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Explore the Levels of Change Management

3 Activities for Engaging with Middle Managers

Written by Tim Creasey

5 Mins



Prosci's change management approach is based on seven benchmarking studies conducted over the last fourteen years. In each of the seven studies, respondents identified the greatest overall contributor to success. This tutorial series presents the top six contributors to success identified by participants in the 2012 benchmarking report:

  1. Active and visible executive sponsorship
  2. Frequent and open communication about the change
  3. Structured change management approach
  4. Dedicated change management resources and funding
  5. Employee engagement and participation
  6. Engagement with and support from middle management

Each tutorial in this series will address one of the six success contributors and will present findings, implications for change management professionals and additional data on the topic available in the 2012 edition of Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report.

The final module of the series presents success contributor #6:
Engagement with and support from middle management

Success Contributor #6: Middle Management Engagement

Middle managers are crucial allies in times of change. They are the closest to the employees who are impacted by the change. A manager who is equipped to be a great change leader can positively influence the speed at which employees adopt the change, the amount of employees who buy into the change, and how proficient employees are in performing in their new roles. On the other hand, if a manager has not been provided with the tools and resources needed to become a great change leader, speed of adoption, ultimate utilization and proficiency will suffer, therefore directly compromising business objectives and ROI. It is undeniable that middle managers play a valuable role in the overall success of change initiatives.

Well, to say that managers have a single valuable role to play in change is an understatement. In fact, Prosci's 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 fulfills each of the following roles during change: (1) Communicator, (2) Advocate, (3) Coach, (4) Resistance Manager, and (5) Liaison.


The Manager's Role /   What are the negative implications if this role is not fulfilled?


  • Employees lack awareness
  • Employees display greater resistance to the change


  • Employees follow the example set by the manager
  • Employees do not see the change as important


  • Employees may struggle during the transition
  • Employee productivity will decline

Resistance manager:

  • Employees do not have an outlet for surfacing objections
  • Resistance may persist


  • Project team will not have an accurate view of impact on employees
  • They will not know how effectively the change is being implemented

Even though managers can have enormous influence on employees and how they adapt to change, 69% of study participants believe their organization does not adequately prepare managers and supervisors with the skills, training and tools they need to lead during change. Insufficiently preparing managers to fulfill each of their roles in change can lead to negative outcomes, as described in the table above, and create challenges to successful implementation of the change. Fortunately, these risks can be avoided if managers are given the attention they need and we continue to recognize their potential to be great leaders of change.

Implications for Change Management Professionals

1. Create plans and strategies to first build manager support for the change

Remember that managers are employees first, then managers. They must embrace the change on a personal level before managing their employees through the change. In order to gain buy-in from middle management, we need to make sure managers are aware of why the change is needed and support them in building the desire to actively engage in the change. Report participants identified tactics for building awareness and desire among managers:

  • Involve managers in the project to create a sense of ownership and allow them to have a voice in the project plan.
  • Highlight the benefits of the change by showing measurable outcomes and make sure to answer managers' questions: "What's in it for me, my team, and our customers?"
  • Maintain frequent and honest communications to keep managers in the loop and at ease. Communications always involve listening, which includes allowing managers to voice resistance so that you can learn how to help them overcome it. Sometimes it is enough just to acknowledge they are being heard.

These tactics are most effective when we incorporate them into an overall plan or strategy for creating buy-in and gaining support from middle managers. Using a structured and scalable model for preparing managers and supervisors should be the starting point for this plan. Your role as a change management professional is to strategically guide managers through understanding the change, adapting to the change on a personal level, and becoming competent in managing change. Only then will managers be prepared to lead their employees through change.


2. Provide training, tools and resources so managers can be great leaders of change

A great manager is not necessarily a great change manager. It is very important to recognize that change requires managers to fulfill roles and take on behaviors that are unique to change, roles that they must undertake on top of their day-to-day duties. Providing training, tools and other resources to help prepare and support managers in fulfilling these roles better enables them to effectively lead their employees through change.

Training specific to the fundamentals and principles of change management was cited by study participants as one of the greatest gaps preventing managers from becoming great leaders of change. What are the most important aspects when delivering change management training to middle management? Ensuring that the training is based on a model that can be tailored to address the unique aspects of an organization is the starting point. The training should also support a change management process that is standard and can be repeatable. Managers need to be trained on why change management is essential for successful projects and how it impacts ROI. The training should also address the importance of the five roles specific to a manager during times of change and how to best achieve these.

Training is an excellent way to build knowledge and ability; however it is not enough in itself. We need to provide ongoing support and reinforcement for managers. We should supplement training with tools that will let managers go back to their work, resources in hand, and manage and track their progress in leading employees through change. These tools and resources should support managers in introducing change to their employees, managing employees throughout the change, and reinforcing and celebrating successes. As change management professionals, we are also responsible for providing ongoing one-on-one support, such as coaching, mentoring, motivating, and communicating.


3. Enlist the support of the managers' managers

Since we understand how influential managers can be when it comes to leading their direct reports through change, it only makes sense that high-level managers are also capable of positively influencing mid-level managers. The person best equipped and with the appropriate level of influence is the managers' manager. Most often, the managers' manager is either the project sponsor or a member of the sponsor coalition.

As change management professionals, we must work towards gaining effective sponsorship in order to ensure support for the change through the sponsor or the sponsor coalition. The sponsor is in the best position to manage resistance and take the appropriate steps to get managers on board (click to learn more about sponsor engagement during times of change.)

Additional Research Findings Available in the 2012 Edition

The list below provides additional findings available in the 2012 edition of Best Practices in Change Management on structured approaches for change management. The 2012 edition of Best Practices in Change Management includes countless tips and suggestions to ensure your approach is holistic and structured.

Benchmarking report sections on middle management involvement:

  • Most critical roles for managers and supervisors
  • Most common mistakes
  • Biggest skill, competency or tool gap
  • Preparation of managers and supervisors
  • Coaching development
  • Managing resistance development
  • Tactics for gaining support from managers
  • How to support managers and supervisors during change
  • Key messages to communicate to managers and supervisors
  • Primary reasons managers resisted change
  • Steps for dealing with manager resistance
  • Proactive steps for avoiding or preventing resistance from managers


Core Roles in Change Management download article