Who's who in Change Management

08 June 2017

« Defining the roles »

author picture Article written by Antoine Wouters

When it comes to change management (CM), specialists will only take the organization so far. The same holds true for dashboards, organigrams and kick off meetings. It takes more than planning and consultants to make the change happen. The core assumption is that even the “best solution” may fail or even backfire if not adopted and proficiently used by the people impacted by the change. CM is thus a holistic and collective endeavor. It engages the whole organization and should never be conceived of as a set of emergency measures. For any social entity to thrive and adapt in a fast-changing world, CM tenets and skills have to be infused into the whole structure, from top to bottom.

“Who should be doing what” is a burning issue. Clearly charting the roles beforehand is crucial to ensuring that transformational efforts are not built on a dialogue of the deaf.

Who is doing what?

According to a poll by PROSCI, most common frustrations derive from executive and senior levels passing the buck to employees (“go make it happen”). Middle managers and front-line supervisors often feel “caught in the middle” - that is, being recipients and agents of change -, while project teams typically tend to stick to the technical side of the solution. The CM team may find itself “isolated”, bearing much of the weight of driving successful change. On their end, project SME’s [Subject Matter Expert] and Support frequently struggle to “fit in”. These are but a few of the many recurrent problems plaguing CM initiatives.

The graph below (Copyright ©​ PROSCI) is a useful starting point to illuminate the nature of involvement of each group or level. Roles are either of the enforcing [“employee-facing roles”] or enabling type. Through daily multilateral or one-on-one interactions, leaders, middle management and employees are the “faces and voices of the change”. Think of the CM team, project team and SME’s as a structure operating behind the scenes.

GRAPH_NEXUM_7_EN.jpg(En)acting the change (organization structure).

Engagement is the crux of the matter. It starts with the top of the organization, from which business messages are expected to be released. PROSCI’s benchmarking studies conducted over a period of 20 years show that leadership visibility is the number one contributor to success. In this light, the ABC’s of sponsorship include:

Active participation (A): For leaders, “most important ability is availability” (Sports Coach Parcells, B. as quoted by PROSCI).

Building sponsorship coalition (B): Aligning leaders and senior executives around the same commanding message is essential to ensuring a smooth transition.

Communication (C): To put it simply, titles and checks do not provide focus and guidance. Leaders and senior managers must take the floor on a regular basis.

Proximity to the field is equally crucial to any transformational effort. Because they liaise with frontline employees, middle managers and supervisors are key allies. However, they are frequently caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to dealing with the change. Not only do they have to “own it” before they can pass it through, they also have to make sure that operations keep going during the implementation process. Besides performing day-to-day tasks, managers should play five critical roles. It comes as no surprise, then, that PROSCI coined an acronym evoking superheroes – “CLARC” – to capture this blend of missions:

Communication (C): Managers cascade key messages, such as the “why” of the change, and address related issues on a one-to-one basis (“what’s in it for me”).

Liaison (L): In doing so, they naturally connect the dots between the field and the team in charge of designing the solution.

Advocacy (A): Managers lead by example, not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

Resistance Management (R): Close to where resistance may emerge, they are key players in finding out the root causes of the problem and addressing it head on.

Coaching (C): Change happens with one person at a time. Promoting adoption and usage of the solution thus requires personal attention and guidance from direct supervisors.

Identifying who exactly should be on board depends on the frontline employees impacted. A simple bottom-up approach will do the trick.

Enabling the change (Change Structure).

As the saying goes - and it rightfully applies to CM - “if it’s not the job of someone, it’s no one’s job” (as quoted by PROSCI). The reason why CM resources are so important is that they provide staff and leaders with a structured and intentional approach to change while keeping everyone focused and backed up. They enable leaders to be effective sponsors and help managers going through their own transition before they coach employees to do the same. The CM team, which can be paired with the project team, helps to close the gap between installation and adoption of the solution by emphasizing the people side of the change. Last but not least, Human Resources as part of the SME’s group, carries out a supportive role to negotiate CM social arrangements and implement training plans, among other missions. When communication between direct managers and employees falls short, they also provide attentive listening to the people impacted.

CM-dedicated departments are nowadays mostly found in mature organizations. For the rest, we are not quite there yet. There is still a long road ahead for most organizations to be fully or reasonably equipped with CM resources. Yet, just as the following table (Copyright ©​ PROSCI) shows, defining the roles, choosing the right cast & crew and giving each actor the right line can go a long way.

​*This article compiles PROSCI's research insights into roles-based CM. See PROSCI [2016], Roles in Change Management Webinar.


Related articles

Be in the know

Join the community to receive the latest articles on Change Management, upcoming events and exclusive newsletter.

We guarantee 100% privacy. Your personal details will not be shared to third party partners.

Be in the know

Join the community to receive the latest thought change management articles, upcoming events and exclusive newsletter

Don't ask me anymore