How New (and Experienced) Managers Can Support the Change Process

Piggy-backing on a blog post by Morag Barrett on the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce site titled How to Avoid Mistakes New (and Experienced) Managers Make, we address the new manager’s role in supporting change within the organization. To clarify, by “new managers” we are referring to individual contributors who have recently been promoted into roles responsible for managing others.

New managers must first and foremost be change agents. No matter where the new managers are or what they are doing, they will inevitably be leading teams through significant changes.  Chances are they were hired or promoted into their positions as a result of an organizational change or because of a perceived need for change. In this position, some of the new manager’s major tasks will be:

  • Getting people familiar with the changes that are needed and their rationale
  • Inspiring commitment to the new vision, approach, or objectives
  • Overcoming resistance to change

These tasks draw on the new manager’s ability to navigate the ambiguity and uncertainty that may surround the manager, the team, and/or the entire organization. New managers should make a point of understanding the impact that change will have on the organization by listening, by fostering open communication, and by being attentive to people’s needs.

Understanding the change process will allow the new manager to address the concerns that employees may or may not openly express or share with others. Increasing the frequency of informal conversations and information sharing during times of major change opens up communication lines, boosts morale, builds buy-in, and positions the new manager to lead effectively through change.

The new manager will be able to “sell” change most effectively by linking opportunities associated with the change to people’s needs, interests, and values. All change—no matter how necessary, exciting, or well-planned—involves loss. People must trade at least some of what is familiar for something at least partly untried. Understanding these losses and acknowledging the natural feelings people have about them is another important part of leading through change.

Supporting Change: What to Do

  • Understand change processes. Understanding change as an organic part of any system helps people deal with the sense of confusion and uncertainty that it generates. Learn about change—the different stages that typically occur, the ways in which people usually react and respond—so that the new manager can coach others to be more prepared and pro-active around the change process.
  • Get comfortable with the planned change. New managers should address their own concerns first, then talk to their supervisor, colleagues and others to get their views.  They should identify resistance in their own thinking that will undermine efforts to lead others through the change.
  • Talk with the team (as individuals and as a group). Provide them with as much information as possible, as soon as possible. Explore how the current changes are impacting them.  What are some of their concerns?  What are their hopes?
  • Communicate the vision driving the change initiative. The best way to get people on board with a major change effort is to focus on the future and the important role that each employee has in making it successful. Paint a compelling picture of how things will be and how each person contributes to the success of the team. Help people to see the real costs of not changing. The first key to avoid resistance to change is to inform people early and often using the idea of “planting seeds.”
  • Set up for success. New managers should find out what their teams need in order to be successful with the change(s).  New skills?  Clear direction? Ways to manage the uncertainty? Look for the hidden opportunities that changes bring—new ways for new managers and their teams to capitalize on current strengths and resources. Work to guarantee some early successes in the change process to boost morale and build commitment to the change initiative.

Selling the Change

Reflecting on the following can help new managers clarify the case for change and assess its range of impacts on the team and the organization as a whole.

  • What are the change sought? What are the vision, objectives, and business realities driving the change?
  • What are some of the losses associated with the change? How can people be supported through these losses?
  • What are the costs of not changing? These are an important part of making the case for change?
  • What is the future state the change is designed to bring about? What are the  resources required to get there?  What are the behaviors that will help to achieve the goals?
  • What is a short-term success the group can achieve to build buy-in and energy?
  • Are there any unique opportunities associated with the change that may not be apparent to the group at this time?
  • What else needs to happen for people to “own” the change and commit to achieving it?

Supporting Change: Following Up

  • Keep pace with the impact of change and course corrections. News becomes obsolete quickly in a changing environment. New managers should keep their ears to the ground, verify important developments, and discuss implications with the team.   When the new manager’s organization is in a change mode, more communication is recommended
  • Pay close attention to how change is impacting people over time. There is a necessary ebb and flow to change. Understanding this will allow the new manager to leverage periods of momentum and respect the need  for periods  of regrouping  and recharging.  New managers should keep their eyes open and assess the different needs of the team on an ongoing basis.
  • Keep talking the change. Look for clues that the change is taking hold and that people are incorporating the change into their daily habits and ways of doing business. Offer plenty of support and feedback.