Are you swimming against the tide without a stakeholder communication plan?

The Rip from Pt Lonsdale pier. Photo by Peter on Flickr.

Imagine swimming for more than 20 minutes without getting anywhere. That happened to Ally during the annual swim across “The Rip”, which is a 3.2km dangerous stretch of water at the entrance of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. Currents often run in opposite directions to tides, creating turbulent swells, eddies and whirlpools. It is one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world and has claimed many ships and lives.

As Ally was about half way across from Point Nepean to Point Lonsdale she encountered a strong incoming current pushing her against the direction she was headed. She was mentally and emotionally drained as she swam harder but only inched forward. She thought about giving up and taking refuge in the lifeboats that escorted the swimmers, but she persisted and eventually reached the other side along with about 132 fellow swimmers.

Her struggle is a good metaphor for the challenge that game-changing leaders face. If you are changing the game in some way, it can be like swimming against the tide as you encounter the swirling currents of stakeholder perceptions and expectations. You can be pulled in many different directions. It can sometimes feel like you are not getting anywhere. If it is a game-changing objective, there is bound to be resistance.  

In fact, Gallup research suggests that more than 70 per cent of change initiatives fail mainly because the change program does not focus enough on the people who are impacted. Game-changing leaders know that to achieve their objective, each stakeholder needs a thoughtful and targeted approach. That implies the intimacy of a conversational style of communication where ideas are exchanged rather than the traditional command/control approach of broadcasting messages.

In a recent example, Greg’s game-changing program was stalled and in danger of falling over. When he reviewed his stakeholder communication plan, he realised that he had not spent enough time in listening mode, nor had a meaningful conversation with a key stakeholder who was resisting the change program. He dedicated time to understanding the problems that his stakeholder faced. Greg demonstrated the value he could offer to address his stakeholder’s risks. His former adversary quickly became his best advocate and Greg was able to deliver on his game-changing objective.

Are you swimming against the tide without a stakeholder communication plan?         

Best regards, Brian

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