Written by Natalie Young
Whether you’re the communicator supporting a project team, a project manager, or team member responsible for communications, at some point you may be asked to provide a update/briefing for senior executives. Conveniently, this often happens when you’re incredibly busy, or things are going off track (or someone believes they are).
So, it’s Monday morning, and you’ve been asked to prepare a summary of the status of a complex issue or project to be presented to senior management the next day. You may think “why me…and now what?!”
Perhaps your first instinct is to panic and immediately draft your communication so that you don’t miss the deadline. Instead, you can take a deep breath and meet this challenge with a more strategic approach that allows you to address the request with a polished update.
Ready to roll up your sleeves?
1. Define the purpose of the update.
What and why are you communicating?
If this update was unplanned, can you find out more about why it’s been requested and why it’s needed at this time? Perhaps someone on the project team already knows the reason(s) and can help to scope out what information is most important to share. For example, is senior management concerned with upcoming or missed deadlines? Have they heard about budget changes, or other resourcing constraints that your project is facing? Or are they just curious about the project in general because they read about it in the company newsletter?
Once you fully understand the “why”, the content of the project update (the “what”) will be driven by your investigation into this first question.
2. Know your audience.
Who are you communicating to?
I always ask who specifically will receive the update so I can tailor my communications approach to that audience.
Find out whether the update will be shared with an individual manager or potentially across an executive team. If you already know the audience well, you may be able to apply a more personal, informal tone to your communications. The more you understand the business priorities of the executive(s) making the request, the more you can target the message content and style of your communication. For example, the CFO might be more interested in your project’s financial highlights than learning about your dynamite communications and training plan.
As Indeed advises in “Tips for Communicating with Executives”, you need to “think like an executive”. Executives deal with and make decisions on many items over the course of a week, so they can’t possibly be an expert on every project, including yours. Your job is to give them only the information they need to gain a clear and concise understanding of the issue or project at hand.
3. Choose the right vehicle for the communication
How can you best communicate your message?
Is it best to create a PowerPoint deck that focuses on dynamic visuals? Or is it more effective to draft a one-page brief that you can leave with the executive team? Or maybe both?
Knowing your audience’s preferences and the purpose of your update should drive your choice of communication vehicle. And always check if your team has already established a template for communicating updates to management, as this may be the expected approach and format.
If you’re given time to provide a presentation, it can be a golden opportunity to engage the C-suite on your team’s initiative and gain (or re-gain) their support. Although it can appear daunting, delivering your update in-person can help build relationships, address key issues, and make more of a lasting impact than a written update alone.
4. Craft your update.
Time to pull it all together – the “why”, “what”, “who”, and “how” of your communication.
Now that you’re armed with all this great information, you have a clear strategy to build your update. All you have to do now is write your key messages, supporting them with data and facts relevant to your update’s purpose and audience. Design the update with the format you chose in Tip #3. .
The tried-and-true method of “K.I.S.S.” applies here – keep it short and simple! As this Forbes article emphasizes, this is not the time to show off your technical knowledge about the project and overwhelm management with detailed spreadsheets and jargon. This is your opportunity to provide executives with a brief, but clear understanding about your project.
Be honest, transparent, and use plain-language where possible. These principles apply whether you’re sharing challenges that the project team may be facing, or you’re communicating the benefits that the project is offering to the organization.
Communicating project updates to executives doesn’t need to be scary
The next time you face a tight deadline to share a project update with company executives, you can follow these tips to pull off a winning communication piece and leave a positive lasting impression with your C-suite.