Ali Girard


Communications =/= Change Management

When I first became interested in change management as a profession I started asking questions about it. I found anyone and everyone in the field who would have coffee, a phone call, or an email exchange with me. One particular phone call stands out in my memory because the person on the other end got a little miffed with me. Well, not me, but a inference I had made. My line of reasoning was that due to my background in communications I would be well positioned for a career in change management. I struck the wrong cord: “Change management is much more than communications, you know.”

At then time I was a little puzzled. Communicating seemed to be a large part of the process of change management. How could what I said have been so wrong? Today, I know exactly where the person on the other end of the line was coming from.

What’s the problem with communications?

Now, communications as field encompasses a lot. Having devised digital strategy and public consultation plans in the past, I can tell you that there are many areas of overlap between the two fields – it’s strategic, audience (stakeholder) focused, and can be employed to influence behavioural change. I do not intend to belittle my first love in any way here.

The problem isn’t with communications itself, it’s with the project world view of communications. In the project world, communications is often reduced to thoughts along the lines of: “I need someone to write an email informing people of my project.”

You can see why this becomes more than labelling pet peeve to a change manager. With one word, they’ve been denied any influence over how the project takes shape – which is exactly what change management is there for. They are cut out of the project design phase, denied access to project sponsorship, and activities like coaching and resistance management are swept right off the table. If there was a broader understanding of communications as a strategic practice, there would at least be wiggle room into other change management activities.

After a year in the field I’ve started to (gently) correct people on their labelling of my role. While I continue to learn all that I can from the field of communications, on projects I am the change management, not communications, resource.

What do you think?

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