The anatomy of an effective Change Manager

Lab Blog Article

  • Published — May 2019
  • Topic — Change Management
  • Author — Penny Sears

People are at the heart of every change journey, no matter how big or small. Effective Change Managers recognise this. And for many, it’s what makes working in organisational change and change management exciting - the chance to work with people. But this ability is not their only superpower. Change Managers, the good ones at least, need to be able to apply a unique combination of hard, soft and technical skills to deliver change in organisations effectively. As the demand for change management professionals increases globally, we take a look at some of the other traits, skills and knowledge that make you an effective Change Manager… one that any organisation would want on their team.

Understand change management fundamentals

Organisations may find talking about change management theory quite daunting. But you will find that to be effective in your role as a Change Manager; you do need to have an understanding of the principles and models of change. A solid grasp of the theory will give you an edge in implementing successful change. And it will also help you to frame the process for your stakeholders in a consistent and proven way. If you Google ‘change management principles’ you will get a slew of returns, which in itself can be confusing. We recommend you take time to familiarise yourself with the following models:

  • Kurt Lewin’s 3 Stage Model of Change;
  • Kotter’s 8 Steps;
  • McKinsey 7S Framework;
  • William Bridges Transition Model; and
  • The Kubler Ross Change Curve.

If you haven’t done so already, invest in some professional development. It’s a great way to improve your knowledge and skills and adds professional credence to your resume. Excellent certified courses include Prosci, PCI, Lean Change Management and Appreciative Inquiry.

Access to a change toolkit

Not only will a certified course give you a better understanding of the methodology - but it will also provide you with access to templates to use as part of your ‘change toolkit’ (be mindful of copyright requirements). Effective Change Managers keep their toolkit at their fingertips. It includes a range of templates and an understanding of how and when to apply them, based on the particular change management methodology followed. In addition to the methodology, the change itself, the organisational culture, the people you work with, technology, processes and timelines will determine the application of these templates.

Contract with your key stakeholders

A common issue with implementing change is that leaders and change practitioners start a project or program without a clear and explicit agreement or shared commitment to act. This can have a raft of consequences, from budget blowout, misaligned objectives and undefined timelines; and fundamentally, stakeholders may be disappointed with the efforts of their colleagues and start the ‘blame game’ — not a good place to be. The answer is ‘contracting’ with critical stakeholders - establishing clear expectations between leaders and change teams. This isn’t a formal or legally binding document. It sets out a good faith, relationship agreement that defines personal commitments, such as: - Specific, desired outcomes of the change effort; - Real implications of not meeting the desired outcomes; - Agreement on the time, money, resources and relationships needed to achieve the outcomes; - Expectations between key people regarding attitudes, behaviour and results; - Feedback methods to monitor progress and make interim corrections; - The decision-making process to follow if stakeholders disagree about a key implementation issue.

Build relationships at ALL levels in an organisation

As an effective Change Manager, you will seek to build relationships with key stakeholders such as your Project/Program Manager, the organisation’s leaders and managers, and your Project/Program Sponsor. These primary connections are perhaps a given. But it’s also crucial to build close working relationships with Middle Managers. Why? Because Middle Managers are an organisation’s gatekeepers and advocates. They’re often the most influential people when it comes to driving and promoting the change with their employees.
Employees trust Middle Managers - so you need to work closely with them, coach and support them, and harness their power to help deliver change. Additionally, a seasoned Change Manager will look for the influencers within organisations. This might be a killer Executive Assistant to your Project/Program Sponsor, a passionate HR Manager, or a supportive individual within a team heavily impacted by the change on which you are working. It is these influencers that can help make or break a change implementation - manage these relationships well, and you will be on your way to a smooth delivery.

Support your Leaders…

Change Management can be complex. To aid its success, commitment from your Leaders is essential - top-down really is key here. In practice, this isn’t always easy. Leading a change implementation takes courage and commitment. The decision to embark on a change project/program within an organisation can be emotional and is often met with resistance from leadership peers. And change can be expensive. That’s why Leaders need to make firm decisions during change. Leaders who backflip on their decisions risk impact on time, cost and quality, and they also risk losing their followers - possibly the most damaging outcome of all. It is the Leaders, not the Change Manager, that should deliver key change messages - they should communicate consistently during change, and face-to-face when possible. The Change Manager can help develop key messages and provide support communication sessions.

...and educate your sponsors

Program/Project Sponsors are accountable for successful change implementation in their area of responsibility. It is their role to ensure the benefits of change are fully realised. Despite this reasonably weighty responsibility, many sponsors do not entirely understand what their role entails. And often they do not have the capacity to fulfil the task. This can have negative implications on the outcomes of a project or program. More often than not, it’s the Project/Program Manager who has the direct working relationship with the Sponsor. But within the remit of relationship builder, a smart Change Manager will build a good relationship with the Project/Program Sponsor as well. This will help you to determine Sponsor capability and capacity and to offer coaching and support. Fill in any gaps in understanding directly.

Be an active listener

As an effective Change Manager, you will know how vital it is to be a good listener. Listen to conversations in the hallway, the lunchroom, at the water cooler. Take the time to engage with managers and employees who want to share their feelings about the change... their thoughts on why they don’t like the training... why they don’t feel something isn’t working. This information is Change Management gold. It can provide you with early warnings about misconceptions and can flag potential issues that you can deal with early on in the change implementation.

The characteristics of an effective change manager

It’s relatively simple to pick up a Change Management accreditation and, on paper, to be a ‘good’ Change Manager. But to be truly successful, you will undoubtedly demonstrate a specific combination of hard and soft skills:

  • 360-degree influence — a charismatic personal presence, gaining the respect of superiors, peers, and subordinates - the ultimate ‘people person’
  • Strong communication skills — the ability to promote a clear vision to different audiences, and to alter your style, language, and approach;
  • A “big-picture,” strategic mindset—solid knowledge of the business and its people and culture, and the ability to translate change into an organisational context;
  • Conflict-resolution skills — a skill for applying the right tactics to win over opponents, to bring competing parties together, and craft a win-win agenda;
  • Personal willingness and talent for change — a living and breathing model of behavioural change, influencing others to pursue self-discovery and self-development;
  • Passion for the current change — an enthusiastic champion of the change - you are in the best position to garner support from others;

Effective change management is a game changer

The pace of change in organisations across the globe is snowballing. Organisations across the board accept that engaging a robust and effective change team is fundamental to the evolution and growth of their businesses. Understanding the combination of hard, soft and technical skills that make for an effective Change Manager is the key to successful change implementation, and keeps change savvy organisations ahead of the game.

Change Managers Contract

Contracting with your stakeholders is one of the core competencies of effective Change Managers. Use contracting as part of your change toolkit to deliver successful change in your organisation.

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