Partnering with Change Managers to lead your people through change

Senior Consultant, Therese Murray equips you with the knowledge you need to guide your team through successful change.

We’ve all heard the saying that “change is the new constant”. Now whilst this may sound like a cliché along the lines of “change is the new normal” or “change is the only thing you can count on”, as ‘motherhood’ as these statements sound, there’s absolute truth to them. Research from Gartner has shown that the typical organisation today has gone through five major organisation-wide changes in the past three years, and nearly 75% expected to increase this number of change initiatives in the next three years[1].

So we know that change is not going away anytime soon…Which leaves us in a quandary – how best to manage all this change so that we make our staff experience as smooth as possible during it, so that efficiency, effectiveness and employee satisfaction is not impinged?

During such periods of change, it’s natural to turn to a Change Manager for assistance, and as a Change Manager, I am absolutely all for this. The role of a Change Manager is never to be underestimated – in fact, research from Prosci (the world-leader in Change Management solutions) has shown that by managing change effectively, employees feel prepared, equipped and supported, and the project will be seven-times more likely to meet its objectives[2].

We know from the above that effective Change Management can lead to fantastic results – BUT (and here’s where it gets interesting), the job of managing change well falls to more than just the Change Manager. The best people to really drive change in your organisation are actually the direct Line Managers of those staff who are impacted by the change. Change management benchmarking research has shown that most staff (58%) want to hear from their immediate supervisors or people managers for messages about the personal impacts of the change, as opposed to less than 10% wanting to hear from either a Change Management Team Member/Leader.[3]

According to Prosci, one of the top contributors to a successful change initiative is engaging with Leaders early, to gain their advocacy and support and provide them with the tools and knowledge to effectively lead the change for their direct reports.[4] Early engagement with these leaders and an early effort to help them understand their role in the change management efforts will improve their effectiveness at leading change for their staff.

Unfortunately, it is a common misconception by Leaders that change is someone else’s responsibility. Often there’s a belief that the Change Manager will come in and do all the heavy lifting, and that the Leaders just sit back and watch the Change Manager ‘fix’ everything. The reality is very different though, as most employees want to hear about the changes directly from their Line Manager, and turn to them for clear instructions and cues for how they should react to the change. They will usually not turn to some ‘change person’ who often is not from their organisation (maybe they’re an external consultant or contractor and so trust levels can be low).

Whilst it’s true that Change Managers are generally in charge of leading overall change initiatives, it’s the organisational Leaders themselves that need to be willing to step up and help their teams adjust to the change. What the Change Manager can do is assist the Leaders to do this.

Specifically, the sorts of critical change activities that need to be performed by Leaders are[5]:

  1. Advocating and championing for the change
  2. Communicating actively and openly
  3. Coaching and supporting their employees through the change
  4. Engaging and liaising with the project team
  5. Identifying and managing resistance

But here’s the conundrum – maybe your leaders haven’t been trained in change management, or they don’t have the time amongst their day-to-day jobs to also be managing change, so how do you ensure your people get the messages, leadership and change drive from their Leaders? This is very often the case and one study by Prosci showed that only 35% of the participants indicated that they adequately prepared their Managers for their role in the change program.[6]

This is where a true partnership between your Leaders and a Change Manager can work beautifully. Think of the Change Manager’s role as facilitating the change – doing all the hard work in the background to set your leaders up for change success. If we want to use an analogy, you could think of the Change Manager as the composer of a piece of music (they know how everything should sound at the end); the Leader as the conductor of an orchestra (they need to get all the musicians (staff) working as one and singing off the same song sheet); and the staff as the musicians (they are the ones doing the doing).

Qualified Change Managers can help Leaders shorten the length of time it takes staff to adjust to the change and provide additional support throughout the change process. When Leaders step up in the change initiative by providing direction and insight to their employees, it allows Change Managers to focus on larger organisation-wide issues and challenges. Also, when Leaders act as change agents, their employees will have questions answered faster, receive more hands-on support, and feel more comfortable and confident with the change. There’s nothing like answers coming ‘straight from the horse’s’ mouth, so to speak.

But what does a partnership between your Leaders and a Change Manager look like in reality? Well, the Change Manager could undertake these sorts of activities with your Leaders:

Throughout my career I’ve seen some really good examples and some really bad examples of partnerships between Leaders and Change Managers. Where I’ve seen things work well is when I’ve ran leadership briefings with the Leaders directly involved in and supporting the change. During these briefings I provided them with a ‘what’s going on in this project 101’ – so in one short, sharp, succinct presentation they knew what was changing, who it was affecting, when it was happening and what they needed to do to make the change a success. They walked away armed with all the answers so when their staff came to them with questions, they were prepared. Anything they didn’t know, they had someone (me) to reach out to, to clarify. They felt supported and knew someone had their back as they did their best to spread the message of change.

When I reflect on an example of where the partnership between a Change Manager and the Leaders failed, I am taken back to a project where I observed my predecessor (poorly) communicating directly to lower-level staff about what was changing. In this case, the Change Manager had only some of the answers and had failed to anticipate in advance what the people might want to know (essentially, the who, what, where, when and why of the change).

They also failed to properly communicate with the Leaders first – so that when the staff went back to their Leaders for reassurance and further answers, the Leaders were effectively ambushed. For some of them, their staff coming up to them and asking them about the change was the very first time they had heard about it! This is far from ideal, and left the Leaders feeling undermined, embarrassed and humiliated, which immediately set the project up to fail.

Some careful (and rapid) backtracking by the new Change Manager (me) had to be undertaken. I went back to the start, apologised to the Leaders for the experience they had, and armed them with the knowledge to go back to their teams confidently. With the project back on track, the Leaders were now equipped and ready to drive the change forward in a positive and constructive way.

In summary, change isn’t going away so it’s a capability that Leaders need to keep flexing their muscles in. Change management skills have, and will continue to, become a requirement for leadership and management roles of all kinds. The good news is that Leaders don’t need to do this alone. They can lean on the skills and experience of a Change Manager to co-create with them and/or treat them as a sounding board to help them improve their change leadership skills.

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[1] Gartner, “Successful organizational change management: Reality or aspiration?” Organizational Change Management | HR Insights |

[2] Prosci Prosci | The Global Leader in Change Management Solutions

[3] “Communications Checklist for Change Management”, Prosci: Communications Checklist for Change Management ( [1] Prosci, “Best Practices in Change Management”, 11th edn, 2020

[4] Prosci, “Best Practices in Change Management”, 11th edition, 2020

[5] Prosci, “Best Practices in Change Management”, 11th edition, 2020, p.E95

[6] Prosci, “Best Practices in Change Management”, 11th edition, 2020, p.E93