The changing world of change communication

Communication professionals are in the business of change. We design campaigns to understand perceptions and attitudes. At our best, we can contribute to shifting understanding, increasing awareness and influencing intentions.

Intent is key for internal communication. We communicate to create change.

Intent is key for internal communication. We communicate to create change.

And yet, when it comes to the processes of managing change within organisations, the world of communication and the world of change can seem like different planets.

Short-term versus long term

PR – particularly when not in-house- is frequently a short-cycle activity. Communicators get in, understand a problem, an issue or a stance, manage our campaign, and then get out again.

Three years ago, I was facilitating a discussion with communication professionals about the differences between internal communication and external communication, and why specialists in the two fields don’t always see eye to eye. One very experienced practioner summed up the challenge well. At the risk of making broad generalisations, he indicated that external comms practitioners are adept at short cycle communication, deep diving into an issue as required, working with the news cycle and then moving on to the next issue. By contrast, he felt that internal communicators may be used to longer time scales for achieving changes in culture or engagement, looking holistically at the interdependencies and ongoing employee experience.

Historically that may have been correct, but communicators need to be agile when communicating change internally and externally. This means being adaptable and responsive to circumstances that may be constantly evolving. It requires communicators to be active agents of change.

Change agents and Change Agents

Organisational development and transformational change, process change, operational change management: each are different varieties of change that rely on different communication methods and approaches.

There is more to managing (most types of) change than communication alone. Understanding the key steps in the change management process, the different types of organisational change, and the key roles for leadership, communication, training and even HR, helps create the partnerships that lead to effective change.

We explored these ideas and more in the  PRIA webinar, The Business of Change, The Art of Communication on 14 November. PRIA members will ion be able to access the webinar recording, and the slideshare is available.

In the session, we defined and aligned approaches to change communication for in-house practitioners working on major projects, PR and comms professionals who are part of an agency response to change, or even managing changes in your own business.

PR versus HR is the path to extinction

End of TImes Copyright Jon Kudelka

"Evolution is essential". Image copyright Jon Kudelka

I received this tweet today from Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications:

HR Isn’t Dead. It’s Called PR | Blogging4Jobs

The headline is deliberately controversial. I read on. The link is to an article by Jessica Miller-Merrel, in which she clearly outlines the way in which different functions contribute to the reputation and communication context of organisations. However, there is much in the article to fuel the mutual mistrust between these areas. And that has to stop. Thanks to Jessica for a good article, even if a little sensationalist in tone. I hope it is the last.

Here’s why.

(An open letter to HR, PR, Organisational Communication, Organisational Development, Internal Communication, Marketing, Change Management and all other professional groups who contribute to achieving better business results. That goes for you too, IT.)

There is so much hand-wring, introspection, flinging of grenades across the invisible walls (or actual cubicles) in companies. This spills over to the blogosphere. Most of the thousands of ‘hammer HR’ or “pound PR” posts seem to originate from people who have had a bad experience within an organisation, but have been unable to effect change. And, let’s be honest. While that happens sometimes, there is a better way.

When we continue the discourse from these deeply entrenched partisan positions, we weaken the position of all the participants. We perpetuate the stereotypical responses of the past:

* HR people can’t write
* PR just spin things
* IT cost us too much
* OD think this is a cult.

The issues behind these jabs are often real. For example:

* [Insert function] people fail to unable to develop professional partnerships effectively with internal stakeholders.
* PR people unable to develop whole-system thinking, based the myth that they can ‘control the message’.
* OD/Change commence a change that is unsustainable or has insufficient sponsorship to stick, subjecting employees to unfair uncertainty.
* HR people unable to quantify their deliverables in language that speaks to the business.
* The IT solutions blow out in terms of time or budget.

However, these localised shortcomings must be overcome in order for all these contributors to bring their specific body of knowledge, perspectives and solutions to the business. Great results occur when:

* HR attracts, develop and keeps the right people
* HR manages workforce risk effectively
* Internal Communication connects people to the brand and the strategy
* PR promotes the organisation holistically
* Marketing reflects and draws on the workforce in an authentic way
* IT deliver smart fit for purpose solutions

Before perpetuating the divide consider these ideas.

If the energy that was spent on sustaining energy and battle around these self-created issues was spent on improving the business, imagine the value that could be created within organisations.

Spend the time that it takes to read a post critical of another professional discipline on reading one about a business that has developed an innovation program without boundaries, or the business value of collaboration.

Spend the time it takes to write a sh*t-mail to your colleagues ‘over the wall’ to rethink perspectives. What can you do to align perspectives?

At its worst, the tension between these functions is neanderthal stone throwing. Territoriality and an inability to adapt will be the death of any professional species that is unable to continue to transform: to integrate, collaborate and create new value in business.

This is the time to evolve into a hybrid species: professional disciplines that can work across boundaries, can focus on the larger goal, who find new ways of creating value (outcomes) together for the benefit of the organisation.

Are you choosing evolution or extinction?

I have a lot of time for Ragan’s range of communication publications. I have picked up a lot of tips over years of subscription (anyone else remember the mustard colour weekly paper mailout?) and I’m sure Mark intended generating a great discussion with this tweet.