In this post I want to focus on communicating organizational change, highlighting four publications which have proved popular in workshop settings sparking meaningful debate. They deliberately are not the most sophisticated or academically prestigious publications in this sub-field.
Communicating Change Publications
These are my communicating change choices, I have deliberately left out discourse, rhetoric and framing. The following choices are illustrative of the work of their respective writers, reflecting the applied nature of this aspect of organizational change.
Morrison, E.W., and F.J. Milliken. (2000). Organizational Silence: A Barrier to Change and Development in a Pluralistic World. Academy of Management Review 25 (4): 706-725.
In a nutshell: The absence of tangible dissent does not signal the presence of consent.
I wish this classic paper was required reading for every change manager/change leader. It certainly aligns with my lived experience of organizational change, when we talk about the concept of organizational silence in workshops it has plenty of meaning for participants. The paper is all about how we make sense of organizational change and the silence refers to the silence of the senders and the silence of the receivers of communications (think in terms of ‘keep your head down’). The authors argue that those communicating changes hold back information fearing that it will be problematic for employees. Equally, employees hold back concerns fearing it will be problematic for their careers. It sounds blindingly obvious, yet I fear for many managers/leaders it is missed in the communicating change process, particularly when there is an appetite for strong change leadership.
Clampitt, P.G., Dekoch, R.J., and T. Cashman. (2000) A Strategy for Communicating About Uncertainty. Academy of Management Executive 14 (4): 41-57.
In a nutshell: There are a set of context-dependent communication strategy choices in communicating change
Whereas Morrison and Milliken (2000) warned about a tendency to withhold information at times of change, Clampitt et al (2000) offered a range of communication strategy choices. At the heart of their paper they highlighted five communication strategies; spray and pray, tell and sell, underscore and explore, identify and reply and withhold and uphold. I am afraid I am guilty of spray and pray in the literal, rather than metaphorical sense (too much information). Each of these five communication strategy choices has strengths and weaknesses and is very context dependent. Each choice has implications for the effectiveness of the communication and the amount of information transmitted. They do not offer one best way to communicate change and acknowledge that you might move through processes of communication during different phases of a change initiative.
Cornelissen, J. (2017) Corporate Communication: A Guide to Theory and Practice. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Corporate Communication: A Guide to Theory and Practice
In a nutshell: If you want to understand change communications you need to understand corporate communications.
I have been very aware of communications in organizations becoming more professional and more sophisticated over the decades. Sadly, the more professional communications become, the less I trust the messages. The professional advancement of organizational communications has been accompanied by the arrival and development of the concept of corporate communications. Corporate communications today is supported through training and development, professional courses, conferences, and journals. Cornelissen (2017) acknowledges the Latin ‘corpus’ meaning body with corporate communications looking at the organization as a body which includes internal and external communications. This textbook is very readable with a dedicated chapter on communicating change. The author is a highly respected contributor to academic journals.
Barrett, D.J. (2014) Leadership Communication. New York: McGraw Hill Education.
In a nutshell: communications are integral to leadership and leaders lead through effective communication
Years back, I used to refer to a 2002 paper by Deborah Barrett when covering communicating change in workshops. The paper provided a good starting point for workshop discussions. I would then be a bit ‘sniffy’ and suggest that as she worked as a communications consultant we should be cautious about the validity and reliability of the ideas that she was selling. It was only recently that I learned that she also worked as an academic and had written a successful textbook. The more I have studied leadership the more I have appreciated the centrality of communications, at times it seems as if leadership is communication, a creation of the imagination. In the new textbook, I take the questioning into discourse, framing, and social construction, but that is enough communication for today.