Same But Different? Corporate Communication, Employee Communication, & Change Communication
— August 25th, 2022
Are you confused about what the differences are?
Are Corporate Communication, Employee Communication, and Change Communication all the same? Are different skill sets required? If you have experience in one, can you do the others?
Like all things in life the answer depends on various things, but let’s break it down.
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Corporate Communication roles usually encompass Employee Communication as well as External Communication and Media Relations. People in these roles operate at the strategic, organization-wide level.
They have a close relationship with the CEO and Executive team and ensure the voices of leadership are aligned to the organization’s vision and strategy.
They own and operate the organization’s website, manage the Annual General Meeting, write Annual Reports, liaise with media, and handle day-to-day issues and crisis management.
Depending on the size of the team they may also handle Government, Investor, and Public Relations. They are often also responsible for employee communication channels, such as the Intranet, all staff newsletters, and CEO Town Halls.
There is a wide variety of different skills used in Corporate Comms functions. For those handling PR, Annual Reporting, or political advocacy, their days are generally planned out in advance; for others it can be quite unpredictable.
You may start with an intent for the day in mind, but it can quickly get derailed by a breaking media story with implications for your employer (e.g. holding Russian investments), the launch of a proposed policy, or a major competitive move.
Scenario planning and organization skills, and are important to ensure preparation is done wherever possible.
People in these roles are great at building relationships with senior stakeholders and the media. They are quick thinkers who consider issues from all angles, can join the dots across multiple moving parts, write like demons, and can talk confidently off the cuff.
All this while keeping relationships intact and protecting an organization’s reputation—the key and crucial value they provide.
If an organization is big enough, it warrants people who specialize in Employee Communication. These people have a deep appreciation for organizational culture, employee engagement and the crucial role leaders play in engendering trust, strategic alignment, and productivity.
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They champion the voice of employees and often have an interest in behavioral science or psychology.
They passionately believe that sending a message does not mean communication has taken place. Much of their role is focused on generating two-way dialogue, collaboration, and listening to ensure messages resonate with the intended audience.
“There are elements of marketing and learning,” says John Bersin. “When the company rolls out a new product or new service offering, we want everyone to know what it is, understand how it works, and learn how it changes their role.”
Good Employee Communicators are strong strategic planners. They will have clearly articulated goals and outcomes and an excellent understanding of their audience.
They bring people together, provide mechanisms for feedback and help employees feel involved in the company’s direction.
The key value they deliver is in connecting and engaging teams around an organization’s vision and strategy, so that the business can achieve its outcomes.
To do this they use a wide variety of communication tools and tactics—often being a writer-event planner-coach-graphic designer-videographer-speech writer-intranet expert-PowerPoint whizz-and social media champion in one! They are also adept at using data to understand the impact of their efforts.
Employee Communication people may be part of a Corporate Communication Team, or have a different reporting line—often into HR and sometimes directly to the CEO. Resources can also be decentralized into each business area.
Change Communication typically sits inside the Change Management function within a project team. As it is performed as part of a project, it has a temporary nature.
I asked a couple of Change Management experts to weigh in with their definitions. According to Nicole Van Barneveld, “Change Communication, focuses on how the change will affect impacted people and the organization, addressing the what, when, and how of the change.
"The goal of change communications is to support people to move from the current state, through the transition to the future state.”
Cat Dundas adds, “Change Communicators will develop their own communication plan. They remain in lock-step with Corporate Communication functions if it’s relevant.
"For example, if the project is sizeable and has a broader impact across several (or all) areas of an organization, the Change Communication professional will work in with the Corporate Communication team to access the appropriate communication channels.
Keeping them across the more strategic elements of a project’s remit will ensure key messages can be integrated into the organization’s communication channels effectively,” said Cat Dundas.
There is no industry untouched by complex change, and in order to implement it successfully, the human impact must be considered so that the target state can be reached as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Change Communication practitioners, are unsurprisingly, experts in communicating change. This means they consider the impact on individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole.
To do so they need to understand Change Management methodologies such as ADKAR. They will be fluent in project terminology such as milestones, dependencies, risks, and the like.
Of course, we all know that organizations are increasingly porous. It’s futile to expect that messages meant for employees don’t go externally, and vice versa.
Employees are consumers of media and often customers of their organizations too. So, regardless of which role you are in, you must be thinking about broader impacts and connecting in with your colleagues in other Communication functions.
Nobody likes being blindsided by the unintended consequences of a media release on a new product that staff haven’t been told about yet. Or an internal email about a restructure that gets in the hands of a journalist before they have been briefed.
What people in all of these disciplines have in common is the ability to put themselves in other people's shoes. They are high on empathy, naturals at understanding their audience, and can tailor their approach accordingly. They often even “ghost” write on behalf of others.
Yes, overall, the craft of communication is about developing messages and getting them to an audience for an intended purpose. However, I hope you will agree they are not a homogenous lump, but rather a harmonious venn diagram of commonality and variance with distinct skills, talents, and focus areas.
Ideally, get experience across all three to be an extremely well-rounded Communicator.