When we talk about change management, there’s a lot of discussion about the manager’s role – which seems normal, because managers take on multiple tasks, i.e. participating in detailed impact analyses, communicating issues to appropriate stakeholders, supplying teams with the resources they need to implement change, etc.
But what about the specific role of the team leader, the front-line supervisor in the change management apparatus?
Here are two observations that can lead us to some answers:
- Although employees may pay a lot of attention to “official” information coming from management, it has been demonstrated that they look to the supervisor as the person who best embodies change. He or she is the one they refer to in order to understand the purpose of the change, so they can embrace it.
- Because the supervisor is always front-row-centre when it comes to noticing the impact of the change, he or she is in the best position to measure employee buy-in and act as the organization’s eyes and ears.
This tells us that the supervisor acts as a transmitter – an essential function that works in tandem with the role of the manager.
Here are some of the supervisor’s key tasks:
- Developing “micro-strategies” adapted to each employee that’s affected by the change – strategies based on the impact the change will have on a given person, the person’s most likely reaction to it, and the best way to get that person to embrace the change
- Being aware of employees’ reactions and preoccupations in order to quickly provide them with information to neutralize their concerns
- Identifying leaders and opinion makers, and turning them into allies (successful change often happens through osmosis)
- Making sure the physical workspaces, the task structures and the schedules are adapted to the new reality
- Leaving a reasonable amount of time for employees to adapt to the change (i.e. being temporarily flexible with productivity standards)
- Quickly taking appropriate measures to bring resistant employees into the fold, for example through mentoring, additional training or personalized coaching
- When required, bringing in a manager and HR advisor to help deal with problem cases or organized team resistance
- Personalizing and reinforcing management’s message with regard to the purpose of the change and its benefits for the organization (the supervisor’s attitude, words and behaviour will set the tone and facilitate “grassroots” acceptance for the change)
As for managers, they should adopt the same attitude towards their supervisors as the supervisors do towards their employees. During a period of change, that means being attentive to the needs and concerns expressed on the front lines, and staying close to the supervisor in order to develop a spirit of cooperation and teamwork. When a manager and a supervisor work hand in hand, chances are much greater that employees will follow their lead.