Should we view change as a specialist skill or is it the norm?

When I think about specialisms within our profession PR, media relations, Public Affairs, Internal Communications etc. come to mind – but not Change. This thought came to mind as I was looking at research which specified change management as a discipline and when I was looking at a job spec for a permanent role which was a change specialist.

The question that came to mind was around whether anyone permanent would consider change a separate skill and whether it is only interim consultants that cover the change programmes today.

I have worked in-house in communications for 13 years and I would never consider change a specific skill. However, I have managed communications around new CEO’s, COO’s and CFO’s, a company going through an IPO and another being acquired as well as large IT programmes like adoption of enterprise social networks or a new email provider – yet I don’t think about change as anything different to the day job.

So is there a disconnect between what employers are asking for and what communicators see as a distinction within the internal comms specialism? And does anyone in-house consider themselves a change specialist?

I took to LinkedIn to ask the question and was pleased to see that I wasn’t alone in my thinking that change is business as usual but also surprised to see change as a specific role within the communications function with many people commenting ‘I’m in-house and I specialise in change’.

Thank you to those that took the time to answer – here are some of those comments:

  • I would agree with you because ‘change’ is often viewed as a finite project. But transformation is becoming BAU for many organisations, so perhaps change comms roles might become a more permanent feature. (Philippa Melaniphy)
  • Change is BAU. Does anyone know any in-house practitioners not working on change? But when PMOs are set up to manage a change programme, IC functions are normally stretched to their limits and have no capacity/capability. So they go to the interim market. This is the product of underinvestment and downsizing. IC functions that are set up in a project-based structure are always more effective than those that follow the Ulrich model. That’s my experience anyway. Hope that helps. (Sean Trainor)
  • I handled change comms in house, along with a team, we handled all internal comms but it included big and small scale change as part of an ongoing transformation programme. (Jennifer Hayward)
  • I did this and it was highly effective. Though to what Sean Trainor said, all leaders must be skilled in managing change. What I found was often, leaders and managers believed change management was all communications. It is not. Communication is crucial, but Comms can’t be solely responsible for managing change within the organization. Leaders have to be willing to buy in, articulate the why and be willing to have the hard conversations around the decisions that have or are being made. (Kelli Holland, JD, MBA, CBP )
  • I think most comms people I talk to are involved in communicating change. It may not be the bulk of what they do, and every organisation/situation is different, but it’s there to some extent. That said, there’s a good market for experienced change comms interims because a) they can bring specific experience to the table and b) change comms is often linked to (and paid for by) the programme team, so it’s seen as a short term need, hence not perm. (Mark Muscroft)

Interestingly the 2017 Inside Insight report from VMA Group shows that 61% of interim contracts are linked to change programmes and change management is in the top 5 important skills for IC professionals in the future – so clearly not just an interim role in today’s communication function.

On Twitter @wetfootprints replied to the question to say that “The company environment has to be open enough to have a continuous improvement/change culture otherwise will always be seen as temp fix.” And I’m left wondering if company culture needs to shift into this mindset, using the skills of change management and change communication to continually evolve in today’s climate.

Diary of a Diploma: Day two

We are now well underway with the Diploma and after day one on 2 February, we all had to read nine chapters from two different books. I am not sure how I would fit this in if I had to drive to work – the 40 minutes each way on the train is now my study time and allows we to get through a lot!

I’m really enjoying the reading as I’m starting to plan my strategy for 2014 and some of the themes we are reading about are very relevant to my organisation.

On day two, 23 February, we moved on to explore change communication, problem solving and our projects. We were joined by management consultant and author John Smythe, who took time out of his Saturday to talk to us about his theories and ideas on the role of communications and how things are changing.

One of the great things about the course is the face-to-face element. We are all in different places in our careers and all from different industries so it is great to spend time working things through together. We discuss, in depth, some of the models used for internal communication and on Saturday this was no exception. We spent time looking at Kotter’s model for change and explored how this differs to Wheatley’s and Herrero’s views, all underpinned by the fact that how we communicate is changing and the top-down model is no longer valid.

There were some great stats and thought provoking statements made during the day that really provided some food for thought:

  • 60% of management problems are due to faulty comms and 75% of change projects fail
  • Communication and engagement can be different roles in organisations. Engagement is not a role, it is a way of leading and managing
  • When looking at change we need to consider how we communicate it – not just the models that explore the steps to manage it but let’s explore the channels and message management
  • Authoritarian regimes, whether in countries or in organisations, are coming to an end
  • God Vs Guide. Our leaders should be on the dance floor with everyone else
  • Our communications strategy should support the what and the why coming from the top, but the how coming from the bottom

An afternoon of creative problem identification and problem solving was amazing. I have never done anything like this and it was a great technique I’ll be taking back to the office. In small groups we each stated our problem. One was chosen to explore. Through exploring the problem the group ask the problem owner a serious of questions about it and the responses can only be factual. After 5-10 minutes the group then re-write the problem based on their findings – it makes you understand what the problem really is before you start looking at solutions. I will definitely be using this when people come to me and ask for a poster or a leaflet to understand more about what they are looking for.

The day flew by and I now have about four ideas for my project! As this is the first time I have done anything like this I genuinely think I have caught the bug as I’m already thinking about what is next for my own development. Before I started this I would have budgeted to attend various conferences throughout the year and some of them are over £1,000 to attend for just two days. Next year I think I’ll spend this money on my own development. I am learning more from doing this over six months than attending any conference – something to think about when you come to setting your budgets next year?