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Managers and supervisors: importance and role

The first two tutorials in the job roles series focused on the role of the change management specialist and a high-level overview of the five roles in change management. The next tutorials will look specifically at the two critical employee-facing roles in times of change:

  1. Executives and senior leaders

  2. Managers and supervisors

These two roles are critical because employees look to and listen to the person at the top of the organization and their direct supervisor.

While the last tutorial looked at senior leaders, this tutorial focuses on the importance and role of managers and supervisors in times of change. It includes new research on the importance of managers and supervisors in times of change. The tutorial also examines the five roles managers and supervisors play in times of change, and how well 2009 study participants ranked their performance. Finally, the tutorial looks at the percentage of participants who provided formal training in change management to managers and supervisors and an overview of Prosci's 1-day program for this critical group.


Prosci's Change Management Guide for Managers is a self-paced toolkit with a full set of tools to help managers become great leaders of change.
Read more about the Change Management Guide for Managers.

The importance of managers and supervisors in times of change

In times of change, managers and supervisors can be both the greatest ally and the greatest obstacle for change teams. They are the closest to the employees who must adopt the new processes and behaviors associated with a project or initiative. In many cases, the work of managers and supervisors will also be impacted by a project. Getting managers and supervisors on-board and taking the lead in supporting employee change is crucial.

In the 2009 benchmarking study, participants rated how important they felt manager and supervisor involvement was to the success of their project. The graph below shows the respondents data. Nearly half of participants ranked manager and supervisor involvement as "extremely important", with another one-third citing "very important".



Managers and supervisors are so crucial because of the relationship they have with the employees in the organization. The importance of managers and supervisors in times of change is undeniable - but what does this group really need to be doing to drive successful change?


The role of managers and supervisors

Participants in the 2007 benchmarking study identified five roles that managers and supervisors must play in times of change:

  1. Communicator - Communicate with direct reports about the change

  2. Advocate - Demonstrate support for the change

  3. Coach - Coach employees through the change process

  4. Liaison - Engage with and provide support to the project team

  5. Resistance manager - Identify and manage resistance


Role #1: Communicator - Employees want to hear change messages about how their work and their team will be affected by a change from the person they report to. An employee's supervisor is a key conduit of information about the organization, the work that is done and changes to that work resulting from projects and initiatives. Answers to questions like, What does this mean to me? What's in it for me? Why should I get on board? and Why are we doing this? are best delivered by an employee's immediate supervisor. The change management team needs to provide talking points and pertinent information, but those messages should ultimately be delivered to employees by their supervisor.

Role #2: Advocate - Employees look to their supervisors not only for direct communication messages about a change, but also to evaluate their level of support for the change effort. If a manager only passively supports or even resists a change, then you can expect the same from that person's direct reports. Managers and supervisors need to demonstrate their support in active and observable ways. The key here is this: managers and supervisors must first be on-board before they can support their employees. A change management team should create targeted and customized tactics for engaging and managing the change first with managers and supervisors, and only then charge this important group with leading change with their direct reports.

Role #3: Coach - The role of coach involves supporting employees through the process of change they experience when projects and initiatives impact their day-to-day work. Prosci's ADKAR® model describes this individual change process as five building blocks of successful change: Awareness of the need for change, Desire to participate and support the change, Knowledge on how to change, Ability to implement required skills and behaviors and Reinforcement to sustain the change (read more about ADKAR in the Essence of ADKAR tutorial or in Excerpts from the ADKAR book). Because of their relationship, managers and supervisors can coach individual employees through this change process and help them address the barrier points that are inhibiting successful change. 

Role #4: Liaison - This role involves interacting with the project team. As the liaison, managers and supervisors provide information from the team to their direct reports. But perhaps more importantly, they provide information about the project from their employees back up to the project team. Managers are in the best position to provide design input, usability results and employee feedback on particular aspects of the solution back to the project team.

Role #5: Resistance manager - No one is closer to a resistant employee than his or her supervisor. In terms of managing resistance, managers and supervisors are in the best place to identify what resistance looks like, where it is coming from and the source of that resistance. They are also the best suited - when provided with the training and tools to do so - to actively manage that resistance when it occurs. They can use the ADKAR model to hone in on which element of the change process is driving resistance and address it accordingly.


Role fulfillment benchmarking findings

Participants in the 2009 study ranked their managers and supervisors in terms of how well they were fulfilling the five roles listed above. For each role, participants ranked managers and supervisors on a scale from "completely ineffective" to "extremely effective". The graph below show the percentage of participants ranking their managers and supervisors as "ineffective" or "completely ineffective". From the data, it is easy to see that managers are struggling the most with fulfilling the coach and the resistance manager roles.



The roles of "Coach" and "Resistance manager" represent the biggest departure for many managers from the role they have historically played in the organization. The other three roles are more aligned with what a manager has done in the past, but effectively coaching employees through a change and identifying and managing resistance to change require a new set of skills. Many times, great managers have difficulty when tasked with becoming great managers of change because they have not been adequately prepared to do so.


Training for managers and supervisors

Participants in the 2009 benchmarking study indicated whether or not they provided formal change management training to managers and supervisors. In the 2007 study only 39% of participants trained this crucial group, and in the 2009 study this number increased only slightly to 40% (see the graph below).



The finding above should set off a warning for many change managers and business leaders. While managers and supervisors are identified as a critical success factor in times of change, they are not being adequately prepared to fulfill the roles identified in the research. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have we told managers and supervisors what we expect from them in times of change?

  • Do they fully understand the specific actions and behaviors we need from them to support a change effort?

  • Have we provided them with the skills and tools to be successful at leading their direct reports through change?

If you answer "no", then you have work to do to better engage this important cog in the change management system.



Prosci's Change Management Certification for Managers and Supervisors

Prosci's Change Management Certification for Managers and Supervisors is designed for managers and supervisors who are supporting their employees through change - in many cases, through multiple changes. The program is based on over a decade of research on how to effectively manage the people side of change. The certification program immerses coaches in their role in the change management process, requiring them to use real-life data and real-life changes they are working on at that moment.

In the program, participants will:

  • Identify all the changes underway that impact their group and better understand why these changes are being made
  • Have an opportunity to review these changes and raise any concerns or issues that they might have
  • Learn how to use the ADKAR® Model to coach individual employees through change
  • Develop their own skills and competencies for leading change with their employees

The program follows the change management process for managers shown below which begins with a focus on preparing yourself for change before moving on to the creation of specific activities for leading your direct reports through change:


Prosci's Change Management Process for Managers and Supervisors


Materials: Participants receive a primer on leading change, a copy of the Employee's Survival Guide, a copy of the ADKAR book and a set of ADKAR worksheets.


Agenda for the manager program:

  • Course topic: Understanding the process for leading change

  • Break-out: Group discussion of the changes underway in the organization

  • Course topic: Uncovering the concepts of change management

  • Break-out: Organization and change readiness assessments

  • Course topic: A look at the best practices data

  • Break-out: Research findings analysis and group presentations

  • Course topic: The ADKAR Model

  • Break-out: Personal ADKAR worksheet

  • Course topic: Roles for leading change (communicator, advocate, coach, liaison, and resistance manager)

  • Break-out: Discussion of the communications packet from the project team(s)

  • Break-out: Individual analysis of employee data; development of group and individual coaching plans for managing change

  • Course topic: Resistance management

  • Break-out: Understanding resistance

  • Course topic: 10-steps for managing resistance

  • Break-out: Next steps and action plans


Call an account manager at +1-970-203-9332 or email a Prosci analyst to learn more about Prosci's manager program or to schedule your session today.










Offerings for applying Prosci's change management methodologies:


  • Change management certification ($2800)- 3-day program where you bring a project you are working on and apply all of the assessments and tools as you learn them - taught by former fortune 500 executives at locations across the US - includes over $1000 in products, including the Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, the Change Management Toolkit and the Change Management Pilot 2010
  • Train-the-trainer ($3500) - learn how to teach Prosci change management training programs in your organization
  • Onsite training - bring Prosci to your location for 3-day certification programs, 4-6 hour executive briefings, 1-day manager programs or 1-day employee programs - call +1-970-203-9332 for more information

Methodology tools:

  • Change Management Toolkit ($389) - hardcopy 3-ring binder presenting Prosci's change management methodology, includes templates, checklists and assessments for managing the people side of change (includes USB drive)
  • Change Management Pilot Pro 2010 ($449) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors ($189) - tools to help supervisors engage and coach their direct reports through change (includes 4 copies of the Employee's Survival Guide)
  • PCT Analyzer ($149/$349) - web-based tool for collecting PCT Assessment data, analyzing results, identifying risks and developing action steps

References and books:

  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289 / quantity discounts available) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - a primer for anyone involved in organizational change that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management
  • ADKAR: a model for change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - the definitive work on Prosci's ADKAR® Model
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change ($14.95 / quantity discounts available) - a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change, answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to take charge of change



*** Prosci also offers leadership packages - groupings of products at discounts that offer you some of the most helpful and common combinations of Prosci change management resources


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Email a Prosci analyst or call 970-203-9332 with questions about the methodology, its application, or finding the right resources to support your change management activities.




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