators – both internally and externally.

To begin, list your Stakeholders and conduct any research you may need in order to classify them by their influence over the initiative, motivations, and their definitions of success.

Your research can be informal, such as via a phone call, email or a chat near the coffee machine, or it can be more formal, whether in Stakeholder meetings or in-person interviews. Try not to make assumptions about your audience. The purpose of your research is to test and iteratively improve your understanding of their influence, motivations, and definitions of success for each Stakeholder group.

Step 4: Tailor Your Message
Tailoring your message is a two-part exercise:
• Messaging based on Stakeholder attributes
• Communication methods and techniques

A key Executive Stakeholder identified as having influence and power should receive messaging focused on results, risks, and metrics like ROI. Techniques could include face-to-face briefings or updates at key project milestones, with a low frequency of occurrence. The term “Executive Summary” is appropriate here.

Business and Process Owners are concerned about what they can expect from the future state – how will their job be different? How will the vendor relationship be different? How will the end user react to the changes? The messaging here should address day-to-day progress and identified risks. Techniques include weekly status updates with one-on-one discussions to determine escalation points. Most importantly, the messaging and techniques to this group will give them a sense of ownership and leadership of the project while you maintain influence on escalations to the executive level.

Sourcing Managers will be comfortable with the concepts of Strategic Sourcing and risk/opportunity assessments, so framing your communication within those familiar concepts helps the audience easily digest the message. Techniques will include semi-weekly meetings, informal phone conversations, and formal delivery presentations.

The important thing to remember is to keep information continuously flowing to ensure focus on the core message, project goals, and progress.

It is not enough to just have a communication plan. It is also critical to seek and understand what your Stakeholders’ desires are, both spoken and unspoken. The expectations must be meticulously managed from beginning to end. Every team and project varies in its rate of change, so pick the most advantageous communication channel, frequency technique, and leverage the Stakeholder’s attributes to ensure desired impact. Just as having a plan is important, monitoring its effectiveness and adjusting accordingly will ensure successful communications.

For more information about our Procurement Optimization services, contact us at

Charles Barlow
Manager, Procurement Optimization