Managers and supervisors play a key role in effective change. They are in a unique position - receiving messages about change from executives and project teams, and delivering change messages to front-line employees. In Prosci's benchmarking report with 426 participants, managers were identified as one of the two preferred senders of information about change. 

Managers in a change-competent organization, "can coach employees through the change process; provide direction and steering for professional development and encourage successful performance during the transition and in the new environment.”

Roles of a change-competent manager

Change competency is achieved when managers and supervisors fulfill two key roles:

  1. The Interpreter
  2. The Coach

The Interpreter

Prosci research with nearly 300 project teams showed that employees want to hear from two levels in the organization when change is introduced. For issues related to the business reasons for change, the risk of not changing and the external pressures that resulted in the change, employees want to hear from the person in charge - the executive (see what makes change-competent executives). For issues related to how the change will impact them directly, employees want to hear from their managers and supervisors (someone they know and work with on a daily basis).

Managers and supervisors are critical because they are often the interpreter of messages from executives and the project team about the change. Supervisors often have more access to business information and have the necessary context to understand change. They have the ability and the influence to make a change seem "right" or "wrong" to the front-line employees who ultimately must change the way they work for the project to be a success.

Change-competent managers must understand their role in communicating change and the importance they play with front-line employees. Sometimes, managers underestimate how important their role is. Hallway and "water cooler" discussions can be the key to a project's success or failure. Informal conversations with employees about what the change will mean to the company, the department and their group can be the turning point for employees in terms of supporting or not supporting the change.

Finally, managers must be careful that as an "Interpreter" they do not become the "Diluter" or "Neutralizer." Managers are best positioned to convey change messages to employees, and sometimes this power is abused. Managers have been known to fundamentally shift communications and messages to meet personal agendas. Therefore managers have a responsibility to accurately communicate the message "as is" without interjecting personal agendas that adversely affect the change.

The Coach

Managers play an important role in helping employees cope with a changing environment. In a change-competent organization, employees must consider change as part of their business responsibilities. The supervisor's role is to coach employees through the change process. Managers can use the ADKAR® Model to coach employees through change. The ADKAR Model is a simple tool that focuses conversations between supervisors and employees, and allows the manager to have a framework for helping the employee sort out the many issues involved in a change. 

Coaching employees includes helping them understand that change is the norm. Coaching also includes helping employees become skilled at managing change and providing ongoing training and professional development opportunities. By helping employees understand the reasons for change and by providing clear choices and opportunities, managers and supervisors can ease the transition for their team.

Building change competence in supervisors and managers

The following list defines the requirements for building change competency in supervisors and managers. The requirements must be filled in sequential order. In other words, only when the first requirement is met should you move to the second requirement.

1. Awareness – Managers are aware of the significant role they play in the overall change management process. They understand the business implications of poorly managed change and are aware of the need for change in order to remain competitive in today's marketplace. They see themselves as critical players in this process.

How: Suggested resources for building awareness include:

2. Desire – Managers are committed to building change competency. They understand the business risk of not building this competency into the organization, and understand the personal consequences for them (both good and bad) that create a desire to develop this competency in change management.

How: Desire or motivation to change is a personal decision. However, senior managers and executives play a key role in making the business issues clear, communicating the business risks if this competency is not developed, and clearly communicating the consequences for managers that do not support the change.

3. Knowledge – Managers understand individual change management and the associated tools. Managers know how to use change management tools with employees. They know how to deliver effective messages about change and build support for change with employees. Managers have the skills, behaviors and knowledge to build change competency in the organization.

4. Ability – Managers can lead employees through an ever-changing business. They have practice at individual and group coaching and have the ability to use change management techniques with their team and with individual employees.

How: The ability to manage change comes with practical experience. In some cases managers can accelerate this learning curve by participating side-by-side with consultants, or by using mentors including consultants or Prosci program or strategic advisors.

5. Reinforcement – The values of a change-competent organization are factored into the job descriptions, compensation and reward schemes for managers.

How: HR and senior managers must modify the evaluation and appraisal system to recognize and reward managers that manage and lead change. Managers must be rewarded for demonstrating change management competency with their groups. Managers who cannot manage employee resistance should likewise suffer the consequences that result from poorly managed change with their team.


Core Roles in Change Management download article

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.