Communication as persuasion

‘Communication as persuasion’ attempts to change the positions of stakeholders and align them with the aims of the project. In these projects, the resistance to the change is often high, and the agendas of the different stakeholder groups varied. Neither marketing nor ‘communication to inspire action’ is sufficient.

(This is an extract from Chapter 5 of Stakeholder-led project management – see below)

Case 5.7 is about the modularization of courses at a UK university. This program was unpopular with the majority of staff at a time when staff morale was already at a very low point. The overall vision for the program, “courses which our students want and can afford,” was powerful and undeniably a good idea. However, each and every stakeholder group had a different reason for resisting the change.

Vision and top-down leadership would not be powerful enough. As described by the sociodynamic model introduced in Chapter 3, more synergistic energy towards the project was essential. That would mean considering stakeholder-by-stakeholder what persuasion would promote groups and individuals to change their position on the stakeholder playing field.

Case 5.7 Moving to modular courses at a UK university

A UK university was in danger of closure with failed quality ratings and public criticism of its performance. Major improvements were required in every aspect of the University if it was to retain its university status. Morale was low in all departments. There was a general feeling that the University was ‘being picked on’ by the government quality assurance board, and there was no chance of recovery.

A new Vice Chancellor was appointed. He set off improvements, department by department. In addition, he took the decision, supported by his new management team, to run a large program to modularize all courses offered by the University. The modularization of courses allows students to pick and mix topics and build up their course selections in a more flexible way. It impacted every part of the University. The decision to move to a modular course design was not popular:

·         Lecturers would need to restructure their courses and provide more detailed module-by-module selection and accreditation information.

In fact, there were very few groups who did support the change! The Vice Chancellor was fully aware of this. He believed the modular system was essential to provide qualifications that would be attractive to an increasingly selective and cost-conscious student population. There was also a sub-plot. A transformational change of this nature, if successful, would bring the whole University together and address the growing problems of quality, low morale and, increasingly, a lack of pride in the University and what it stood for.

Figure 5.5 is an example of the level of detail that is needed in preparing the plans for communication as persuasion. The format will obviously vary to meet particular needs. This one makes use of the stakeholder classifications introduced in the sociodynamic model. As you can probably tell from the content, this is not the kind of plan which is publicly shared, but is used by the core team to identify and monitor the progress of the communication and engagement strategies.

Figure 5.5: Example of communication plan

Explanation of fields
Stakeholder Name of stakeholder or anonymized reference
Stakeholder grouping Segmenting the stakeholder into groups is helpful. These groups do not have to equate to organizational structures but indicate homogenous views.
Current stakeholder rating This uses the sociodynamic attitude ratings (see Chapter 3). In the early stages, this field will often be set to ‘No information’ indicating more investigation is required. The rating is decided through a group debate.
Target rating Uses the same rating types as above. The sociodynamic model suggests that you can only normally move stakeholders one place, i.e., it is unlikely you can convert a ‘Mutineer’ to an ‘Ally’.
Objections If known—the reasons for negative attitude towards project
Possible WIIFT The what’s-in-it-for-them, if known.
Strategy Sustain, Change position, Get further information, No action
Influencer Who influences them? This can help with identifying persuasion /influence strategies.
Commentary Additional notes identifying the actions to take.

‘Communication as persuasion’ demands detailed planning, based upon well-investigated information on stakeholders’ perspectives and attitudes about the project.

using-persuasion-get-buy-in-for-digitising-cicero-quoteChanging people’s positions is not easy. The vision—where we need to get to—must be clearly defined and communicated, but that is not enough. The project must mount a sustained campaign designed to change the positions of stakeholder. If sufficient positive energy towards the project is not created, the project is likely to fail.

This is the sixth in a series of blogs published on purposeful communication in projects.

Last blog: Communication as marketing

These are based on the book:

Stakeholder-led project management: Changing the way we manage projects, Louise M Worsley, Business Expert Press, 2016

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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