Middle managers can make or break a change effort because they are usually in direct contact with the majority of impacted employees. They are required to take on the additional responsibility of supporting their employees through change by ensuring that their team adopts proposed changes to processes, roles, behaviours and/or technologies and makes a smooth transition to the future business as usual. Middle managers hold the key to enabling, adopting and sustaining the change through both their actions and words and they can heavily influence both the productivity and proficiency levels once a change has been implemented.
That said, a competent manager is not necessarily always a great change manager and thus it is very important to recognize that change requires managers to adopt additional roles and display behaviours that are unique to managing change. Moreover, these responsibilities must all be conducted in addition to their day to day activities; this can place additional stress on middle management as they are also experiencing the same human response to change as their subordinates. Senior leaders, project and change managers all have important roles in preparing the middle management layer by providing information, tools and resources to enable them to support their employees throughout a change effort.
Which skills and behaviours are required to be successful?
- Knowledge of strategic frameworks and analytical skills - to make sense of the new changes, to understand the internal and external drivers, the risks and dependencies across the organization, the alignment of the change to the overall strategy and how the change will impact the day to day activities of their team.
- Emotional intelligence – to understand the feelings and emotions that their employees will experience, to recognise it and respond with it with empathy and understanding.
- Cultural awareness – an understanding of the organizational culture, both spoken and unspoken rules and assumptions will be essential when trying to adopt a new change. If strategy eats culture for breakfast, managers need to pre-empt any cultural barriers and cushion the impact for their employees. They need to spot potential obstacles and barriers ahead of time, avoid politics or navigate through politics in order to deliver the change successful in a way that provides the optimum environment for their team to contribute and adopt the change.
- Strong communications skills – to translate high level leadership communications about the change into manageable bite sized chunks that answer the WIIFM questions and explain how day to day activities of the team will change by painting a clear picture of the future. Effectively cascading information about the change that is tailored to the team will serve as an opportunity to build trust and increase engagement amongst impacted employees.
- Change ambassadors – middle managers need to become secondary sponsors of the change for their team and create meaningful calls to action to inspire the team to get on-board. At times, tough decisions need to be made and a leader once said during a new change announcement that employees need to “Believe or leave”. This aims to ensure that everyone is on-board and believes in the future vision, whilst this may seem radical, in practice, creating sacrifices is sometimes necessary to ensure the organization can move forward and implement change at an accelerated pace.
- Connective leadership behaviours – work closely with the project team to define the change by involving team members where possible so that they can feel a sense of ownership early on in the project. Provide support to team members involved with the project in terms of supporting their workload and coaching them through both the change curve and the productivity curve during the implementation. Communicate their progress to all team members and praise those involved in the change effort.
Key roles and responsibilities for middle managers
Prosci’s Best Practice Change Management Research studies have consistently found that managers have five distinct roles to take on during times of change. A manager who is successful as a leader should fulfill each of the following roles during change: Communicator, Advocate, Coach, Resistance Manager, and Liaison. Below I have elaborated on the activities required to fulfill these roles:
- Cascade top level key messages about the change and translate them to be meaningful for their team members.
- Share team member updates with the team and explain how the teams fits into the overall change vision;
- Clarify any role changes;
- Solicit regular feedback from employees;
- Talk positively about the change and paint a bright picture of the future;
- Encourage new behaviours by displaying them from the outset;
- Recognise the stages of change that employees are experiencing and display empathy and offer support;
- Provide a mix of group meetings and one to one time for employees to discuss their concerns;
- Reward employees for their contributions.
- Identify the sources of resistance to change;
- Recognise and manage resistance as early as possible;
- Describe the possible reasons for resistance to employees and explain how to overcome these issues.
- Communicate with senior leaders and project managers to keep up to date on the progress;
- Ensure their employees receive the opportunity to get involved with the change effort;
- Ensure their employees attend required training sessions;
- Ensure they have the required resources to effectively implement change.
How can change managers support middle managers?
Conduct a Manager Competency Assessment
Conducting an assessment will provide a baseline for the current manager competencies for managing change; this is helpful because managers can assess what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. This assessment can be conducted at the start and during the project to assess if managers still require further support.
Conduct Change Management training
If managers require additional support to manage change a workshop could be conducted to provide an overview of Change Management and a deep dive into the importance of a manager and what is expected from them during a change. As mentioned earlier, not all managers are naturals when it comes to managing employees through change so additional support or refreshers can prove successful as it puts every manager at the same level of knowledge with regards to managing change and provides them with the tools and techniques to move forwards.
Sample course outline
- Introduction to Change Management – definition and key principles
- Key stats and figures about Change Management success rates
- An overview of the organization’s preferred change management methodology
- The psychology of change
- The manager’s key roles during a change
- Why do employees resist change?
- How to create a resistance management plan
- The importance of communications
- How to create a communications plan for the team
- How to create a coaching plan
- Discuss the managers’ views about what needs to be done for them to experience the benefits of the change that they want in their own areas.
- Discuss how the change will be implemented in their teams
- Discuss any challenges or obstacles they might face and brainstorm action plans to resolve issues.