Change Management | Communications … what’s the difference?

Working with Government departments for the past year has made me realize that there exists a lot of confusion about two topics that are extremely relevant today: Change Management and Communications. They are very complementary in nature but are not one and the same, and I want to try and help clarify.

Why are these topics relevant today?

Considering just a couple of the headlines coming out of Government lately…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…recognizing the importance of and difference between Change Management and Communications is critical. The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be to help people navigate the coming changes.

Similarities and Differences

In adjusting some very basic definitions, you can see both distinction and overlap (also why I understand it can be confusing…):

Change Management (CM): The process of attending to people – helping them become willing and able to change.
Communications: The process of relaying information to people – helping them become aware of the details of the change.

Both involve people.
Both involve a process.
Both involve helping or, even better, supporting.

Although the similarities are undeniable, the major defining difference is this: Change Management is the holistic view of attending to people – helping them become willing and able to move from A to B. Whereas Communications support this process by relaying information to help make people aware of what’s happening during and after the move from A to B (and consequently increasing willingness).

The people

Change Management aims to address the basic fact that people have different learning styles and personalities. It considers an organization not as one entity, rather as a group of individuals, all with different values, beliefs, experiences, attitudes, skills, history and on and on. When experiencing change, members of the group will have unique reactions and responses, perhaps over different periods of time.  I’m sure many of you can recount how different the reaction of a colleague was from yours when a major change was announced. Our emotional responses will vary – some individuals may react right away, while others may go home, digest and return the next day armed with questions.

Change Management takes all of this into account. It’s the crucial starting point of understanding how we can bring all members of an organization from A to B… and start to address their collective “willingness” and “ability”.

Similarly, in our communications, we must draw on these basic human facts as a way to understand our collective audience, or, stakeholders. Are we dealing with scientific, factual-minded or creative, hands-on people? What kinds of communications have they liked in the past? Do they value face-to-face as the main vehicle? Do they learn by observing, listening or doing? The list could go on, but these are just a few examples of people/stakeholder-related questions you should be asking yourself when planning your communications.

The process

As I mentioned earlier, CM is the holistic view – helping people become willing and able to change, or move from A to B. Although that statement makes it sound simple, it can be extremely complex depending on the type and nature of the change. CM is not the type of process that has a clear start and end, nor can it be applied in the same way to every situation.

Knowing that individuals will react and respond differently means we need to employ different tools and strategies including training plans, performance objectives and measures, removing barriers and administrative burdens, open and frequent communications, engagement plans, feedback, coaching, rewards, increasing or decreasing responsibility, resistance management etc. There are many different ways we can work with groups of individuals to address their needs and increase their ability and willingness to change.

Communications are a crucial part of Change Management. Apart from knowing our audience/stakeholders, all sorts of other considerations come into play such as impacts of the change – positive/negative, who is most/least impacted, how large the impacts are, the type of impacts i.e., role changes, leader changes, physical move etc; timing of the change – sequential or sporadic, planned or ad-hoc, at the same time as other major changes etc; details of the change – need/cause, future vision, organizational structures, technology, processes etc.

In planning the change, all of these details need to be sorted out. Using Change Management principles, Communications should provide the right information to the right people at the right time so they are aware of what’s happening, when and why. As their awareness increases, so too, can their willingness.

Helping and Supporting

The implicit role of both Change Management and Communications is to help and support, as demonstrated throughout the People and Process sections. Keep in mind that communications must continue throughout the entire change. There are times when we should throttle up (i.e. during shock and denial stages), and times when it’s ok to slow down a bit (i.e. during implementation). But your communications are critical in maintaining a level of trust, transparency, hope and of course, awareness, throughout the lifecycle of the change.

Here’s a good visual that summarizes CM and Communications and how they can support your people:

Conclusion

Change Management can’t happen effectively without Communications.  But simply communicating to people does not give you a check mark in the Change Management box either. Communications underpin and support Change Management efforts. And Change Management efforts help enforce and sustain the change by taking into account the people.

So what’s the take-away? Yes, CM and Communications are similar in that they both involve people, process and help/support. But they are not one and the same. The big difference, I re-emphasize, is that Change Management is the holistic view of attending to people – helping them become willing and able to move from A to B. Whereas Communications support this process by relaying information to help make people aware of what’s happening during and after the move from A to B (and consequently increasing willingness).


Jessica is a business consultant with over ten years of experience working in both public and private sectors. Her ability to understand the clients perspective and aptitude for problem solving has led her to deliver transformational communications, change management, process improvement and performance measurement projects. Jessica is part of Systemscope’s Enterprise Renewal team.


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