There is a school of thought, largely found amongst those who see managing change as just another part of a line manager's portfolio of responsibilities, that if the change is communicated clearly enough, the change is being managed.

At one end of this spectrum are the command and control types who rely on the 'Just Do It' email from the top. Assuming that the combination of a hierarchic 'Shock and Awe' effect coupled with the threat of dire consequences for non-compliance will do the trick.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who take a more 'Marketing' approach aimed at selling the change to the organisation through a constant bombardment of newsletters, posters, videos, desk drops - and don't forget the project branded pens, mugs and stress balls!

Both tactics may be perfectly valid as part of a well thought through change management strategy but are never enough on their own.  Our shared experience says that whether it's 'tell' or 'sell', a communication led approach to landing transformational change is unlikely to succeed because it's based on a premise of push rather than pull.

Creating a context in which change is accepted and adopted requires active engagement at every level of the organisation from the sponsor to the end user. This can be enabled by:

  • A compelling rationale and vision for the change that balances the business and user perspectives.
  • A structured, sequential approach to using these inputs as the starting point for collaborative engagement of key stakeholders and audiences in dialogue rather than just communicating at them.
  • Developing a deep understanding of the impact of the change on each component of the organisation and tailoring the change management and communication approach to address these at each stage of the project.
  • Activating change leadership at every level of the business – especially the middle management layers
  • Actively checking the understanding, acceptance and readiness for change through the project lifecycle. Then being prepared to react and adapt to blind spots or areas of active resistance as/when they are uncovered.

Effective change communication is certainly a product of this more holistic model for change management but cannot substitute for it. All of which mitigates for a change approach that underpins the full lifecycle of the project  and is fully integrated with the overall project strategy and plan.

With thanks to Lucy Harley, Julian Earl, Alex Cairns, Nic Vine and Pankaj Chaudhary for their thoughtful contributions to this article.

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