Change communications V internal communications: What’s the difference?
Updated: May 20, 2020
In this post I’m going to share with you what I believe the differences are between change communications and internal communications.
As a communications consultant a lot of my time is spent working on developing communications strategies and plans and the creating the content for businesses who are instigating change. With change programmes there’s always an overlap between the change programme and internal ‘business as usual’ communications, because at some point, the change that’s being introduced will become the new ‘business as usual’. Because of this I’m often asked, ‘what’s the difference between internal communications and change communications’?
Here’s my answer:
1. Traditionally internal communications have predominantly been about sharing news and information around and across a business. Whether it’s an announcement on a merger, a new pension plan or employee of the month if it’s something everyone in the business needs to know it’s the internal communications team that’ll be charged with telling you. This means that traditionally internal communications are directive, it’s a one-way information stream, flowing from the leaders to the employees.
Change communications by their nature are a two-way information stream, yes information flows from the leadership (the instigators of change) to the employees, but crucially, all successful change programmes work because employees and teams feel heard, engaged with and their needs understood. This can only happen if their views, ideas and responses to the communications are heard, tracked and measured. So this means that the responses to the information flow back up to the leadership.
A little something extra: There are changes afoot however, because an increasing number of businesses are seeing that just sharing news doesn’t add any tangible value – it becomes a cost-centre for the business rather than a value creator. So, an increasing number of businesses are adopting some change communications principles into their internal communications practice. By integrating internal communications directly with the core aspects of the business, often via the leadership, into areas such as resourcing and financing a more strategic use of communications can be adopted. This enables more impactful and effective communications to be created. Alongside this is an increase in assessment, tracking and measuring of how internal communications messages are received and acted upon.
2. Change communications are all about energy and emotion. The standard response to change is resistance. Pretty much every change project I’ve ever worked on has been resisted. This is why change communications are so focused on engagement and emotion. Change communications and engagement go hand in hand.
However, because internal communications can be a mix of information, updates and news, there has traditionally been less focus on the power and success of the internal communication to be engaging the reader on an emotional level.
3. Not all internal communications have to be strategic but they do have to be tactical. However, all change communications have to work within a wider change strategy to provide a cohesive and authoritative awareness of whether they are successful or not.
A little something extra: As I mentioned in point 1, more businesses are increasingly adopting change communications practices for their internal communications and this is a case in point. By increasing their strategic focus on their internal communications businesses are able to work on a campaign by campaign basis. No longer with a single focus on sharing news, there is now a dual purpose to share news and to share news in a way that helps drive the business forward either via consolidating the unity of the business or pushing for monetary results.
Internal communications are an integral part to every business regardless of size and there is a cross over when it comes to change communications. However, I have seen first-hand that where businesses are adopting change communications practices in their ‘business as usual’ approaches there is a greater sense of involvement, progression and awareness of the effectiveness that communications of all types have to support and advance businesses.