the power of communication

The Power of Communication and Selling

By: Rob Toon

The Innovation & Portfolio Management Office (IPMO) is the concept of bringing two distinct departments together to produce a new team with the creativity and imagination of innovation, and the structure and delivery capabilities of a portfolio management office. Don’t underestimate the power of communication in making this move.

It is my view that combining these departments is the future of business transformation, but there is a long way to go until this is recognized as business as usual.

There are many pitfalls that can occur when setting up and running an IPMO. At the end of the day, it is a new department that is responsible for business transformation, so it isn’t the easiest of things to get right. That said, Innovation Departments and PMOs aren’t new concepts, so there are elements from each that can be brought together and built upon.

One area many departments struggle with, however, is good and effective communications. You may have seen me write about the importance of communication in previous posts, but I have never specifically addressed this in terms of how it looks for an IPMO and the successful delivery of projects.

In this blog I will explore the power of communication and the impact on the IPMO, and dive into why communications are important, how you should approach any communications plan, and what you should be communicating.

A Bit of Background

I would like to start by providing a bit of background behind the thinking here, and why we want to focus on the importance of good communication. Good communication is a basic requirement for success in all aspects of business, with pretty much every organization having a communications strategy or department of some sort. If no department exists, then capital will be spent on paying for communications to be provided by external consultancies.

So, we understand that businesses recognize the importance of communicating, but what we have with the specific IPMO scenario are two departments with very different approaches to this.

Many innovation teams understand the need for successful marketing and communication as part of their function. They are often good at telling their story, pulling together case studies, and letting the organization know about the ideas that have been produced. The innovation team will often be tasked with front-end innovation and ideation, with the delivery being left to another part of the organization, such as the PMO.

This is where communications have historically fallen down as project management is regularly singled out for its inadequacies.

‘The Project Management Communications Bible’ by William Dow and Bruce Taylor, goes so far as to claim that poor communication is 90% responsible for project failures. The PMI backs this view, suggesting that one in five projects are unsuccessful because of “ineffective communications”, which “translates to US$75 million at risk for every US$1 billion spent”.

Reflecting on these quotes, the biggest worry is that if the PMO is responsible for the delivery of innovation and transformation projects, and they aren’t communicating what they are doing, then how will anyone know if the innovation and transformation drive is a success or not? This will then mean that the great work the innovation team are doing to get ideas into the pipeline and invest in them will fall down and effectively cut the legs from under the transformation project.

Even more worrying is that if the PMO doesn’t highlight the work it is doing, how will people ever know the value? This will lead people to wondering if the PMO is worth having at all! This is where the power of communication comes in.

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How Should you Approach your Communication Strategy?

Getting Established

Before you get stuck into issuing communications, you need to set and agree ground rules as a team and some rules of engagement. You need to take a step back and understand the challenge ahead and any blockers that need to be carefully avoided or any areas where differing communications approaches may be needed.

There are three areas where you need to focus:

  • Identify the story
  • Understand the business structure
  • Understand the people within the business

Identifying a Story

The first point regarding the story is the key for getting going and it relates directly to the messaging of your communications. You need to make the communications relevant and interesting for your audience.

When identifying the story that will resonate with your audience, start by understanding the project purpose – why is it you’re doing what you’re doing? Build the story out from here. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down with your communication style and show vulnerability – tell people that you don’t have all the answers and you need their support to make the project a success.

Another important point is that you need to set out from the start how you are going to tell your story and how you’re going to grow your story over the lifetime of the project.

Understand the Business Structure

Your communications strategy needs to be tailored to your business needs and structure. You need to understand the hierarchy within the business, the departmental structure and what makes the business tick. Some simple points to note are:

  • Do all parts of the organization have access to computers? If so do they have company log ins?
  • What type of work to each part of the business do? Are there any differing approaches to work?
  • How many people are within the organization? How many need to be reached by the communications?

Your communications, although founded on the project purpose, need to mold to the business structure and the way the business works. If these two aspects don’t fit then it simply won’t work.

Understand your People

If you get this right and your messaging resonates with your people and reflects the organization’s culture, you have a fantastic chance of your project and communications being a success. By understanding the culture and key people within your business you have the opportunity to really make a lasting impact. With this, I’d like to touch on the concept of messages going ‘viral’.

This probably sounds like it is just linked to social media communications, but that’s not the case. Virality links directly to how well and how publicized a piece of information is and how well ideas spread; aiming for your communications to go viral within your organization is a key consideration and should be absolutely a target of any communications plan. In order for your communications to spread, you need to reach a tipping point where enough people within your organization have been reached by the communication and the weight of people will be so great that everyone will then get it.

For this to be possible you need to find three types of people within your organization:

  • Those that are well connected and influential. Those that are popular and have the ear of the organization. Those that have a great network within the business.
  • Those that are great at selling and spreading the message. Get those that believe in the idea and want it to be a success involved in the project – these people will then be your cheerleaders
  • Find those that are experts within the area your project is within. These experts will be that interested that they will spread the message through their enthusiasm for the detail of the projects and what it is trying to achieve.

For more detail on these ‘viral’ concepts I recommend reading Malcom Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’, where he helps readers understand why certain projects go viral and others don’t.

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The Keys to Communication Success

Now we have discussed setting up the communications strategy and the importance of storytelling, understanding the business structure and the people, I would now like to share some key ingredients for success:

  • The importance of a transparent journey
  • The power of showing off
  • The impact of finding your voice

Now for some detail…

The Transparent Journey

One of the most common failings of PMOs is a lack of transparency along the project management process – from the original thinking behind the project, the business case that supports it, to assessment and approval, and to ongoing management and future measurement. What is unarguable is that if the IPMO is to deliver effective transformation, managers and employees everywhere in the organization need a transparent and up-to-date picture of what is going on, which challenges need solving, what is working well, and when they need to take action.

The challenge that any IPMO (or traditional PMO or innovation team, for that matter) faces is that they are responsible for organizational change. This puts you automatically in a position where some people are expecting you to fail and will not want to get involved.

It’s a really frustrating and challenging position to be in. You have the leadership buy-in, you have the budget and you have the business need to drive the transformation, yet the organization as a whole can be resistant to change and not want the project to be a success. Now, this is a generalization, but it is something I’ve seen time and time again in organizational change projects.

To try and turn this tide of possible naysayers and organizational resistance, you need to be empathetic as to why they could not want change, and this needs to form the starting point of your communication journey. From this point, you need to be completely honest and transparent about the project’s progress and where there have been successes and failures along the way.

This way you are communicating straight away to the organization stating you understand why they may be resistant to change and you are aiming to make their lives easier whilst showing them exactly what is happening all the way through the process.

This ‘opening up’ of the doors to the process shows great vulnerability by the IPMO and creates a project that is accessible to all. People go from hating and resisting to wanting to be involved and feeling a part of the project.

The Power of Communication and Showing Off

Similar to my point above, many people will naturally be resistant to change and will want to push back against the transformation you and your IPMO team are in charge of. As well as being empathetic about their position and reluctance, you need to also get in the habit of celebrating any small victory – this comes down to the persistence the IPMO needs to have to make a success of the project.

You need to show off both the success others have by getting involved in the project, whilst showing off your own successes. I like to think of this as carrot and stick communications. Dangle the promise of celebrating others’ achievements whilst beating the organization with the self-celebration stick.

It is so important to have a recognition part of your communication strategy. If people are taking the time to get involved with the transformation project – whether that be through sharing ideas, providing advice, or becoming a champion of the change – then you need to take the time out to promote this person and show how much their input is appreciated. They have taken the time to help your progress so you giving your praise in return will be appreciated and send positive ripples throughout the organization so that others will be motivated to get involved as well.

Second to this, but equally important in my eyes, is celebrating your own successes. The IPMO is a tough role and success is difficult to come by, so when you have an achievement you need to shout about it from the rooftops. Every opportunity you get you to need to grab with both hands and celebrate. This could be the launch of a new platform, the creation of a new form of communications, or simply the hosting of a workshop. Celebrating these positives will show people you are making process and are starting to win the battle and turn the tide in your favor. It may seem a bit like self-propaganda but as long as what you are celebrating is truthful then you have nothing to worry about. Show off about it and let the whole organization know that you are winning and determined to keep going.

The Impact of Finding your Voice

I truly believe in the power that a person’s voice can have on change. Whether that is a socioeconomic change, political change or simply driving change within an organization. Good communications can enable your IPMO to find their voice and project this across the business.

If you find this voice before you start issuing communications, then you are on to a winner. You will be able to get your message out there loud and clear and let everyone know exactly why you are carrying out the projects you’re carrying out.

This voice can be anything you want but it needs to be authentic and aligned with the values of the IPMO and the wider organization. It needs to resonate with people. If you get this right then people will buy into the project and want to be involved and be more supportive of the objectives and ambitions you have set.

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What should you be communicating?

Communication is as much about quantity as is it about quality. You will never win with the actual content you put out there as there will always be someone who doesn’t understand it, doesn’t like the format or just plain doesn’t believe in it. On the other hand, there will be people that will have the exact opposite view about the same piece of communications.

This is why you need to curate a vast range of different communication types, styles and formats to tick as many boxes as possible. The target has to be resonating with as much of the organization as possible and knowing that different people like different things and digest different forms of content, you need to experiment with different styles. Some of my favorites are as follows:

  • Long-form content – whitepapers, case studies, video interviews
  • Medium form content – blogs, vox pop videos
  • Short-form content – posters, imagery, quotes

What you communicate should not just be about your successes. Opening up and talking about your challenges is just as important. As well as allowing others to learn from your mistakes, it brings a real air of vulnerability and people engage with that more than if you show yourself as having all of the answers. As well as this it starts to breed a culture where learning from mistakes is ok and that too begins to promote more innovation and idea sharing, which will help future IPMO projects.

My final short point around what you should be communicating comes down to internal vs external comms. I have worked with organizations in the past that used external communications to drive internal uptake. There is some real logic that employees seeing their employer in the press sharing some of the great work they are doing increases interest internally and generates more pride around the company brand. I would suggest sharing some of your wins and losses externally may be a different and successful way of drumming up some internal interest.

Some Final Thoughts on the Power of Communication

The key to good transformation projects is communication, communication, communication: communicate your progress, communicate your successes and communicate your challenges.

Running an IPMO office that is transparent about progress, celebrates those that engage and support, and has a distinct voice is absolutely pivotal to the success of the department. If these items can be teamed with a good strategy that identifies the right people and brings in many different mediums of communication styles and formats then you will have a blend for continued success.

One final point I’d make is that it won’t be easy and consistency and stubbornness will prevail. It will take a decent chunk of the organization to be engaged before the work the IPMO does tips and because organizationally recognized and respected.

Want to learn more? Click below to read our other content around the IPMO:

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