At a project’s outset, change practitioners rightly spend considerable energy identifying senior-level sponsors and ensuring their positive engagement. This effort establishes a foundational stage critical to the initiative’s success.
Once these relationships are established and the project is underway, a change practitioner’s work necessarily expands from this strategic platform to the equally important, more tactical interactions with those tasked with implementing the change: the organization’s middle and front-line leadership.
Engaging with these leaders requires awareness of their organizational role and their own expectations. It also involves providing methods and mechanisms for these change leaders to enable their positive contribution and participation in the project’s success.
Let’s explore the situations and needs these middle and front-line leaders face and see how a change practitioner can accelerate their success.
Situational Factors of Middle and Front-line Leaders
When introduced to new initiatives, middle and front-line leaders commonly:
Learn about the project through a senior-level leader.
This awareness can occur through attendance at a project briefing or kickoff session, in a team or one-on-one meeting with the senior leader, via email, or even (though hopefully not) through word of mouth.
Their awareness of the initiative and its details will vary.
Have leverage in how to design and deploy the project effort
Middle/front-line leader communications about the project need to align with and support the direction they’ve been given. They must communicate about the project in a positive manner.
They must build or call upon strong coalitions with other peer-level leaders to assess and validate impacts and coordinate initiative activities.
They must prioritize the project effort with other ongoing or planned work.
Must anticipate and provide project progress report requests from both senior leaders and front-line team members
Senior leaders seek an understanding of project-related activities and progress toward identified completion markers.
Front-line team members need reinforcement about the project, its anticipated value, and recognition of work done toward the project’s requirements.
Given these factors, how can a change management practitioner support these leaders?
Empowering Your Middle and Front-Line Leaders
First, consider middle and front-line leaders as an impacted group unto themselves. They have a unique perspective of the change effort and how they must engage with it. Use the ADKAR® Dashboard to identify their current engagement levels and potential challenges. Work directly with this group to help them develop ideas on how to address any resulting concerns.
Help them build strong coalitions and partnerships. Leaders can identify knowledge gaps about the initiative, learn how their peers experience the change, and share approaches to change from others. Encourage members to share how they encountered, recognized, and then addressed challenging situations or change resistance.
Use this group to develop, review and implement clear, consistent, effective and timely communications. You can create common presentations, anticipate and document frequently asked questions (FAQs) and responses, consistently address effort prioritization, and establish effective communication methods.
Finally, this leadership team can develop status reporting and status updates suitable to senior-level leaders and sponsors and to front-line team members. A joint status report demonstrates the group’s engagement with the change effort and helps senior leaders have a consistent picture of project progress. Front-line team members can appreciate the collective efforts performed and the progress made, which enhances the initiative’s significance and reinforces their involvement.
Maintaining Ongoing Support
Throughout the change initiative, the change practitioner provides coaching, direction, guidance, recognition and support to these leaders as they experience change. This support respects the unique nature of their role and the challenges they encounter—and can have a direct and positive impact to accelerate their success.
Alan Hirsch has over 25 years of experience in change management, working in both external consulting and internal leadership roles. Alan’s change management background includes leadership and support at the enterprise, team and individual levels. He has been instrumental in helping clients in areas such as enterprise transformation, building change capability, change management leadership development, and coaching and mentoring change and project management professionals.