At Project Challenge this spring, Ranjit Sidhu, the driving force behind ChangeQuest, led an engaging and interactive session titled ‘Unlocking the potential of power skills: How effective communication drives organisational change.’
Drawing from the findings of her insightful report, ‘Change communication – Navigating emergent change’, Ranjit delved into the critical role of effective communication in driving organisational change and addressed the challenges that arise when dealing with stakeholders during periods of transformation.
Here is her summary of her presentation from the event:
It was great to be back at this conference, in person. My first time since the pandemic struck. Going by the attendance and examples you shared, this topic seems to be as relevant and necessary as ever.
What are power skills
The Project Management Institute (PMI) define Power skills – as the abilities and behaviours that facilitate working together. Other names for power skills are interpersonal skills, soft skills or behavioural skills.
The Pulse of the Profession 2023 research found the top 4, most critical power skills to be:
- Communication – in all its form
- Problem solving – ability to figure out what is wrong and resolve it
- Collaborative leadership – ability to work with others across boundaries to make decisions
- Strategic thinking – ability to see patterns and alternative paths rather than complexity
This research shows that paying attention to power skills helps individuals and organisations succeed – in delivering successful projects and successful change.
In essence, technical skills help deliver the work, but power skills are critical to bringing people along with you. If you want people to use what is delivered, you need the power skills.
Main areas covered in this session
This session focused on Communication – starting with key guidance from best-practice frameworks, and then ideas for how to move beyond process to deal with more complex and rapidly shifting scenarios. These ideas were drawn from my own research in this area about Change Communication and navigating through emergent change.
- Having an effective process for stakeholder engagement
- Being proactive and planning for stakeholder engagement and communication
- Shifting beyond process
- Adapting your change communication approach to navigate emergent change
Having an effective stakeholder engagement process in place
Start with having an effective process in place for stakeholder engagement. This forms the basic building block and provides a solid foundation to build on. This is particularly useful if you are working in an environment where there aren’t any formal or best-practice frameworks in place. It is also useful for people who are doing other roles, like a change agent role for example.
Change agents need to engage with a lot of stakeholders, but they may not have the experience or formal training around this. If you haven’t got an effective process in place for stakeholder engagement we can provide coaching to help you build an approach or if you are working with a team you could consider booking on this Communication and Influencing Skills workshop.
Being proactive and planning for stakeholder engagement and communication
Being proactive and planning for stakeholder engagement and communication is crucial to the success of any project or change initiative. We all know that stakeholder engagement cannot be left to chance or assumed to happen naturally. So, the more proactive you are about engaging with stakeholders, the more likely you are to achieve positive outcomes and manage any potential issues or concerns.
When under pressure of tight deadlines, it can be tempting to avoid unhappy stakeholders and just focus on getting the work done. However, this approach is not effective in the long run and can lead to bigger problems. So prioritise and make the time to engage with stakeholders, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable.
If you have ever been a passenger on a delayed flight, you will appreciate just how frustrating it is to be to be told there will be a delay, but then be left in the dark and have no further updates. It makes it worse when they say they will give an update, setting up an expectation, but then not following through and ‘doing what they said they will do’. Not managing the situation can cause reputational damage and erode trust. Having a proactive approach to engage with stakeholders and manage their expectations, will help to avoid these types of frustrations from our stakeholders. By showing that you care and are committed to addressing their concerns, goes a long way to building a strong foundation of trust and goodwill.
In today’s world of hybrid and virtual work, stakeholder engagement and communication are even more important. Without the chance encounters and water cooler moments that can happen in an office setting, it is necessary to be proactive in planning how you will connect and engage with your stakeholders. This could involve scheduling regular check-ins, hosting virtual town halls, or using collaborative tools to keep stakeholders informed and involved.
Shifting beyond process
We work in messy, chaotic, complex environments. Things are constantly shifting. On top of that, we are not just dealing with machines and robots. We work with human beings; people with multiple layers of emotions, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. People who can behave in completely irrational, illogical ways, especially when they are in the midst of organisational change. They may be negatively impacted by change that is happening or be feeling overwhelmed at the amount of change they are experiencing. So, it’s fair to say, that process will only take you so far.
Understanding the change journey, recognising where the stakeholder is along this journey and the factors that can influence their response to change, will help you adapt your approach for engaging with this stakeholder. Stepping into their shoes and showing empathy and that you appreciate their perspective can help to connect with the stakeholder and start to build trust. Nor matter what your role is, having an understanding of change management is helpful for engaging with stakeholders.
Adapting your change communication approach to navigate emergent change
With emergent change there is greater uncertainty and more complexity, so we can’t rely on the tried and tested communication approaches that have typically worked in more stable and planned change type scenarios. I undertook this research, as part of a Masters programme in internal communication, to explore how teams in a housing association, adapted so successfully during emergent change, resulting from the pandemic. The main areas covered were around how leaders communicated during change, how the teams dealt with uncertainty, how communication helped them to implement actions effectively and build change readiness. This division were very successful in adapting their approach and this ensured they could continue to serve their customers, whilst maintaining commitment and motivation amongst their teams.
As you would expect, effective communication played a critical role in driving this change, which enabled a collaborative approach and helped to create a high trust and safe environment.
I won’t go into the detail here, but if you are interested in reading more about how these teams successfully navigated their way through this change, you can download this paper, by completing the details below.