Thinking in Concentric Circles

By Tom Hirons, President & CEO

“Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the Indianapolis Education Association, said she was surprised to hear about the program for the first time Tuesday night. …”

Indianapolis Star reporter Eric Weddle covered the announcement of an Indianapolis Public Schools/ Mind Trust proposal to fix failing schools. His inclusion of Rhondalyn Cornett’s surprise illustrates the principle of thinking in concentric circles.

We have all had that experience of hearing or reading about something and being surprised that we didn’t already know it. And, we know the satisfaction of reading something in the morning paper or hearing something at a public meeting, having already been briefed on it. Quite simply, people want to feel that they are informed; they want to know something before they hear about it. Knowledge is power. Empower your stakeholders by making sure they are always the first to know.

There is an art to doing this. Think in terms of concentric circles. At the core are your most key stakeholders. These may be your board of directors and senior officers. Your next circle out may be senior staff because they would most certainly want to hear something before they are asked about it by a co-worker. And, employees always are somewhere in one of the inner circles. They, like it or not and in spite of your public relations policy, are voices of your organization. Nonprofit organizations will have large donors in an inner circle and smaller donors possibly a circle or two further out from the center. Often overlooked, customers and clients are stakeholders. Communicating directly and engaging them is powerful in building relationships.

Be inclusive. Build your list of stakeholders from every perspective, every angle and every audience. Tailor your messages to each of these audiences and determine for each audience and each individual the most appropriate means of communicating. Some require a personal visit. Others, a phone call. Most, an email. All deserve something personal. And, just as there is a hierarchy, there is an order and direction in which this information should flow.

In our connected world, news travels fast. Often a matter of moments makes the difference between being in the know and being taken by surprise. Rhondalyn Cornett probably didn’t like being surprised.