Communicating change inside organisations - what skills will help?

I was recently part of a panel run by CIPR Inside, discussing the role of internal communications in organisational change, a topic which comes up time and time again in the industry. One of the many interesting questions raised was around the specialist skills that those working in internal communications might need to support the communication of organisational change. This has really stuck with me since the event, so I wanted to explore some of the answers that the panel gave in more detail.

Credit: Gert Altmann, Pixabay

Credit: Gert Altmann, Pixabay

As an aside - although the audience was those working in internal communication, these topics apply equally to anyone working in management or leadership roles. The more we can all learn about the people side of change, the better! Here’s some of my thoughts – let me know yours…

Understanding psychology – mentioned by Cecile Jenkins, from OUP.

Psychology has been around in the world of communications for a long time. However, in the last ten years it – and the area of neuroscience - has gradually been gathering pace and particularly around communicating change in organisations. For me, one of the basics which is explained really well in Hilary Scarlett’s book, ‘Neuroscience for Organisational Change’, is understanding the human brain. Based on our evolution, our brains don’t like the uncertainty of change and tries to protect us from the dangers it will bring. So, with this in mind, looking at how we communicate, with people front and centre of change, can make a big difference to our audiences receiving the messages.

Resources I keep going back to as reminders around the psychology of change:

Viral Change, Leandro Herrero
Switch, how to change things when change is hard - Chip and Dan Heath
Positive Psychology and Change – Sarah Lewis

Get comfortable with data and understand it
– mentioned by both Sara Hirsch and Paul Breakwell.

Data – and measurement – are recurring themes for those working in organisational change communications as much as for internal communications. As with any other communications, the basics are key so, things like:

  • Setting communication objectives – aligning these with your organisation’s objectives. Identify out what’s most important for you to know, even if it feels hard to measure (such as changes in behaviour).

  • Understanding the data you have available and how you can best use it. And if you don’t have data to measure those things that are important to you and your stakeholders, work out how to get it.

  • How you’re going to report on it in a way that’s most valuable for your stakeholders. Talk to them about what works best for them.

On larger projects, I’ve been part of a business or organisational change readiness team which has really helped. For example, tools they use such as impact assessments and readiness surveys, along with employee feedback and call centre data, are all data elements that can help to feed into the bigger picture to help shape communications approaches. Which leads on to…

Understanding change management - for me, this is a biggie and one I mentioned.

For larger projects, change management is a rapidly growing discipline and I believe communications lies at the core of it. Change (and project) managers often develop communications themselves, and I have heard comments in the past that those working in internal communications either ‘don’t get’ change or simply want to talk about how things can fit into a timetable. So, getting your head around the language used and methodologies involved in change and project management can help build relationships and support your comms efforts, giving you, for example:

  • An understanding of the information that change managers work with – that could support your organisational comms

  • A common language and understanding of what’s involved – so the difference between Agile and agile, for example (CIPR runs a course on Agile Project Management)

  • Ideas of how different disciplines can work together for mutual benefit.

Resources I’ve found useful in this area:

Making sense of Change Management – Esther Cameron and Mike Green
Change Management – the People Side of Change – Jeffrey M Hiatt and Timothy J Creasey
I’m a member of the Change Management Institute and I also occasionally attend events run by the Association of Project Managers (APM). Both cover some interesting topics with great speakers and you can join their events as a guest.

Finally, coaching. Another biggie for me.

Working in change projects and programmes within organisations, I increasingly found that I was having conversations that, with the benefit of hindsight, turned out to be coaching conversations. I felt it was important for me to learn the right skills to support people and organisations as well as I could in this area, so I qualified as an executive coach. This has been invaluable.

For me, the over-riding theme of this part of the session focused around people - understanding them better and how those involved in internal communications can support change better.

So, what other skills do you think would help you in communicating change in organisations? And what resources have you found really useful that you can share?

I support organisations and teams, helping to make the people side of change work better. I help with tools such as communication, coaching and wellbeing approaches to make sure that the people side of change is not an afterthought. I’d love to talk if you want to put your people front and centre.