Responding to COVID-19 over the past two months has brought on an immense amount of change. Essential businesses have seen their routines and operations disrupted with social distancing requirements and many new processes to honor employee and customer safety. Other businesses transitioned as many employees to remote work as possible while others were forced to furlough or layoff workers and/or close completely. 

For businesses that have continued operations, some have been more successful than others in making the changes required AND maintaining the productivity and engagement of their teams. What is the biggest difference? People Managers. Companies that have been most successful have strong People Managers, and they recognize that their People Managers are also their Change Managers. During this time, they have relied upon them to be strategic links between the organization and their employees for demonstrating care, sharing information, gathering needs, and monitoring wellbeing. Not only is it working, it has contributed to organizational resilience which has provided a distinct competitive advantage. 

People Managers are a key change enabling role for any organization. Your People Managers are your team leaders, supervisors, and direct managers – anyone charged with actively supporting and supervising employees to deliver results. In times like these, when employees have been asked and will continue to be asked, to change significant aspects of their day-to-day work, your People Managers must proactively and effectively support their direct reports in dealing with change.

Based on studies done by Prosci, one of the world leaders in change management methodology and research, People Managers must fulfill five key roles to be successful in helping team members move through change:

  • Communicator – Being an effective communicator in times of change is essential. Employees crave information on what the organization is doing, why, and how it impacts them personally.  In their most recent research on the best practices in change, Prosci found that 67% of respondents identified a person’s direct supervisor as the “preferred sender” for any personal messages related to the change. Said differently, team members want to hear the what’s, why’s, how’s, and when’s about how a change impacts them or their work from their manager.
  • Liaison – During any type of change, the manager must understand the team member’s perspective, issues they are experiencing, and what that performer needs to be successful.  Therefore, it is up to the manager to ask thoughtful questions, listen, and learn as much as possible about the individual. When the manager is successfully filling this role, they serve as a conduit for feedback to the organization about how change is impacting the front line and what the company can do to promote success and engagement.
  • Advocate – As an advocate, the manager acts on behalf of the organization and acts as a role model for the change. It is in this role that the manager proactively shares key leadership messages about why change is important and how it connects to the mission, vision, and values of the company. Another key part of advocacy includes ensuring the performer knows how their willingness and actions taken to change contribute to the organization. 
  • Resistance Manager – Nearly every change includes team members who resist. It may be active resistance or passive. In this role, the manager must demonstrate empathy and seek to understand the source of resistance. Once a source is identified, the manager must collaborate with the team member on a potential resolution to help move past the resistance toward a positive outcome.
  • Coach – Coaching plays a critical role at every stage of people moving through change – from team member awareness of what’s happening and why, to their desire to make a change, to their knowledge on what to change and how, to the ability to affect the change and successfully operate. In addition, each team member will move at a different pace and with a different level of comfort. To support this journey successfully, managers must play the role of Coach and individualize their approach, adjusting their frequency of contact and types of interactions (e.g., text, voice, video, etc.) to each performer’s needs. In the role of Coach, a manager comes alongside the team member to provide encouragement, support, and help to promote the desired outcomes at any point in the change process. 

Although many states in the US have started to lift “stay at home” orders, we aren’t done with this significant change journey just yet. The next few months will include businesses participating in multiple phases of re-opening and striving to execute within a “new” normal. In addition, many companies have already realized that they need to re-invent aspects of how they work or deliver service to create a new, stronger future for their organizations. And, People Managers will play a critical role in facilitating the changes needed to achieve all of these outcomes.  

As you think about what your organization has been through in the past couple of months and what it faces in the months ahead, consider how you have equipped your People Managers to be Change Managers. What information do they need? What knowledge or skills do they need to help them fulfill the five key roles above? What resources would be helpful? To the extent you can position your People Managers for success in enabling change, the more effective and resilient your organization will be in navigating its own change journey.