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.

Picture credit: Ross Findon

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Jenni Field has almost 20 years’ experience in communications. She specialises in helping organisations go from chaos to calm; working to help them understand how to get teams to work together better and operations to work more efficiently. She is an expert in ensuring alignment between the communication and business strategy. Jenni is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), she is a Chartered practitioner. This year, Jenni is the Vice-president of the CIPR and has been a Board Director with them for the last three years. Before setting up Redefining Communications Jenni worked as a Communications Director for a global pharmaceutical business and prior to that she was Global Head of Communications for a FTSE 250 hospitality business. Jenni has experience working in defence, retail and hospitality as well as not-for-profit. It is this experience that has contributed to the development of The Field Model™ and Jenni’s book, Influential Internal Communication.

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