Individuals seem to face each new change in their lives with considerable trepidation. The one constant seems always to be that we, as individuals, are ill prepared for and uncomfortable with change when it comes. This is also true of organizations and social systems. Mike Herman As change agents, it is incumbent upon PR professionals to provide the tools and strategies that can help our organizations and clients manage and control those changes, not just communicate the approach and impact of these forces and changes after they happen. WHAT IS CHANGE MANAGEMENT? Discussing “change management” is confusing, because change management can be thought of as a “process,” “a business specialty” and a “body of knowledge.” For PR professionals, the management of change is, most importantly, a process or series of tasks—the planning and the doing of it. The notion of managing change can be compared to using a double-edged sword. The first edge most usually is applied to internal change in a planned and managed or systematic fashion within an ongoing organization. The goal is to more effectively implement new methods and systems with an end-result of higher productivity, lower costs and more profitability. However, interior changes may be triggered by happenings in the environment outside the organization. The second edge of the change management sword is applied to changes over which the organization exercises little or no control (e.g., legislation, social and political upheaval, the actions of competitors, and shifting cultural/economic realities). There are two clear pillars of change management: 1. No single thing can change without influencing every part of the system to which it belongs. 2. Change in any single part of a system impacts every other part. The impact of unforeseen circumstances assures that planned change management will never be an exact science. The systems we are forced to work within include individuals, organizations and circumstances that are too complex to completely control or fully anticipate and, therefore, “control” will always be largely a perception rather than a reality. At the heart of change management lies the change problem, which is defined by the various elements affecting change and the development of solutions to achieve change goals. That definition requires, at a minimum, answers to change questions. It can be likened to the five Ws and the H of the traditional journalism approach to writing a good story—who, what, why, where, when and how. “Who” questions: • Who from the organization needs to be involved? • Who internally and externally is likely to be most affected? • Who is likely to try to obstruct the change? • Who has the most invested in the status quo? • Who are the most likely champions of change? “What” questions: • What practices need be changed? • What services or messages must be communicated to stakeholders? • What behaviors must be altered, supported or changed? • What resources will we need? • What are we trying to accomplish? “Why” questions: • Why do we need to change our practices, processes or messages? • Why do we need to communicate new services to stakeholders? • Why do we need to change our treatment of employees? “Where” questions: • Where are changes most needed? • Where do we have support for the changes? • Where does management stand with regard to the need for change? • Where will the capital come from to implement the changes? “When” questions: • When will management consider implementation? • When should we communicate to the employees? • When should we communicate with other stakeholders • When do we measure? “How” questions: • How do we change our operational practices for better? • How do we change the way we treat and communicate with our employees? • How should we best communicate the organization’s services to its other stakeholders? • How do we get this organization from point A to point B? Where you are within the organization and what your job responsibilities are will determine the kinds of questions you ask in order to define the change problem, but one thing is absolutely clear: communications professionals must be able to answer them all. COMMUNICATION PROCESSES & STRATEGIES Communication plays an integral role at the strategic, tactical and personal levels in creating change. The communication strategy must be fully integrated with the overall change approach and is used to guide the entire communications effort. Communication is necessary to: • Align individual and organizational performance with business objectives; • Ensure alignment within the organization; • Enable stakeholders to understand and embrace change through education and persuasion; • Deliver specific messages of the change (who, what, when, where, why and how); • Ensure stakeholder behaviors support change objectives; • Support feedback and interaction to ensure ownership and success; • Motivate to action; and, • Engage through a strong “what’s in it for me” approach. Change is inevitable, and the management of that change is vital. With proper planning and self-education, communications professionals can make sure that they are the ones chosen for that task. PRN CONTACT: Mike Herman is CEO of Communication Sciences International, and a member PRSA’s Counselors Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeing PR Executives as Agents of Change
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