The communication plan is one of the key tools available to change management professionals. In Prosci's 2009 best practices bench marking study, effective communication was cited as the number two contributor to success, just behind "active and visible sponsorship." We can all agree that in times of change, communications are central to success. Unfortunately, there are many instances where communication plans and efforts are taking place without a change management framework or perspective. Communications frequently show up in project management methodologies and processes. In fact, many organizations have complete departments or functions dedicated to communications. However, "communications with change management" and "communications without change management" are very different. This tutorial looks at five main areas that vary when a communications effort occurs with or without change management:

  • Intent
  • Focus
  • Frequency
  • Methods
  • Senders

What does "with change management" mean?

Can you have a communication plan that is not part of a bigger change management approach? The answer is certainly yes. Will this type of plan produce positive results toward managing the people side of change? Often times the answer is NO. Without being grounded in change management, efforts usually result in a telling plan rather than a communication plan. To be effective, communications must be targeted to the particular audience, sharing why the change is happening, addressing their specific concerns and where they are in the change process. The timing, content and "sender" of messages in times of change is crucial and plays a key role in building a communication plan focused on change management.

Communications in the context of change management has several implications that are unique from communications in general:

  • The communication plan is just one of the change management plans that are part of a robust change management approach. In addition to the communication plan, change management professionals also develop a sponsor road map (providing specific activities required by senior leaders), a coaching plan (outlining how managers and supervisors will engage their direct reports), a training plan (detailing the knowledge and skill-building necessary for employees to adopt the change) and a resistance management plan (proactively addressing objections and key areas of concern for employees). These five plans are the levers that change management professionals have to support individuals through their own change process.
  • The communication plan takes place as part of a larger process. Prosci's organizational change management process occurs in three phases: Phase 1 - Preparing for change, Phase 2 - Managing change, Phase 3 - Reinforcing change. The communication plan is developed in Phase 2 - after the development of a change management strategy based on an understanding and assessment of the unique situation that occurs in Phase 1. The up-front strategy work in Phase 1 insures that the communication plan is not created in a vacuum, but rather with a solid situational awareness and appreciation for the specific risks and challenges of the project.
  • The communication plan needs to be created against the back drop of individual change. An individual change management model, like Prosci's ADKAR® Model, describes how one individual makes a change successfully. ADKAR® says that for an individual to make a change successfully, he or she needs Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. ADKAR® provides the answer to the question: What are we trying to achieve by communicating? Communication plans that have a context of individual change are results-oriented and grounded in the ultimate unit of change - one person making a change to his or her work.

  • The communication plan needs a focus on "them" not on "us". The "them" in this statement are the employees who are impacted by the change, the ones who ultimately have to adopt a change to their day-to-day work for the project to be successful. The "us" is the project team and those who are developing the solution and implementing the change. When change management guides communication efforts, there is a distinct shift from telling employees what a project is doing toward answering the questions and concerns of those employees. A communication plan focusing on "us" is a telling plan, while a plan focusing on the "them" is a true change management communication plan.

Below, five aspects of communication are addressed with comments on what can occur without a foundation in change management.


Without Change Management Communications designed to tell you what "we" are doing 
With Change Management Communications designed to build awareness and engage employees in the process

Focus and Content

Without Change Management Project details, design details, status and progress updates, milestones

With Change Management

Answers to the questions that employees have - (1) why is this change happening, (2) what's in it for me (WIIFM), (3) risk of not changing, (4) organizational benefits 


Without Change Management Dictated by Project Milestones
With Change Management High frequency with repetition of key messages


Without Change Management

One-to-Many, broadcast messages (typically one-way)
With Change Management Face-to-Face interactions, discussions, variety of media (always two-way)


Without Change Management Project team members, communication specialists
With Change Management Someone at the top (the sponsor of the change) and the person the employee reports to (my direct supervisor)

We often hear project teams say "we already have a communications plan". What we find instead is that they have developed a plan to tell others in the organization about their work, their progress and their plans. When you look deeper into who is sending the message, the message content, the delivery method and the goal of the communications, you find very quickly that communications without a foundation in change management actually create negative consequences for the organization undergoing change, and in some cases can undermine change efforts. Here is a checklist to ensure that your communications are rooted in effective change management techniques.

Checklist for ensuring communication efforts are governed by best practices in change management

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Introduction to Change Management - Prosci

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.