Regardless of whether a corporate structure is to be restructured, whether a high-profile construction project is to be implemented or whether digital transformation is to accelerate the renewal of existing structures: Where new projects are planned and changes are planned, the stakeholders involved must be involved. Johanna Härtl, consultant for citizen communication at Kaltwasser Kommunikation, knows how this works.
All right. Is that enough?
Legitimacy is not enough. Only because a managing director is formally entitled to order an internal restructuring or because a building project is legally approved, the success of a project is by no means guaranteed. Even if decisions are legitimate and formally binding, change processes must at least be accepted by all affected people and stakeholders so that they do not fail. It is even better if those involved even agree to the change and support it. This applies both to internal company processes and to high-profile projects.
Acceptance needs participation
Citizen communication or change communication can significantly promote acceptance for change processes and new projects. It is successful if it enables the people and stakeholders concerned to participate in the process. If only checklists with measures are worked through stubbornly and project communication is practised as a necessary compulsory exercise, real participation cannot be achieved. Communication is not an end in itself. It is successful when people feel well informed and involved, not when a project sponsor thinks he has communicated well.
Thinking and feeling from the human point of view
"When we develop a communication strategy, we therefore not only determine how affected stakeholders should be appropriately involved. We also ask: What needs to be done to make people feel that they are well involved," Härtl explains.
Three golden rules for communication that are important
- Communicate at eye level!
Basic, but by no means trivial: People must feel understood and taken seriously. This requires communication at eye level - in the language of the people (keyword: dialect!), in a suitable environment and with a sincere attitude. Otherwise a feeling of helplessness can quickly solidify, based on the perception that "the little man" cannot compete with "the one up there".
- Create more transparency!
Timely, comprehensible and honest information creates trust. Project promoters and decision-makers are well advised to keep stakeholders up to date on the progress of a project and to provide them with the information they need and understand. We know from experience: When it comes to complex interrelationships, such as digitalisation or the energy revolution, people need very comprehensive and solid information. By passing on knowledge and disclosing information about a project, people get the chance to form their own opinion.
- Allow cooperation!
If those affected can help to shape and support a process themselves, it also gains approval more easily. Participation can mean cooperation and co-decision on the content of the process or it can also be financial participation in a project, such as in citizen wind farms. The project sponsor or the management board of a company must be prepared to really allow changes to the project by the people involved.
But be careful! Project promoters must not make the mistake of fooling stakeholders into believing that they have a say in the project. Those who first seek people's opinions, ask them questions and determine their wishes, but then do not take these findings further into account in the process, lose credibility. "Well-intentioned participation, which does not flow into the process in a comprehensible way, comes back like a boomerang and undermines people's trust in the project sponsor," warns Johanna Härtl.