Sophie Hurrell-Smith from organisational change consultancy Rubica met with Caroline Gosling, GlaxoSmithKline’s global head of executive communications and engagement strategy, to get her take on internal communication and its role to enable organisational change. Here, Sophie reflects on their conversation.

26th March 2018

All too often, organisational change starts with the leadership or project team “working out” the nature of the change and how it will be done. Only then do they tell people the answer.

This approach has its place – emergencies are a good example – but it generally results in communication being the bit you do at the end” or as an after-thought, which inhibits the change being sought.  

GlaxoSmithKline’s Caroline Gosling comments: “Internal communication can build a depth of understanding for change. Not just explaining the usual why, what and how, which is important, but creating opportunities for people to get under the skin of a change so they can get to grips with it and make sense of it for themselves.

“Think about how you can create shared understanding over time, build interest and ‘pull’ on the change and enlist parts of the organisation that are already responding to whatever is driving the need for change. I know that if someone just tells me what to do without me understanding the point of it, I tend not to do it.”

Collaboration and conversation is a vital component to communicating change; and it should be multi-faceted and multi-way – not just top down but bottom up and peer to peer. This ensures a blend of information and that conversations evolve on an ongoing basis throughout the change.


Five IC fundamentals that enable change

  1. It may sound obvious, but have a plan and a structure for the communications associated to a change, as well as a strong idea of the story you want to build, created from the input of the people that are going to make the change happen. And while this plan and structure exists, ensure it stays flexible and responsive.

Caroline reflects: “Stuff emerges over time – things that seemed like they’d be a no-brainer turn out to be potential derailers. That’s why involvement of people who are in the organisational reality is so critical and why collaboration and connection is such a determinant of success for change.”


  1. Involve people early and widely – know what you are trying to cause and get your story straight. But be prepared to evolve it if people’s words and behaviour are telling you the approach to enable change won’t or isn’t working.

Caroline believes there is a tendency to see internal communication as the activity that “tells and informs”, but that, in fact, enabling change needs close connection with your people and an understanding of the organisation’s day to day workings – what she describes as “the current reality for every employee”.

“By listening and paying attention – and believing what you hear – you can get a sense of how and where change is needed, where things are likely to get stuck and the best way to execute the change,” says Caroline.


  1. Adopt the mindset that all employees are important and everyone’s contribution has equal value. The answers are probably already in the business.


  1. Use communication to inspire and build an emotional connection with the change, as well as sharing the important facts and rational reasoning.
  2. Leaders need to be willing and able to take a hard look at themselves and find people who will hold them to account for making the required behavioural changes that they are asking of others.


Communication mechanisms to enable change

Dialogue and conversation are fundamental throughout a change programme.

Caroline advocates the book The Open Organisation, in which Jim Whitehouse talks about Red Hat’s approach of spending a lot of time upfront and in a dialogue about proposed changes.

“He says it can be a painful and lengthy process,” says Caroline, “but once you get to the implementation of the change everything accelerates and it creates a more responsive organisation.”

Dialogue and conversation should involve both digital interactions and physical conversations. As part of this, assess if you have enough touchpoints where people can have conversations – both physically and digitally.

Also, recognise how you can amplify your message and get people involved with the story – digital channels, such as social, enable this, but they shouldn’t replace face-to-face interaction and instead should amplify the opportunity to help people feel connected.

Caroline reflects: “We often put all our faith in a few pieces of carefully worded comms with the hope that once we’ve sent an email and people have seen it, they will understand the change, buy into it and change the behaviours that are often very ingrained in individuals and the organisational culture. Humans usually don’t work that way.

“In reality, 90 per cent won’t read that carefully crafted communication and many of those that do won’t find it relevant or meaningful. Sharing the rational facts about change isn’t enough for people to want to change and misses the opportunity for them to be involved and make sense of the change and associated process.”


Rubica is organisational change consultancy that takes on leaders’ complex challenges that require change, and uses a people-led approach to deliver a lasting and measurable transformation. To read the full interview with Caroline, visit: www.rubica.co.uk


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