Change Management Learning Center - managing change library

Welcome to the Change Management Tutorial Series

Home   |   Bookstore   |    Training   |  Tutorials   |   Benchmarking  |  Webinars

Email this page to a friend


Neutralizing change threats in the new year: The Manager's Challenge

Prosci and the Change Management Learning Center's final tutorial series of 2008 is titled Neutralizing change threats in the new year. Each tutorial in the series will address one of the biggest obstacles currently facing change management professionals and project leaders as this year comes to a close and the new year begins. Visit the first tutorial in the series to see all six threats and a snapshot of the tactics used to neutralize each threat.


This week's threat: The Manager's Challenge

Obstacle #3 identified by participants in the 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study was poor support and alignment with middle management (behind only ineffective sponsorship and resistance from employees). Managers resisted the change and did not effectively support their employees through change. One of the main culprits for this obstacle is the manager dilemma.


The "manager dilemma"

The manager dilemma is a result of two forces at work on managers and supervisors during times of organizational change. First, managers and supervisors are themselves being impacted by the change - they must embrace, internalize and adopt the change to their own work. Second, they must support their employees during the change as well, helping them to embrace and adopt the new solution. During changes in the organization, the managers are often wearing both the "agent of change" hat and the "recipient of change" hat. Add to these challenges the fact that middle and front-line managers are critical to sustaining the day-to-day operations of the business and often feel overloaded with that task alone.

This duel role is the manager dilemma. Project teams, support functions (like communication, HR, training and OD groups) and senior leaders often only wear the "agent of change" hat, while front-line employees and those who ultimately adopt the change wear only the "recipient of change" hat. Managers and supervisors wear both hats - the result being that they have the most difficult role in times of change. Unfortunately, their duel role is often overlooked and neglected to the detriment of project and employee well-being.


Why are managers so important in times of change?

Managers are critical in times of change because of their proximity to employees. Projects ultimately impact how jobs are done in the organization; and employees are the ones who experience change in their processes, systems, tools, job roles and/or organization structures. The project is only successful if employees can successfully navigate these transitions. And who in the organization is closest to these effected employees? The managers and supervisors throughout your organization.

Change Management resources

It is this proximity that led Quy Nguyen Huy to write in his September 2001 Harvard Business Review article titled, In praise of Middle Managers, "Indeed, middle managers may be corner-office executive's most effective allies when it's time to make a major change" . Huy goes on to define four roles for middle managers in times of change: The Entrepreneur, The Therapist, the Communicator and The Tightrope Artist. Managers are able to fulfill these roles - and the similar roles outlined in Prosci's benchmarking study - because they are close to employees that bring changes to life in the organization.

To take this line of reasoning one step further, consider the numerous roles that were cited for managers in Prosci's 2007 change management study.

  • An employee's manager or supervisor was cited as one of two preferred senders of change messages (along with someone at the top of the organization)
  • The direct supervisor was cited as the most effective provider of reinforcement during change.
  • Involving a supervisor was one of the top tactics for managing resistance.
  • Engaging a supervisor or manager was one of the top suggestions for improving communications.

And while you may have many great managers in your organization, they may have difficulty in time of change. Managing employees through change is in many ways a new competency or skill set that managers and supervisors must build. Don't assume that being a great manager is the same as being a great change manager. It is your (and your organization's) responsibility to help build this key competency with your managers and supervisors.


Tactics for neutralizing the Manager's Challenge


Tackling the manager dilemma; managing change with the most resistant group

In the 2007 study, managers and supervisors were identified as the most resistant group when changes were introduced. One of the major causes is that many projects and change teams do not treat managers as employees first - people who are being tasked with changing how they do their work as a result of a new project or initiative. To be successful, managers must be supportive of a change before they can take the next step of supporting their people through that very same change.

There are two main tactics for engaging managers and supervisors and building their support for change.

  1. Develop targeted change management plans for manager and supervisors - treat "managers and supervisors" as its own group of impacted employees when you are introducing a change into the organization. Develop specific communications and strategies for this group. Engage this group's managers and supervisors - the managers of the managers - in communicating and coaching activities.

  2. Address the sources of manager resistance - treat manager resistance head on. Begin by looking to the tactics presented in the managing resistance module of the "Neutralizing change threats" tutorial series - the lessons here are equally applicable to managers and supervisors. Also take into account unique sources of resistance for managers and address them. Anticipate resistance from managers and take proactive steps to get them on board.

Finally, keep managers and supervisors a step ahead. If you are asking a group of managers and supervisors to communicate messages to their employees, don't send out the talking points in the morning and expect them to act that afternoon. Give managers and supervisors time to adjust to new information, to work through their own resistance and to embrace the change before you ask them to go to their employees.


Engaging the busiest managers; sharing the role you expect them to play

Managers and supervisors are busy. One of the top reasons that study participants cited for manager resistance was overload with current work responsibilities. They were so consumed with keeping the business running that they didn't have the time to play their role in making changes successful. While this is a valid concern, you can help by making it perfectly clear what role you expect managers and supervisors to play in times of change.

Prosci's 2007 benchmarking study identified five roles that managers and supervisors play in times of change. These five roles, in rank order, are:

  • Role #1: Communicator - Communicate with direct reports about the change

  • Role #2: Advocate - Demonstrate support for the change

  • Role #3: Coach - Coach employees through the change process

  • Role #4: Liaison - Engage with and provide support to the project team

  • Role #5: Resistance manager - Identify and manage resistance

The value here is making the role concrete. It is no longer a fuzzy, mysterious role - managers and supervisors are asked to be communicators, advocates, coaches, liaisons and resistance managers. Five roles that will directly drive successful change.

While tactic two is about sharing the role you expect, you cannot assume that these activities come naturally to anyone with a title of manager. In fact, in many cases these roles involve new skills and competencies. The final tactic is around helping managers and supervisors build these competencies.


Building skills; the path to "leading change" competency

The final tactic is to help managers and supervisors build the skills needed to be great leaders of change. Remember that leading people through change is a new competency for many - even for the best managers in your organization it can be a challenge. "Leading change" must be viewed as and treated as a competency that can be built.

You and your organization are responsible for building this competency in your managers and supervisors. Consider "leading change" as a new competency and offer the training programs your managers need. Provide them with tools for change management designed specifically for managers and supervisors. This means not just sharing a high-level overview of a change management process that will be used by project teams - but getting in the specifics around communicating and coaching employees through change.

The competency to lead people through change will require more than just a training session. Although this is a good start, your managers will need continuous support as they apply the tools and approaches they have learned. It takes time to build the competency, but in the end your managers, their employees and the projects will benefit.

Finally, it is important to share why managers are important and "What's In It For Me?" (or WIIFM) to get managers on board - training is not enough. Senior leaders and your managers' managers will play a key role in getting managers engaged with this new role, especially given their already busy schedules.




For your changes to be successful, you need the active support and participation of managers and supervisors. Their proximity, credibility and authority with front-line employees cannot be overlooked or ignored. The challenge you face is overcoming the manager dilemma - that managers and supervisors are both recipients of and agents of change.

The graph on the right is an interesting way to view the manager dilemma. Each manager working on a particular change can be plotted along the two axis. The horizontal axis is their support (or lack of support) for the change. The vertical axis is their competency at leading people through change.

  • The top right quadrant is where you need your managers to be for changes to be successful - supportive of the change and able to lead their people through change.
  • If managers are in the top left quadrant, then your efforts need to be focused on getting them on board with the change (since the competency exists).
  • If managers are in the bottom right, then your efforts should be focused on building the competency (since they are already supportive).
  • Managers in the bottom left require the most effort since both the support and competency dimensions need work.

Ask yourself: for the project you are currently supporting, where are your managers? And how will you help them move to the top right quadrant? Consider what a scatter plot of all of your managers might tell you about your required next steps for managing change with this group.

Prosci's Change Management Guide for Managers is a step-by-step process to help managers move to the right and up the graph on the right.



Resources for neutralizing the Manager's Challenge

If you need to: The right resource is:
Tackle the manager dilemma by managing
change with the most resistant group
Prosci's methodology tools include templates, assessments and guidelines for creating a complete set of change management plans, including plans targeted for managers and supervisors. The Change Management Toolkit is a 3-ring binder with USB drive. The Change Management Pilot 2008 is an online tool with 4-click access to the entire methodology and additional eLearning modules. 
Engage the busiest managers by sharing
the role you expect them to play
The 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report includes a comprehensive section focused on managers and supervisors. The section details the role of managers in times of change, the most common mistakes made by managers and the top skills and tools to provide to managers and supervisors. Additional findings in the report help build the complete role. The Change Management Guide for Managers is a second tool built around the most important roles as identified in the research.
Build skills with managers
and supervisors
Prosci offers two options for building change management competency with managers and supervisors. The self-paced option is the Change Management Guide for Managers - a toolkit that covers the full change management process for managers with numerous worksheets and templates. Prosci also offers a 1-day training program geared for managers and supervisors. This highly interactive program covers the foundation of change, managing change and the specific role of managers and supervisors. Participants work on real data they collect from their employees to build action plans on specific change efforts. Taught by former Fortune 500 executives, the program positions managers to be great leaders of change.



Coming up

In the next tutorial in this series, the fourth threat is neutralized:

  1. Engaging a missing sponsor
  2. Managing resistance to change
  3. Building middle management support and alignment
  4. Planning for change management
  5. Evaluating overall project health
  6. Avoiding change saturation


Comment on one of the threats: Do you have thoughts on one of the threats or tactics you would like to share? Complete the form below and let us know what you think. Your comments will be included in the upcoming tutorials. 







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


Email this page to a friend


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.




*** Register to receive free news announcements and tutorial releases ***



Tutorials | Bookstore | Benchmarking | Articles | Training | Register | Webinars | Resources | Home

Copyright Prosci 1996-2014
Prosci and ADKAR are registered trademarks of Prosci Inc.
Send comments to a Prosci analyst


Contact Prosci
email: Prosci email form
phone: 970-203-9332 or 800-700-2831
5042 Technology Parkway, Suite 500
Loveland, CO  80537  USA