Thought Leadership Articles

    Line Manager's Role in Communicating Change

    Aug 25, 2022 | Posted by Daisy Verhoef

    Who does it come down to when delivering our change messages? HR? A communication specialist? A change manager? The research uncovered within Prosci’s 2019 study into ‘preferred senders of messages’ shine a light on our line managers and supervisors. Revealing that they should be taking on the role of delivering personal impact messages when it comes to change. Equally, organisational and business messages should be delivered by senior leaders and executive managers.

    Many are not surprised that change communication on an individual level should fall to our people managers. Fundamentally, this appertains to trust. Line managers and supervisors will not only understand an employee’s working life, but also know them on a personal, human level. They are always going to be close to where the change happens, often with possibly first-hand experience and an ability to understand the perspectives of employees. With this insight, we notice managers repeatedly anticipate issues before they even arise. It seems to consistently be the case that line managers are key in building support and mitigating resistance during a change.

    Only 35% of participants involved in Prosci’s research indicated that people managers and supervisors were adequately prepared for their role in change.

    Oftentimes, line managers are left feeling unequipped and unsure of what is required of them during times of change. Strong, early engagement from our people managers has been quoted as one of the top contributors to change management success in Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management research. Further studies uncovered by Prosci outline that people managers should fulfil the following five distinctive and important roles throughout change:

    1. Communicator

    Communication is key! For an efficient change management process, employees required a consistent line of communication from executives and managers. Specifically, how and when the change was expected to happen. Being an effective communicator is an essential skill for line managers to have/learn. Managers often feel that a single email/communication is an adequate form of delivering news. The truth is, communication mistakes are common place and can be detrimental to the lack of adoption during the transition stage of change.

    On the flip side, attributes of a successful change communicator involve consistent, timely messages that are presented in an engaged and passionate manner. Adding to this, communication doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be one-way! The reason line managers are preferred senders of impact messages is because employees feel that they can directly reach out to them for support. This should be reflected in communicative messages whereby a space is created for line managers to listen and be open to conversations and feedback.

    If you'd like to learn more about being a better communicator of change with your team. Learn more about our CMC Global Communication for People Managers Skills4Change®Workshop.

    2. Liaison

    Not only is communication the key, but people managers will need to perform the role of unlocking the metaphorical door between the project team and employees. Proactive liaison involves the building of a transparent relationship between these roles. This could involve scheduling regular check-ins, Q&A’s, and involving collaboration from both parties. Bridging this gap will create a comfortable space for open and effective communication.

    3. Advocate

    Managers themselves act as ‘influencers’ or ‘champions’ of change. With this in mind, it is imperative that they fully understand the reasons behind it and lead by example. This means actively and visibly attending training/events themselves. Enabling our line managers to become advocates will allow for a normalised continuous change model whereby employees are more acceptive of changing the standard process.

    4. Resistance Manager

    Anticipating resistance and removing barriers is oftentimes recognised as the hardest role for line managers to fulfil. Within Prosci’s Best Practises in Change Management 11th edition, it is reported that participants recognised supervisors would often ‘talk the talk but not walk the walk’, creating a hierarchal barrier or ‘us-versus-them’ mentality. Within this frame, resistance management involves leveraging their position to purposely create a space for honest and open conversations. In turn, forming stronger, more understanding relationships with employees and encouraging greater participation to change.

    5. Coach

    The final role for our line managers to fulfil is acting as a coach. Our supervisors need to be available for any coaching, able to answer any questions/concerns and be a sympathetic shoulder to impacted staff. Being a coach also involves the process of recognising and rewarding areas of success, therefore encouraging further participation and educating employees on appropriate to exceptional behaviour.

    After taking a look at the five core roles of a line manager, we can logically begin to envision the ‘what’ regarding communication. When approaching personal impact messages, managers need to consider the individual. Often employees will be left wondering what is in it for them? (WIIFM). Specifically, how will this make their jobs easier, more efficient and more rewarding. If supervisors can outline this in their messages, they will build desire and engagement for the change. As ‘champions of change’, line managers should aim to communicate changes in a positive manner, normalising and mitigating concerns. Realistically, there will be times that supervisors are delivering messages of change that will impact groups negatively. In this instance, not only should people managers outline the benefits but also be very open and transparent regarding downsides and trade-offs. In these cases, managers may find it beneficial to reiterate what’s not changing; Ensuring job security.

    Specifics of change should also be communicated by not only senior leaders but also our people managers. To facilitate a smooth transition, employees should be made aware of important dates (Kick-off, Go Live, Outcomes), phases of the change and project status. In fulfilling the role of ‘ Coach’, another aspect of this involves celebrating ‘little victories’ or short term successes. This is particularly effective within communications. Allowing employees to see where their colleagues are thriving with recognition will hopefully provide incentive for others to see what they can do to further facilitate the change.

    On a final note, what are our key takeaways? Ultimately, as preferred senders of personal impact messages, our line managers play a vital, irreplaceable role in communicating change. Utilising the five elements of Prosci’s CLARC (Communicator, Liaison, Advocate, Resistance Manager, Coach) so that each element provides a separate role in their communicative responsibilities will allow line managers to leverage their power and influence in a more structured format. With this it is the hope, that adoption will increase and outcomes of the change project will be greatly improved!

    Becoming familiar with the required roles of a manager during change is just one of many things covered as part of our Prosci Change Management Practitioner Certification Programme. Find out more about what's covered and what you get for completing the programme here.

    As mentioned earlier in the blog, communication is a key role of a manager during change. If this is a skill that is lacking in your organisation, consider our CMC Global Communication for People Managers Skills4Change®Workshop.

    Topics: Planning and Executing Change Management, Getting Started with Change Management


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