Managing Change

The difference between average and great change management in most cases comes down to the quality and the ability of those leading frontline employees.
Change will always cause discomfort and dislocation and staff involved will look to their immediate manager or leader for recognition, guidance, and support – that’s why the ability of these frontline leaders will make or break change initiative.
Frontline leaders have an enormous influence and need specific skills in understanding their own role in leading change, leading others through change and maintaining business as usual.
The change process has four stages – contentment, denial, confusion, renewal – and the quicker an organisation can move individuals through them, the less impact there will be on productivity and performance.
How quickly people move through the change process depends on three things.
The first is communication – information about the change from both an organisational and personal perspective.
Second is engagement or the opportunity for people to become involved in the process and have input into decision-making about the change.
Lastly is the support provided to people throughout the change process and beyond.
Productivity is at its lowest when people are in the ‘denial’ and ‘confusion’ stages and it is essential people are given the right communication, support and opportunities for engagement to help move them through these stages as quickly as possible.
Perhaps the single most important part of successful change management is communication. Information to employees must have the right content, appropriate format, and be delivered to the right person at the proper time.
The above could be mantra for employee communication at any time but it is especially true during change. The person best positioned to deliver this to employees is their immediate manager or leader – by and large, employees’ most credible and preferred source of information.
During stressful times such as change, people will look to their immediate leaders for guidance, explanation and clues on how to react. Anything that undermines the position of the frontline leader also undermines the change.
If frontline leaders are to be effective as communicators of change, their special role needs to be acknowledged and supported. They need to be given level of information superiority.
The concept of ‘information superiority’ may have an unfortunate name within flat, modern management structures, however it is fundamental to supporting the role of frontline leaders.
Information superiority means that frontline leaders know the news first and are therefore ready and able to answer the inevitable questions from their people. It does not mean allowing frontline leaders to make the significant announcements or develop the strategy. It does recognise their very important role as both leaders and participants of change.
Frontline leaders also need communication, opportunities for engagement and support in the same way as all employees. The difference is that if they’re expected to take leadership role and support senior management, then they need an appropriate level of information and they need it early enough so they can understand and interpret it for their people.
Information superiority also has longer-term organisational benefits in terms of employee satisfaction.
Most people want to work for someone successful, someone important, someone who is connected and someone who knows what’s going on in the organisation. People will know they can talk to their leader because the leader knows more than they do.
By ensuring frontline leaders know what’s happening before staff, the organisation reinforces people’s sense of satisfaction within their workplace.
The need to focus on information superiority is especially important in organisations where email is the primary method of communication.
While email has the benefits of speed, reach, consistency and cost effectiveness, it also has couple of big downsides. Firstly if everyone receives the same information at the same time, leaders lose information superiority.
Secondly the impersonal nature of blanket emails denies the frontline leader chance to personalise mass communication to individuals and their circumstances.
If you are managing programme of organisational change ensure frontline leaders are prepared for their pivotal role in the process.
These leaders can make or break change projects and ensuring they gain and maintain information superiority will speed the transition from the old to the new.

Jacqui Tizard is consultant with the organisational performance consultancy, The Empower Group.

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