Communicating Success

As reported by PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession™, an organisation’s ability to meet project timelines, budgets and especially goals significantly impacts its ability to survive. The Pulse study also demonstrated that the most crucial success factor in project management is effective stakeholder communication. PMI’s findings show that high performing organisations are more effective communicators and that organisations assessed as highly-effective communicators are five times more likely to be high performers than minimally-effective communicators. To read more download the report: The High Cost of Low Performance – The Essential Role of Communication.

There are probably several reasons for this strong correlation between effective communication and project success. From the broader stakeholder management perspective, projects and programs are only really successful once their outputs have been adopted by the stakeholders within the end user community and are being used to generate value. This means changing the way the stakeholders and the organisation work, which requires change!  Creating the desire for change within the affected stakeholder community requires highly effective communication and interestingly, if the communication is believed, the way people react and feel changes in response to the messages.

Research in Australia, New Zealand and the USA has consistently demonstrated physical changes in people based on what they have been told. Scientific studies ‘down under’ have shown people who are told wind turbines cause health problems experience health problems. The symptoms of ‘wind farm syndrome’ are only found in English speaking communities that have been exposed to anti-wind farm propaganda.  For more on this see: Wind farm:  https://theconversation.com/how-the-power-of-suggestion-generates-wind-farm-symptoms-12833 and https://theconversation.com/new-study-wind-turbine-syndrome-is-spread-by-scaremongers-12834

Positive effects can also be communicated, in a 2007 study, Harvard researchers told one group of female hotel attendants that their usual duties met the surgeon-general’s recommendations for an exercise regimen. Four weeks later, the researchers found improvements in blood pressure, body mass index, and other health indices among the informed group, relative to a control group of attendants that had not been so informed.

These effects appear to be real, Hilke Plassmann, Assistant Professor of Marketing at INSEAD reports that a study she co-conducted in 2008 measuring neural responses to drinking wine showed different responses to ‘cheap’ and ‘expensive’ wines. But, the researchers deliberately misled participants about the prices of the wines, claiming one cost US$45 when it actually cost US$5 and presenting another as costing US$10 when it really retailed for US$90.

Participants were instructed to sample various wines through a straw from inside an MRI machine which allowed their brain activity to be observed while they were consuming the wine. What was found were changes in the neural activity in an area called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which is an area that encodes our experience of pleasure.

The findings highlighted the speed with which humans form lasting impressions that synthesise all types of data. The bias kicks in at a very early stage, and for the wine tasters, it really changed their taste perception.

From sportswear to cars, expectations of a product or service can actually create a resulting experience. Consumers are constantly told that the latest Nike running shoes or Mercedes-Benz can offer higher performance. Consumers believe it, they make a purchase and they experience it. What this implies in the realm of project stakeholder management is the conversations around your project will have a direct effect on how people experience the change!  Negative gossip and scaremongering will cause bad reactions, positive news creates positive experiences.

The expectations created by communication (or lack thereof) will tend to become self fulfilling prophecies – to make this work for you, you need to communicate to your stakeholders the expectation that the change your project is creating will be beneficial and good for the majority of the stakeholders.  If this message is both true and believed (the two elements are not automatically connected), the experience of the stakeholders is more likely to be positive.

Achieving this level of communication requires a combination of strategic thinking backed up by effective implementation, with a clear thread of responsibility running throughout.  The best strategists believe:

  • If I can’t articulate how we’re actually going to make this project work, it probably won’t work. They know that there are a lot of gaps, holes, and challenges in their strategies. They tirelessly keep a critical eye on the viability of their plans and stay curious — continuously asking themselves and others, how will this really work? When they find issues, they team up with others and fix it.
  • While it’s painful to integrate execution planning into strategising, it’s even more painful to watch the strategies fail. Good strategists understand that effective planning leads to effective execution and outcomes.
  • Sounding smart is overrated. Doing smart is where the real value lies. Ideas are just that — ideas. They know that if they’re not executed well, their strategies are nothing more than daydreams.

The best executors believe:

  • They need to be involved in the strategy process early and contribute practical insights to the overall development of the objectives.

  • They need to know the “whys” behind the strategy. They want to know the intent and the thinking behind the strategy.

Communicating for success means making a significant proportion of your stakeholders into ‘executors’ who believe in the benefits of the project/program and use their beliefs to influence others. Authenticity is crucial but so is passion and communication.

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