Five Secrets to Briefing Stakeholders, Senior Management, or the Board Effectively

Does your job require you to brief senior management, the board, or other stakeholder groups? People who have a stake in your business, organization, or program want to know what’s going on so they can give you good guidance. If the group you are briefing has a governance role, they want to be well-informed so that they make good decisions.

1. Provide continuity and context. An effective briefing always starts with a quick summary of where you are in the process. What did you tell them or promise to do the last time you briefed them? This is important for several reasons. You are living with the content of your briefing every day, they are not. For them, this may be one briefing of many. They aren’t necessarily going to remember what you told them last time. Even if their assistants prep them for this meeting, the first thing these assistants will do is to go back to your last briefing and see what you promised.

If you don’t update your stakeholders on the status of what you promised before, someone will ask about it and derail the briefing because they think you are trying to pull a fast one. One way to ensure there is continuity and context for briefings is to use a standard timeline or other graphic which is recognizable and memorable and is updated to show changes since the last time you briefed them. Show trends and comparisons so that the continuity and context of your briefing are easy to visualize.miracle_cartoon

2. Candidly report failures as well as successes. No one bats 1000. You build credibility by reporting the things that haven’t worked out especially if you explain what you have learned and how that learning has informed revisions to your strategy or program. If, for example, you were over-ambitious in your estimates for program completion, say so and fix it.

If you have significant successes, don’t be shy. If your briefing is balanced you will get credit for the successes. If you only report successes, you will find your stakeholders are more suspicious and tend to discount what you actually have accomplished.

3. Clearly state what you need from the stakeholders and why. Your stakeholders (just like you) hate to have people waste their time. So be clear in your briefing (and in advance if possible) what you need from them. Do you need authorization to proceed? allocation of budget? advice on approaches to a problem? You can brief stakeholders simply to keep them informed, but you are probably better off at least asking their advice on specific issues if you want them to buy into your efforts.

If you ask their opinions, make sure the next time you brief them, you update them on what decisions you have taken and how you incorporated their advice. With governance groups, it may be helpful to indicate next to each item on the agenda what type of action you are requesting them to take.

4. Be brief – it’s called a briefing for a reason. Focus on key elements of the content you need to communicate. Don’t try to be so comprehensive that you get into the weeds. The stakeholders are going to ask questions anyway, so leave them some room to do their job. If no one asks any questions, your briefing probably wasn’t successful.

If you have to submit a written document in advance on which the briefing is based, write the executive summary first. This will help you identify three or four key messages that will be the essence of your briefing and give you a structure for efficient communication. Detailed information, if needed, should be annexed for reference so it doesn’t bloat the briefing document.

5. Say thank you. Thank your stakeholders for their interest, commitment, advice, support – whatever is appropriate. If they have provided specific useful feedback or input, thank them for these points specifically. They will know you have heard them and that you appreciate their guidance. Thank your own staff who have contributed to the briefing.

One easy way to make sure your team is recognized is to avoid using the “perpendicular pronoun” (I did this, I did that) unless you did everything alone (That’s unlikely). Instead use the “collaborative we” where appropriate (we did this, we worked with department x to do that).

Following these simple guidelines to develop an effective briefing process will save you time in the long run and build a good relationship with your stakeholders.