So far, I’ve discussed why communications go wrong and the need for structure in project communications. Now for the most important element: your message.

The first thing to do when crafting communications: keep it short. The human brain can only handle up to three specific points in a given message. So even if you have a very lengthy and detailed update to put out, break your message out into no more than three distinct and memorable points. You can include details under each, and even sub-points, but whenever possible, keep your message organized so there are three main takeaways.

Secondly, as I discussed in Part 2, knowing your audience—the people you’re communicating with—is essential. For example, let’s say you’re rolling out a program and releasing weekly updates. You need to identify who’s going to be reading your updates—are they managers? Process owners? Office staff? Shop floor crew? Then ask yourself what those people want from your updates. It may sound horrible at first (so stay with me), but especially during a change project, the first question on everyone’s minds is what’s in it for me? They know their job’s being affected, and they’re concerned—that’s human nature.

It can also be helpful for you to do as marketers do and develop a persona for each type of person you’re communicating with (See Make Sure Your Message is Heard for the full explanation). With a specific person in mind—even an imaginary representative one—you can figure out what their hopes and worries around the project are and address them to help get their buy-in and acceptance. For example:

  • A director who’s championed the project and has put a lot of credibility on the line to make it happen—for this person, your message needs to highlight successes and play down any reported setback by addressing how it’s being handled.
  • The VP who’s over that manager and is worried about the cost and overruns—for this person, you need to emphasize savings whenever possible and minimize the cost impact of any setbacks or unforeseen challenges.
  • Office staff who have been doing their jobs for 10 years and are resistant to changing the way they do their work—for these people, it’s crucial to show them not how the company benefits, but how they specifically will benefit—such as how the change will save them time or how it will make finding certain data easier—while playing down things like required additional training.

At the most basic level, your messages should always communicate to all these audiences that you care about them, their jobs, and what they need to be successful in them. By keeping the what’s in it for me? at the front of your mind, as you put together your communication, you’ll not only reassure them that the coming change is a good thing, but you’ll also keep them on your side—and believe me, you need them comfortable and on your side. Nothing will sink a project faster than having one or two groups of the players involved resisting or even sabotaging the changes you’re working toward.

Good communications meet people where they are. Your job is to know who your audience is, what they want, and then communicate to them what you’re doing in a way that they can be comfortable with the changes you’re helping implement to further their success.