Managers and supervisors are crucial allies in times of change management. This group fulfills one of the two "employee-facing" roles in change management, directly engaging employees who are being impacted by a project or initiative. Unfortunately, this key group is often overlooked on a number of dimensions. This tutorial presents why this group is so important, the roles they are expected to play in times of change and two potential ways they are overlooked in times of change.
Managers and supervisors are critically important in times of change for three reasons:
Proximity and relationships - A project or initiative will ultimately require some employees to change how they do their jobs, whether it is through new processes, new tools, new systems or new behaviors. It is your managers and supervisors in the organization who are closest to the employees who must embrace and adopt a solution for the project or initiative to be successful. "Closeness" to the ultimately impacted employees occurs on a number of dimensions - from geographic proximity, to reporting structure, to relationships.
Leveraging effect - Many change management practitioners have asked the question: "If a change is only successful if it is managed at the individual level, and my project impacts thousands of employees, how am I supposed to manage all of the individual changes?" The answer is: you, as the change management practitioner, do not. You do not have the relationships nor the bandwidth to manage all of the individual transitions. Effectively managing these numerous individual transitions is the responsibilities of managers and supervisors. By working through managers and supervisors, change management practitioners can leverage their work and impact.
Dual role as a recipient and an agent of change - Most projects and initiatives impact managers and supervisors in two ways: 1) the project or initiative impacts how the managers or supervisors do their job, so they too must adopt the change, and 2) their direct reports must adopt the change, so managers and supervisors act as an "agent" of change. Managers and supervisors must first go through a successful change journey themselves before they can support their direct reports through the change. This dual role creates a dilemma and should be addressed directly by change management practitioners.
Prosci's benchmarking research identified five main roles for managers and supervisors in times of change.
Although the case is quite clear for why managers and supervisors are so important in times of change and the research clearly identifies the roles they need to fulfill, this group tends to be neglected during projects and initiatives. The neglect of this group occurs along two dimensions:
Change management practitioners do not acknowledge the unique changes that this group will have to undergo, and thus do not properly address specific and targeted change management plans for this unique "audience".
This group is not being provided with the unique competencies, skills, training and tools they need to fulfill the new role of leading direct reports through a change process.
Below is some preliminary data from Prosci's 2011 change management benchmarking study.
650 participants from around the world provided data for this study. The graph below show the responses for the question: "From which group did you see the most resistance to the initiative?" Over half of the study respondents (53%) identified middle level managers and front-line supervisors as the most resistant.
This group tends to be the most resistant because they are not treated as a unique group experiencing the change. Resistance from managers and supervisors is rarely tied to the change itself, but rather to the change being poorly managed. Because of their dual role in change, managers and supervisors must be a focus of change management efforts. Below are several examples of addressing managers and supervisors directly in change management planning:
Leading direct reports through change is different than managing ongoing operations. Many of the best managers in your organization struggle when it comes to leading their team through change. This is not a project or initiative specific problem - it is an organizational or systemic issue of not providing the necessary skills, training and tools that managers and supervisors need to become great leaders of change. In Prosci's 2009 benchmarking report, only 40% of participants said they provided change management training to their managers and supervisors.
Below is preliminary data from Prosci's 2011 benchmarking study where participants evaluated how well their organizations were preparing managers and supervisors to lead change. Just over one quarter of participants (28%) strongly agreed or agreed with the statement about adequate preparation, while 69% disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Identifying and managing resistance, coaching direct reports through change and being an effective advocate of change requires competencies that are not always present with managers and supervisors, but can be built with effective training and tools designed for this group.
Managers and supervisors are crucial allies that are unfortunately neglected in times of change. Because of their proximity and relationships, they are in a unique role to support change adoption by front-line employees. Unfortunately, this group is often neglected - not being a focus of change management activities and not being provided the skills and tools they need. To effectively leverage the work and impact of change management, managers and supervisors need more attention.
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.