A phrase often touted as a key step in the change process is “getting buy-in from key stakeholders.” The concept is usually interpreted as gaining permission from managers to implement change in their areas. But most changes in organizations require more than just permission or agreement; they require a different way of managing to support the changes. In fact, nothing drags down change more than managers who disempower people to change because they themselves keep managing the same way as before.
Of course, managers must model the same behaviors that are expected of employees, but the changes required of managers go beyond that. In hierarchical organizations, managers must manage differently because they perform a unique role that only people with authority can play. Managers are the molders of culture and the guardians of the status quo. If they are stuck, then the organization is stuck.
The following are some of the ways managers need to change the way they manage in order to properly support change.
Managers, especially direct supervisors, are the main source of information for most employees in your organization. During change, managers have to turn up the amount and add new types of communication. Managers must align their communication to the broader change message and help translate what it means at the team and individual levels. Managers are also a conduit for 2-way communication by answering questions and by collecting and transmitting feedback.
For employees to adopt new ways of working, managers need to change the way they hold their direct reports accountable. New goals and desired behaviors mean managers must change their expectations of employees. Change requires diligent follow up and making sure people understand the consequences of their work. Managers also play the crucial role of helping people meet deadlines and goals by providing adequate support and removing obstacles.
The recognition that managers dole out or withhold from employees demonstrates what they want to see repeated. Managers can deliver formal recognition such as awards, but more often, recognition takes the form of informal approval, thanks, and positive attention. If managers continue to reward old behaviors during change, the old behaviors will remain. Managers should deliberately recognize new desired behaviors to reinforce change.
The way decisions were made in the past may not work now. Change may require new criteria or priorities be considered in the decision-making process. Managers support change by making decisions within their authority that help move it forward and don’t contradict it. Employees watch their manager’s decisions to confirm how much they can believe in the change. Aligning decisions with the desired change is a key management activity.
Employees’ behaviors often reflect the reaction they anticipate from their manager. If they think their boss will have a good reaction – thanks, encouragement, or support – to a certain behavior, they will do it. If they think their boss will have a bad reaction – blame, admonishment, disappointment, or neglect – then they will avoid it, even if the same person is telling them to do otherwise. Managers don’t get many chances before employees learn what the boss really expects them to do. Change requires that managers pay attention to the impact of their reactions and consciously work to match them to the desired employee behaviors.
Although organizational change requires people at all levels to change the way they work, it is management that will make or break your initiative. If all you get is permission to implement change within a manager’s area, you are probably wasting your time. Set expectations and work with managers to change the way they manage, so employees will be empowered to make their own changes as well.