Communication = Change Management


What is Change Management?

Just communications?

All too often, I have come across the perception that Change Management is “basically” communications. There seems to be a broadly accepted view that: “The programme manager is accountable for the project plan and delivery thereof while the change manager is accountable for the communications plan and the delivery thereof” I thought that this antiquated thinking had eroded over time and that the understanding of Change Management had matured. Sadly though, I have been proven wrong just last month when I met with a representative from one of the largest banks in the world. Their change team, working on a global transformation, echoed this thinking and approach.

I am going to show you how communications are essential to change projects but that there is also a lot more to Change Management. 

I believe that communication is like gold and Change Management is like jewellery in that there is a lot of value in well managed communication but that Change Management needs to go above and beyond communication to deliver very specific solutions to address the factors that hinder a change process. The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides a simple definition of Communication: 

the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviours to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else. 

In the context of organisational change, there is so much information that needs to be shared, understood, applied, interpreted and acted on. Communication is simply not enough, because change comes about by changing the way people in an organisation view things, approach tasks and execute processes and this goes beyond thoughts ideas and feelings.  

Organisations are complex, they are made up of numerous functions, departments and individuals each of which have a very specific context. Therefore, their reaction to the information shared will differ and so their communications and change plans will need to differ too. 

Here’s a simple version of Change Management in 3 basic steps:

  1. Share the information. Which will go along the lines of: “we are undertaking the following changes to achieve the following results and are looking to you to deliver the following to ensure that we achieve our goals.”

  2. Ensure alignment. That the information is understood and interpreted appropriately. This means that a stakeholder should be able to play back to you what is being done, what the organisation’s goals are and what the implications will be for them. If all that is correct and sincere then you are aligned.

  3. Mobilisation. Which is where stakeholders and stakeholder groups begin to take action which will result in a new way of working which is ideal for the organisation, function team and individuals.

The process is never that straightforward and the key to success lies in identifying and addressing issues.

In order to manage resistance you need to:

  • Understand the root causes and address them accordingly.

  • Consider the stakeholders’ context and design a tailored approach to deliver results.

  • Ensure that team & organisation structures, job descriptions, performance metrics, culture, knowledge, ability and ways of working, change as required.

None of this can be achieved via communication alone. Each project or programme requires very specific solutions.

Back to the analogy of communication like gold and change management like jewellery; Take a minute to think of a significant event that has taken place for someone close to you. Imagine if at that occasion you were to present them with a lump of gold. There is no denying its value (especially in times of economic uncertainty) but there is little meaning to it and it will not be appreciated and treasured in the same way that a bracelet, ring or diamond necklace of the very same value would be. There is a lot of thought that goes into designing, making and choosing a piece of jewellery and when considering a change in systems, processes, operating models and structures etc. it is really important to ensure that you have the right expertise in place to manage that change effectively.

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Nigel Ivy