How to ensure great initiatives don’t fail

intiatives

While negative feedback can feel like a personal affront, given the time and effort that’s gone into the work, empathy is essential to moving forward. By seeking to understand where the difference of opinion lies, we stand a greater chance of resolving it to everyone’s satisfaction, writes Jen Jackson

Even the best initiatives can succeed or fail at executive level. So how do people and culture leaders ensure their organisation-changing ideas don’t stall or fail at this crucial juncture?

Research by The Standish Group discovered that 31.1 per cent of projects are cancelled before completion — that’s almost a third of all undertakings, and a colossal waste of time, money and resources.

Bringing the conversation back to the original objectives, then showing how the work in its present state supports it, elevates the conversation beyond subjective details.

Many of these initiatives likely had great potential, but fell down simply because stakeholders weren’t bought in. As any leader who has faced a similar situation can attest, stakeholder management can be more challenging than the work itself.

The problem, as it so often is, is communication.

Leaders are increasingly aware of the benefits of good communication, yet may invest more time and effort in communicating down, rather than selling up.

This makes sense, as managers and frontline leaders are focused primarily on the impact an initiative will have on their people. A belief in the work and the benefits to employees seems so self-evident that the importance of communicating the initiative properly to the executive level is often overlooked.

However, leaders can significantly increase the likelihood of their initiatives making it to implementation by incorporating three considerations when communicating with c-suite.

Tailor the communication
The best way to ensure buy-in from any stakeholder group is to present the initiative in a way that’s relevant to, and resonates with, the intended audience.

This is no different when selling an initiative to c-suite.

The problem — either through a lack of time, experience or understanding about what matters at the executive level — arises when leaders default to presenting the same deck or collateral used to get their team onboard, rather than adapting it to suit a very different audience.

For communication to be effective, it requires leaders to look at the initiative through a different lens. It means looking past what it means to them and their people, and considering what it means to c-suite. Then, succinctly outlining the benefits to them, using familiar language and their preferred medium.

Understanding that leaders at executive level have very different communication preferences  compared to the frontline, then adapting messaging accordingly dramatically increases the likelihood of getting c-suite onboard.

Take them on the journey
Good communication campaigns are approached as a cohesive and considered experience rather than sporadic messaging, yet this is often overlooked when it comes to involving c-suite.

The best place to begin is drafting a timeline of the project and mapping the potential touchpoints with c-suite. This involves a delicate balance between too much and too little. It requires involving the right people, delivering the right information, and seeking the right input at the right time.

The journey should start early. This is essential to setting expectations and ensuring everyone has the same objectives for the initiative. The subtlest distinctions can become significant hurdles further down the track when it comes to final approval.

For example, imagine your offices are moving to an iconic new location. This transformation could be approached as a change management campaign or a destination brand. Neither is necessarily wrong. Yet no matter how good the execution, if it’s judged against a different criteria, it can be deemed a failure.

Ideally, after initial buy-in, c-suite involvement during the development process is simply about progress check-ins, rather than input in decision-making. These touchpoints should foster a sense of inclusion without inviting unnecessary contribution, which merely slows down the process. Where important decisions must be made from above, these should be dealt with simply, without fanfare and with as few people as possible.

Once the work is complete, the way it’s presented is crucial to moving into roll-out. There’s often an assumption the work will speak for itself, but as collateral is intended specifically for employees, it’s unlikely to have the same connection with c-suite. This is why a considered presentation addressing how the work achieves the shared objectives is important, rather than focusing directly on the collateral. This is neither the time for indecisiveness nor asking for input.

Finally, following-up after the initiative has been rolled out is an opportunity to present results and celebrate successes, building trust for future projects.

Take a stand for the work
Ideally, having tailored communication specifically for executive level and having taken them on a journey, there shouldn’t be push back. But despite best efforts, it can still occur.

The decision to fight for the work is highly contextual to the culture of the organisation or country. For example, in Australia it’s generally more acceptable to challenge the opinion of one’s leaders. Whereas the more hierarchical nature of organisations based in the United States creates an environment less conducive to questioning those in senior positions.

While negative feedback can feel like a personal affront, given the time and effort that’s gone into the work, empathy is essential to moving forwards. By seeking to understand where the difference of opinion lies, we stand a greater chance of resolving it to everyone’s satisfaction.

Leaders are increasingly aware of the benefits of good communication, yet may invest more time and effort in communicating down, rather than selling up.

Has there been miscommunication around the project objectives? Bringing the conversation back to the original objectives, then showing how the work in its present state supports it, elevates the conversation beyond subjective details.

We can also look for commonality. What are the aspects everyone agrees on? Establishing this baseline fosters trust and rapport that can be built on.

Finally, most work involves compromise. Where are the small concessions that can be made to keep the project moving? The simplest changes can be enough to promote a feeling of ownership.

By considering these three aspects in their communication with c-suite, people and culture professionals stand a greater chance of ensuring their initiatives have the opportunity to make a difference.

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