Three Tips for Effective Stakeholder Translation

What is stakeholder translation? Stakeholder translation is the act of taking the same message and restructuring it in a way so that different audiences can quickly grasp the heart of the message. Example: say your project is facing a significant and complex technical issue and you need to get senior stakeholders involved (i.e. the project sponsor) to not only make them aware of the issue but what your project team needs from them in order to resolve it (more budget/time, external consultants, etc.). But in order to effectively convey that message, a certain level of translation needs to be done from the issue at its very core to a way that a senior executive may be able to understand it. This is a skill that is often overlooked and when done poorly, can usually add to the issues, but when done masterfully can pave the way to success. Here are three tips to making sure you can facilitate effective stakeholder translation.

Know your Audience

The key to delivering any messaging effectively is to know your audience. What is their technical knowledge level? How do you want them to understand your message? This goes both ways – perhaps you’re taking direction from senior management and translating it to more technical staff in a way that they can effectively understand it as well as translating up to project sponsors to convey the details of a major technical issue as per the example above. Perhaps your sponsor has a deep technical background – in that case he/she might appreciate more technical details around the issue. There’s no cookie-cutter method for translating but one of the keys is to get a little bit inside the head of your audience to determine how best to structure your messaging to allow for maximum absorption.

Understand the Material

Nothing will deflate the ability to effectively translate a message more than not knowing the details. To deliver a message that is understandable by your intended recipients, you need to understand the source of the message. If it’s a deeply complex technical issue that you need to report to senior management, you don’t need to have an engineering degree to be able to understand all of the intricacies of the problem, but you should know several key things: 1) Source of the problem; 2) Impact that this problem has to the project and; 3) What is the strategy to resolve it and what is needed from project sponsorship. Anticipate the questions that you will be asked and prepare your answers in advance but also do a deep study on the topic and be able to communicate effectively on the topic.

Ensure Knowledge Transfer

As with delivering any message of a complex nature, it’s critical to ensure that the recipient of that message understands it in the way you intended to communicate it. Some easy practices to ensure this has taken place is at the end of the meeting or phone call, have your recipient ask questions about what was just communicated or have them recite the problem back to you to ensure that they have understood it in the manner by which you intended. If there is a disconnect at this point then all of the pre-work you have done in delivering your message has gone out the window. Being able to effectively translate a message from technical to non-technical speak is a skill that when done correctly can save a lot of time and energy on something as simple as relaying information.

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