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The No. 1 factor to successfully deliver change? People Managers.

By: Andrew Formanek, Strategic Thought Partner of Key&Spark

Thanks to the trust and influence they have with their team members and their proximity to the actual work being done, people managers (aka line managers) can have a tremendous influence over the success of any change or transformation program.  

As such, they should be at the centre of any plan to communicate and deliver change within your organization. Failure to do so could create further confusion and uncertainty among employees, undermine the credibility of program leadership, and lengthen the time it will take your organization to reach its goals.

As a senior leader, you’ll want to ensure these people managers receive special care and attention when asking them for support. So here are five tips to help get these vital stakeholders on board and actively supporting the goals of your change or transformation.


1. Establish a regular and reliable communication channel 

Hopefully your organization already has a strong culture of communication, and an established channel to communicate with line management. If not, you’ll not want to waste any time setting this channel up and getting line managers familiar with it. 

Whether it takes the form of a Microsoft Team, Slack channel, or SharePoint site, you’ll want a channel supports two-way communication, allowing line management the opportunity to raise questions, provide feedback and discuss concerns. As your change program matures, this channel will be line management’s go-to source to exchange information, materials, and experience.

You’ll also want to delegate someone to monitor and moderate the channel, flag any acute issues and ask your subject matter experts to chime in when needed. Senior leadership would be wise to also show some activity on the channel, adding credibility while keeping a finger on pulse of the program.


2. Make a convincing case for change 

People leaders set an example for their teams and can translate an organization’s vision into the real work that gets your change or transformation program off the ground. 

For that reason, make every effort to present people managers with a compelling case for change, and win their buy-in and alignment with the organization’s future. 

Achieving this will be a major accomplishment: The more enthusiastic line management is about the change to come, the easier and faster it will be for them to convince their own teams to align and adapt as well.


3. Ensure materials are easy to access and present

The key messages, talking points and other communication materials shared by line managers with their people should be convenient to access, straightforward to use, and above all, tell a clear and compelling story.

While people managers can update or fine-tune the materials to make them more relevant to their teams, the logic, rationale and argument for the change should be set out by the change program and remain consistent when presented through the organization.

Making these materials available via the established communication channel as well as providing a structured framework by which to present them will make it that much easier for people managers to find and share information with their teams.


4. Introduce a model to manage change

Change Management models are not always a part of a line manager’s skill set. That’s why it’s advisable to provide a model that will support them in guiding their teams through the change and in dealing effectively with the resistance that they may experience. 

The models available are manifold, and don’t need to very complicated. They typically include a series of question-based assessments to support line managers in assessing how well individual contributors are aligning with the new way of working. 

It is the work of the change program to tailor these questions and provide them to line management. Training to ensure the model is being used competently, as well as clear options for dealing with resistance also fall within the programs’ remit.


5. Provide access to key people

Finally, line managers should be able to call on key people within your program to provide further details about activities that team members may be feeling uncomfortable with or unsure of. 

For example, people managers may need a senior leader to attend a Q&A session to help convince the team of the case for change. Program sponsors could be called upon to detail the benefits of the change, and the risk of doing nothing. Or subject matter experts could be asked to provide front-line staff with details about a technical implementation, outlining any contingency plans should issues arise. 

The main aim here is to have the right people available to reassure teams that the organization not only understands what it is doing but also why, and is prepared to support to employees when they need it most.


My colleague Dana Poul-Graf likes to use the metaphor of a train travelling through a tunnel to describe change. Line managers are like the locomotive, pulling their team through the darkness while shining a light on the way forward. Of course, only the locomotive can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and its strength is needed to pull the rest of the train out of the darkness and into the sunshine. 

As this analogy above aptly shows, people managers play a key role in delivering change because of their place at the front-line of an organization and the trust they garner from their teams. As such, program leaders, change managers and communicators should make an extra effort to meet the needs of this important and influential stakeholder group.

If you need any guidance on the tips provided above, or support in developing a communication strategy to support your team of line managers, contact us for a free consultation.