Explore the Levels of Change Management

The Role of Managers in Change Management

Written by Tim Creasey

3 Mins


In study after study, Prosci has seen a common denominator to successfully transitioning individuals through change. This common thread is a person who plays a vital role in change, and has great influence over an individual employee changing.This is a person who employees look to, overwhelmingly more than anyone else in the organization, to understand how a change or initiative will affect their day-to-day work. This is a person that change managers need to ensure is on board with the change and empowered to lead their employees to meet project objectives. This person is the manager.

Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management report confirmed this: managers can be a great contributor or a formidable obstacle to successful change. The managers' ability to lead their employees through change is often the deciding factor in how quickly and fully a change is adopted.

In the 2016 Best Practices report, the following were identified as the most important actions for managers to take in the change process:

  1. Communicate with direct reports about the change
  2. Demonstrate support for the change
  3. Coach employees through the change
  4. Engage with and provide support to the project team
  5. Identify and manage resistance

While simply knowing this research finding is a good starting point, much more can be done to ensure these five roles are embraced. Like sponsors, project managers and change managers, supervisors need to be equipped with a structured, repeatable process to lead change. A defined framework and set of tools will allow managers to lead the changes they are facing now, and the inevitable changes that will come in the future, more effectively. Managers will see better outcomes for their employees, their organization and themselves.

Prosci has developed a model and supporting tools specifically for managers, which are captured in the Change Management Guide for Managers. The underlying model in the toolkit is the Prosci Change Management Process for Managers and Supervisors. This process recognizes a crucial fact: managers are employees first, and managers second. Managers have to reconcile themselves with a change before they can effectively guide their direct reports. The framework shown in this toolkit contains two phases:

  1. Preparing yourself for change
  2. Leading employees through change

Change Management Process for Managers and Supervisors

Preparing Yourself for Change

Participants in the Best Practices report identified mid-level managers as the most resistant group to change. And for good reason! Imagine managers squeezed in a vice; managers are expected to introduce changes to the business, meet the needs of employees, and meanwhile run day-to-day business operations. Another change could oversaturate their workload or compromise their control or authority. Manager resistance to change is especially common if there is a history of past failed changes or if managers are unaware of why the change is happening.

A powerful way to battle resistance in managers is to give them the tools they need to identify and resolve their own resistance. This is exactly what the first phase of the Change Management Process for Managers and Supervisors does:

  1. Evaluate the changes underway that impact you and your team, as well as your personal level of buy-in. By applying the Prosci ADKAR Model, you can pinpoint where you are struggling with a change and develop action plans for addressing your own resistance.
  2. Be supportive of the change. You must first embrace a change that is affecting you and your employees before you can effectively lead your employees through change. This is known as the manager's dilemma, and is an important crossroad in the manager's change journey. Taking action on your personal ADKAR analysis can help move you from resistance to support.
  3. Build capabilities for leading change with direct reports. By understanding the foundational concepts of change and the ADKAR Model, you will be empowered to understand and lead change with your employees.

Leading Employees Through Change

The second phase in the manager's framework turns the focus towards action steps to lead teams through change. This phase includes introducing changes to employees, building awareness of the need for change, guiding each employee through the stages of the ADKAR Model, managing resistance with individuals, and acting as a liaison to the project team. This phase is where the coaching takes place.

  1. Introduce change to your employees. Begin building awareness by reinforcing the business reasons for the change and how the change will impact your employees as individuals.
  2. Manage each employee through the transition. Recall the key activities for managers outlined above, and embrace those as your role in times of change: be a communicator, advocate, coach, resistance manager and liaison to your employees.
  3. Ensure the implemented changes are reinforced and celebrated. It is important to not only recognize and acknowledge employees who are thriving during the change, but also ensure that the time and energy committed to a project has not been wasted.

Every member of an organization plays an important role in times of change. As an employee-facing member of the organization, managers should be viewed as critical players. It is important to not forget that managers are employees, too. They must be led through the individual change process before they can become true leaders of change. 

Core Roles in Change Management download article