Communicating with Training Program Stakeholders
The modes of communication you use and how you conduct meetings and presentations impacts the level of stakeholder engagement.
Choose Communication Methods
One of your first steps in starting a new training project is identifying the training program stakeholders and what drives them. Once you know who the stakeholders in your project are, think about how you plan to communicate with each of them. Each stakeholder will have their own styles and preferences. However, there are some fundamental principles and practices that, if followed, will help to keep your stakeholders engaged and committed.
Consider, firstly, the direction of communication. Your choices range between one-way communication at one end of the spectrum to two-way dialogue in the middle to multi-way interaction at the other end. One-way communication is particularly well suited to the conveying of facts or information to large numbers of people quickly and efficiently. Email, text messaging, newsletters, notice boards, and so on, all do this job well. However, with little to no opportunity for clarifying, questioning or offering an alternative perspective, these methods are not well suited to developing mutually beneficial relationships.
It is possible to engage in a dialogue with these methods of communication; however, the dialogue is not in real time. With other events and matters needing attention between responses, the conversation can quickly become diluted and pushed into the background. Relationship building becomes secondary to more pressing priorities. Remember, for your training project to succeed, you will need to develop genuine training partnerships with your key stakeholders based on mutual respect and understanding.
Real time, two-way dialogue is better suited for relationship building, especially where the nuances communicated via body language and voice are able to be interpreted by both parties to the conversation. Where the relationship is new or the decision to be made is critical, meeting face-to-face is superior to telephone contact, which is superior to instant messaging, for precisely this reason.
One-way methods are notoriously problematic in conveying respect, sincerity, importance and urgency; all of the nuances that make a difference to whether something gets done or not. Emailing a prospective training participant that their attendance is essential is not quite the same as looking them in the eye and emphasizing how important their learning is to the company growing their customer base.
Consider creating a Program Communication Plan that records the communication requirements for each kind of stakeholder. A documented communication plan will help you track the who, what, where and when of your stakeholders' communication needs.
Two-way dialogue gives way to multi-way interaction when three or more people get together. Such meetings can be for the purpose of:
- enlisting support for the project or training program
- kicking off the project or training program
- social interaction to smooth working relationships
- making a joint decision about the project
- delegating responsibilities and tasks
- mutual problem solving to overcome a project roadblock
- debriefing after the completion of a project phase or a part of the program
All of these kinds of meetings can be used to forge and develop genuine partnerships. They are an excellent means of solving problems and getting everyone on the same page in the quickest amount of time possible. Allow time for interaction before the meeting starts so that people can get to know each other and start to become comfortable in each other's presence. Ensure that everyone is introduced at the start of proceedings.
Get Your Point Across
Where you present to the group using a software presentation package and data projector, ensure that the presentation slides do not become the centerpiece. Keep fancy effects to a minimum and limit the number of lines and words on the slides to what is absolutely necessary to convey your meaning. Do not read the slides aloud when your audience can read the slides for themselves. Reading the slides while participants are reading the same words simply confuses their audio and visual perceptual pathways. Use pictures, charts and diagrams in place of words where these clarify or illustrate what you are saying. Keep text to a minimum and project your personality and enthusiasm. People want to buy into you, not a fancy presentation.
Meetings can be face-to-face or, if geographical distance is a challenge, you can arrange a video conference or a web conference. If the technology is not available or too expensive, set up a teleconference. Where invitees cannot attend, send out the meeting minutes promptly following the meeting. Contact each absentee to ask if they require clarification on any point and whether they have anything that they wish to contribute.
If you want your meetings to succeed in getting stakeholders on board, ensure that you focus on what is important; the measurable outcomes of the project. Make this clear from the start and have a well-planned and tight agenda. Demonstrate that the project or program meets a real organizational need. Some stakeholders will want all of the detail on how you propose that the project will lead to the results you intend. Be prepared. Others will simply want an overview and may base their decision on the trust that they have in you.
Encourage Stakeholder Buy-In
Get buy-in from stakeholders by giving them a hand in the decision-making. This applies to the stakeholders above you in the organizational hierarchy as well as below. For example, if you are contracting an external training supplier, allow the Program Sponsor to make the final selection of the training vendor after you present the vendor evaluation scores. On the other side of the coin, ask prospective training participants to select which training schedule suits them best.
Stakeholders that seem unwilling to give you support are best met in private. Challenging these stakeholders during the meeting will only provoke further antagonism or feigned compliance. Ask them, "When is a good time to sit down and discuss your questions?" Even better, if you know that they are positively antagonistic towards the project or program before the meeting starts, organize to discuss the issues with them prior to the date of the meeting.
If you wish to hold an impromptu meeting with a stakeholder, first check that it is all right with them and say for how long you think you will need them. Some stakeholders do not like to be disturbed between formally arranged meetings. Find out what your stakeholders' preferences are, and then respect them.
This Expert View has taken a broad-brush stroke to the subject of enlisting and engaging stakeholders. Stakeholders are many and varied, so the suggestions above are general in nature. What deserves emphasis here, though, is the importance of embedding the training program in some wider organizational strategy or initiative. Training programs that are not "hooked" into a recognized organizational need are unlikely to earn significant support beyond the training department and will struggle to find real partners to the project.
Plan Communications Strategically
Draw on all of the information you have gathered so far to complete a Stakeholder Partnership Plan. In your documented plan, include sections for writing down your strategy and plans for engaging each stakeholder and an area in which you can update progress. Your strategy should include your approach to gaining their support. Will you convince, clarify, collaborate or choose an alternative option? For your plans, write down the concrete steps you will take towards implementing the strategy. Will you send an information pack, meet in private, organize a briefing or research the issue?
The customizable Stakeholder Partnership Plan included with our From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance guide and workbook contains sample entries to give you an idea of how to construct a meaningful plan. Because changes will occur to your project as it progresses through its various phases, the plan you create is a living document. Update your plan and the entries in the progress area either as changes occur or at regular intervals, as you feel appropriate.
Find out more about how to communicate effectively with training program stakeholders. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing high impact training. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.
Getting and keeping stakeholders on board is even more important for your wider change or improvement initiative. For help with every phase of your change program, check out our practical toolkit and guide.