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By Stephani Montserrat, Consultant

Good leadership is the alpha omega during an organizational change. In a study from 2016, 575 change leaders pointed to Leadership Involvement as either “extremely important” or “very important” to the success of their projects.

Figur 1: Prosci Best Practices in Change Management 2018 Edition

But how can it be that a single group is so important to the success you experience with change?

This is due their position as the closest link to employees. Employees go to their managers with questions, uncertainty or confusion during a change. The employees also often adjust their reaction to the change and form their own opinion based on the manager’s attitude.

The 5 key roles of a manager during a change

This is precisely why it is important for managers and middle managers to be visible and active in any change process. To be that, they need to be prepared and trained to handle change in the best way possible. Prosci has identified five key roles managers must master in order to drive a successful change:

  1. Communicator. As the employees naturally will seek their direct manager when they want answers on how the change will affect them and their work, it is important that the manager is prepared to adequately answer employees’ questions.
  2. Liaison. As the manager is often the one who receives feedback on employee reactions and questions that are beneficial to the project team, the information must be handed over for the team to react and support the organizational implementation. User experiences, design input and other feedback can be very helpful to the project team.
  3. Advocate. As employees’ attitudes towards change are influenced by the manager’s attitude, the manager himself must lead by example and clearly show his support for the change. It requires that the managers are further ahead in their personal process and have a high level of buy-in. Therefore, the middle managers’ journey of change often starts slightly earlier than the employees.
  4. Coach. It is the manager’s responsibility to bring the employees through the change in a good way. This is because it is the manager who has the closest contact with the employees and is able to explain how the change will affect them individually. Therefore, it is natural for the manager to take on the role as coach, which means to support and advise the employee through the natural reactions they will experience during the change.
  5. Resistance manager. As managers are the closest to the employees, they are the best to actively manage resistance when it occurs. Being able to handle resistance adds to the skills of the coach. However, it still requires some other tools that many managers do not possess or are not trained in.

Some of these tasks are expected of managers in their day to day work, but tasks like coaching and resistance management are special roles which require training before the managers can handle them in an effective way.

In Prosci’s Best Practice in Change Management from 2016, only 37% of managers were given Change Management training on the manager’s role. Given how important managers and middle managers are in a change, it may seem paradoxical that their training is not given higher priority.

Any change will create uncertainty among employees. As Sigmund Freud said: “It is not because people fear the unknown – they fear leaving the known”. And off course good communication is alpha omega to turn uncertainty into confidence and security during a change. If the manager is able to create the best circumstances, this transition period can be significantly shortened, and the organization will be able to reap the benefits of the change faster.

Therefore, there is a sensible business potential in helping managers and middle managers to deal specifically with processes of change, as change will continue to affect all organizations. There won’t be fewer changes and we will only get better at dealing with them, when we start doing it right.

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