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Change Management as a Core Competency for Communication Professionals

By Adrian Cropley OAM, FRSA, ABC, is CEO and Principal of Cropley Communication, and the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence

The Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence proudly presents the Future of Strategic Communication in a five-part series highlighting emerging trends:


Part three of our series focuses on a quickly emerging opportunity, especially for those working in internal communication. Change management is quickly becoming a core competency for communication professionals. 


Over the past 25 years, business has evolved from a top down, hierarchical structure when the business changed because the boss said so to a more empowered workforce. Times are different. Employees take ownership for their work, are proud of their accomplishments and have a stake in successful business outcomes. In short, instead of saying “Yes, sir,” employees ask, “Why are we doing that?”


Today we are in the era of relationship building.

Change management was born of two odd bedfellows: Engineering and psychology. History will show that it began as an engineering task rooted in processes, systems and structures, and was measured only by financial performance and statistical data. This silo approach was doomed to fail because the people side of business wasn’t taken into account. Enter the field of psychology, led by human resource and organisational development professionals with a different outlook on success measures. The people side of change management looked at job satisfaction, employee turnover and loss of productivity. 


In the 1980s we saw the rise of change management consultants. The 1990s was the era of continuous improvement, and during the 2000s we journeyed through the decade of employee engagement, all eras that influenced change management and its approach.


Today is different. Today we are in the era of relationship building, and change management is at another crossroad because when change initiatives fail, the culprit is almost always lack of communication based on lack of trust and credibility, which are all about relationships.


Successfully managing change is based on the same principles as good strategic communication – create awareness, build understanding, shift perception and motivate the desired behaviours. As the communication profession has matured it has claimed stakeholder management as a competency, and that coupled with the ability to segment and manage internal audience groups is a clear case for communication to take the lead role in change management. 


Internal communication has a halo effect on all business operations, but especially organisations that are going through change. 

Towers Watson has benchmarked the relationships between best practice internal communication and change management that results in strong financial performance for over a decade. 


Their 2013-14 Report concludes “Companies with high effectiveness and change management are three and a half times more likely to outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas.”


The report goes on to say that “Although nearly nine out of 10 organisations train managers to manage and communicate change, just 22% report they do so effectively.” The key findings of previous Towers Watson research show that the communication profession has become increasingly critical as a key business driver. 


In 2003-04 the research concluded, “Communication is no longer a “soft” function. It drives business performance and organisational success. Companies with the highest levels of effective communication experience a 26% total return to shareholders from 1998 – 2002, compared to a -15% return experienced by firms that communicate least effectively. A significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 29.5% increase in market value.” By 2005-06 companies with high communication effectiveness experienced a 57% higher total return to shareholders during the five-year period from 2000 – 2004.


The 2007-08 report said top performers engage employees in two-way communication, train managers to communicate effectively, involve internal communication in managing change, and measure the performance of communication programs along with focusing on the customer and branding the employee experience. 


In 2011-12 they concluded that “Six activities influence overall change success: leading, communicating, learning, measuring, involving and sustaining.” 


A change management strategy aligns systems and processes with business strategy, but alone it isn’t enough. A successful change management strategy directs human energy to shift behaviour through communication.  


Communication in the broadest sense of the word either drives success or failure and it means firing on all cylinders — not just emails, newsletters, intranet updates, but everything. Leaders must model the behaviour they expect from employees and communicate clearly and consistently to create a compelling vision of the future. Communication is the lynch pin that creates awareness and understanding, builds a line of sight from each employee to the change itself. Communication is best suited to provide, insight, support managers and individuals with the tools and techniques to communicate during change.


Successful change management relies on multi-faceted, cross-functional teams that also includes operations, project management, finance and human resources. In this era of relationships, collaboration and integration change isn’t owned by anyone or any singular function. Although it’s the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, communication plays a leading role.


For these reasons change management is among the growing communication competencies that will become critical in the months and years ahead.



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Adrian Cropley OAM, FRSA, ABC, is CEO and Principal of Cropley Communication, and the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence. He has 30 years’ experience in strategic communication and specialises in change communication, corporate communication, communication training and development and executive coaching. He works with some of the world’s biggest companies, advising on strategic approaches to communication.