Communication Advantage

Communication Advantage

Getting Buy-in for Your CHIP and Other Strategic Initiatives
By Janis Forman, UCLA Anderson

Gaining acceptance and support for your CHIP (or for other strategic initiatives) often poses daunting challenges as you bring your ideas forward into the busy and oftentimes politicized arenas of organizational life. In a sense you are saying to your organization, "Imagine this future for the organization and buy into it." To do so requires trust and imagination on the part of your organization's key players and considerable persuasive capability on your part. Will the CHIP even get a hearing above the roar of competing organizational agendas? Will your strategic initiative activate the resistance of some stakeholders who view your vision for the organization's future as a threat to their own hopes and desires?

Effective persuasive leaders know how to use communication to get buy-in for their strategic initiatives. These leaders have what we might call a "communication advantage," an approach to influencing key stakeholders that includes the following:

1. Identify key stakeholders whose support is essential to your success. Whose support do you need? Do you have sufficient knowledge of what motivates people to go along with your initiative? Can you appeal to them through shared values or the likelihood of positive outcomes and benefits resulting from your CHIP? What biases or competing agendas--if any--may make people resistant to supporting your efforts?
2. Determine the sequence in which to seek people's support. Should you begin your efforts with peers, subordinates, the board, other stakeholders? Would it make sense to begin with your strongest supporters while keeping tabs on the likely opposition?
3. Decide who should champion the CHIP. Do you enjoy sufficient credibility to be the sole advocate for your CHIP? Would it be preferable to enlist others to support your point of view? Who and why? When should you enlist assistance and for what specific reasons?
4. Choose the "right moments" and the best settings. When are key stakeholders ready to hear your appeals for consent and cooperation? Should you announce the CHIP in a regularly scheduled organizational event, such as a monthly meeting of senior managers? When are the worst times to campaign for the CHIP (e.g., the busiest times of a work cycle)?
5. Orchestrate your communications. Besides choosing spokespeople, settings, and timing of your messages about your strategic initiative, what is the best mix of communication channels (e.g., e-mail, face-to-face, memos, newsletters) ? Since advocacy for your CHIP is never a one-time communication event, what should be the main elements of your communication plan, that is, the spokespeople, timing, settings for your communications--as well as the various modifications of your key messages tailored to the circumstances of specific stakeholders?
6. Monitor your key stakeholders' responses to your communications. What do formal or informal surveys of your key stakeholders tell you about their attitudes toward your CHIP? What information or persuasive appeals might convince them to go along with your ideas?
7. Figure out what compromises you are willing to make in the goals and scope of your CHIP. What aspects of the CHIP are you willing to open to negotiation? On what issues are you inflexible?

Effective leaders are systematic in their efforts to acquire support for their strategic initiatives, using some version of this seven-point approach to communication. They realize that communications are deployed in a highly dynamic and contested arena in which multiple parties are vying for air time and resources. Above all, strategic leaders--"CHIP champions"--are aware that persuasion in today's service- and knowledge-based organizations requires cooperative negotiation. As a result, they strive to be clear in articulating a strategic point of view--your CHIP--yet open to refining or even radically revising it in light of the insights and concerns of those they must influence in order to bring their strategic ideas to life.

Whether you are completing your CHIP or undertaking new ones, the seven-point approach should provide you with a systematic way to think about the communication initiatives necessary to turn strategic ideas into organizational goals that receive the support of key stakeholders.

Janis Forman (Ph.D.) is the founder and director of the Management Communication Program at the Anderson School/UCLA and an adjunct full professor of management. She is the co-author (with Professor Paul Argenti of the Tuck School at Dartmouth) of The Power of Corporate Communication (McGraw-Hill, 2002), winner of the 2003 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Business Communication (ABC); and recipient of the 1995 Researcher of the Year Award from the ABC for her extensive publications in the field of corporate and management communication.