Change management and communication

Change management. It’s something several government organisations are experiencing at the moment as they change the way they do their business while continuing to deliver on their programs and policies in the most efficient and effective way.

This change can come in many different shapes and forms. Sometimes its staff taking on new roles and responsibilities, other times it can be changing behaviours or introducing new approaches to the work that is done every day. For many people, this level of change can be quite a stressful period, however, it’s not all doom and gloom. When managed effectively, change can lead to improved mental health, innovation and an increase in productivity.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) believes “change is a key feature of modern workplaces”, and has pushed the idea for several years now that “high performing agencies need to be flexible, adaptable and able to respond quickly to changes in Australian Government direction or in their operating environment so as to continue to deliver effective outcomes.”

So, with that in mind, why is it that many organisations to this day still try to implement change without adequate change management resources and practices?

The global strategy team at Price Waterhouse & Coopers (PwC) defines change management as “a systematic approach to enabling people in an organisation to transition from their current state to a desired future state… it is the capability and set of interventions that deliver the “people” side of a change effort.”

The global strategy team explains that organisations that operate without adequate change management face a high risk of failure. “Successful change management not only targets leaders but also engages people across the organisation while adjusting key enabling processes such as performance management.”

According to PwC, there are a number of characteristics that make up a successful change management program, these include people-focused; systemic; and formal and informal levers.

Characteristics of successful change management program

  1. People-focused – to achieve business-change objectives, organisations must modify the way people work and behave.
  2. Systemic – each business is a system; therefore, it is important that change management practitioners understand the enablers and barriers that will affect the change.
  3. Formal and informal levers – successful change management uses informal and formal methods for example informal peer-to-peer networks and more formal approaches such as recruitment, reward and recognition, and performance management processes. 

(Source: Price Waterhouse & Coopers Strategy& 2017)

This notion of the two being separate but intrinsically linked is supported by the global PwC Strategy team. “Change management is not a communications plan – communication is a vital component of an effective change management program, but it is no substitute. Nor is it an HR initiative, though HR plays a critical role in implementing change.”As strategic communicators, we know that the quality and consistency of communication plays an important role in change becoming embedded and accepted within the organisation. But that’s just it. Communication plays a role. It is not, and should never be a replacement for the profession that is, change management.

In A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, Craig Pearce backs up the statement that communication ought to be embedded in all aspects of change. He also adds, “leadership, communication and culture are the triumvirate bedrock for change­­–be it good or bad, effective or ineffective.”

The keyword for me in Pearce’s quote is leadership. Leaders, in any organisation, set the direction. The APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2014-15 refresh define leadership as “the practice of mobilising people to make progress on challenges and thrive.” They also state that “effective leadership anticipates future changes, enabling organisations and people to proactively manage change before circumstances force change upon them.”

Many people will say that we all possess leadership qualities, that we can all behave in a particular way and that it isn’t about levels or seniority. And to be honest, I have to agree. We can all exercise leadership, but when it comes to change management, senior leaders have a responsibility, a duty, to lead by example, to support the process and to champion the cause to embed the desired change in the organisation.

To implement change communication, the same strategic method applies. Communication must be measurable, repeatable and accountable. We must curate, create and distribute useful, relevant and consistent content to the needs of the audience to achieve a desired result or stakeholder action. It is also just as important that all content be created with the following principles:

  • Audience centred – The process of communication begins with the audience therefore organisations need to be completely clear in purpose, tone, detail and expression. All messages must be developed in simple, easy to understand language.
  • Consistent – Consistency is the key to success in any communication activity. Clear and consistent communication helps engrain habits, improves reputation and likeability, and ensures acceptance of the message. Even if there isn’t anything to update
  • Relevant – High quality, relevant and appealing content is the most important way to engage with the audience. All content types and publishing frequency must be driven by the needs of the audience.
  • Compelling, valuable and honest – To engage and create a human connection with the audience, organisations need to use powerful messages that will ultimately resonate with different demographics.

Another key consideration for change communication is to involve employees in the process, encourage participation and foster ongoing dialogue.

I acknowledge that this is only touching on the subject of change management and communication and there is a whole lot more to it beneath the surface.

But my point at the end of the day is simple; change management and communication go hand in hand.

You can never replace communication with change management and in order to embed change, you need unwavering support from senior leadership. To me, change management is the ‘Batman’, taking the lead on all operations, and communication is ‘Robin’, providing the pivotal, much-needed back-up to Batman. At the end of the day, Batman wouldn’t be the hero that he is without his trusty side-kick, Robin.

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