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Effectively managing change requires front line managers to embrace the saying “The only thing constant is change”?  As front line managers we use this statement often to explain why we are asking our employees to learn or do something new.  We often think this should be enough, individuals should get that the change we are asking them to make should now be embraced with open arms and that they should understand more change is to come and they should be ready. 

As front line managers we do think this and are always surprised when employees don’t comply to the new practice or policy 100% of the time from day one.  There is a reason you can find thousands of articles on effectively managing change.  How do we as front line managers focus on effectively managing change?  First, we have to understand what change is.  Second, we need understand the barriers to change.  Third, after we know the barriers to change, we need to construct a plan to overcome those barriers.

Effectively Managing Change: Defining the Change

Let’s start by defining change.  The definition of change is to make the form, nature, content, or future course of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.  Change management, as defined by the Change Management Learning Center, is applying techniques and tools to manage the people side of change to achieve the desired results with minimal disruption.

Effectively Managing Change: Barriers to Change

As humans, we like things the way they are and don’t particularly care to change them even if the change makes things better.  Why?  We are creatures of habit and the known if always better than the unknown.  This is what makes it difficult for front line managers to focus on effectively managing change.  When effectively managing change, front line managers demonstrate good leadership skills and must know that the change curve employees go through has four phases, Denial, Resistance, Exploration and Commitment.  Not every individual will move through each phase in order and some may backslide or get stuck in a phase.  Despite the different patterns, all must get to commitment in order to perform.  We will discuss the techniques and coaching skills front line managers must when focusing on effectively managing change no matter the scale of the change.

Effectively Managing Change: Planning to Change

The first step in getting to Commitment is building awareness of the need for change.  We must communicate the “why” for the change, take away the unknown.  The front line manager must share why the change is necessary, what created the need for the change, define the risk of not making the change and articulate what might happen if the change is not made.   This will become second nature for the manager with good leadership skills, but until that time, a document to follow clearly outlining these topics will be necessary to ensure the front line manager is communicating the necessary information.  In the beginning, employees are in denial or resistance to change and explaining the why will help move them through the curve more smoothly. Front line managers with good leadership skills will acknowledge that individuals have free will and will make their own decisions. This must be acknowledged and front line managers will need to find various ways to motivate employees to want to make the change.  This can be accomplished by highlighting the WIIFM’s in the change.  The WIIFM, What’s In It For Me, can take many shapes such as incentives, sense of belonging, highlighting the discontent with the current state, trust and respect for their front line managers, job security and the like.  Effectively managing change begins with raising awareness and front line managers must acknowledge the change to help promote the desire to change in their employees.

Once the front line manager has used his good leadership skills to get the individual’s desire where it needs to be, the next step is to train or educate the employee.   This can only successfully occur when the employee has the longing to increase their knowledge and learn how to best support the change.  The individual is in the Exploration phase and front line managers must take this opportunity to engage the employee and encourage participation and learning.  This can happen in team coaching, individual performance coaching, training classes or any combination of the three considering the magnitude of the change. Front line managers with good leadership skills will incorporate many different types of learning in many different settings to effectively manage the change. 

The natural extension of learning is exhibiting the ability to incorporate the new skills into action.  The front line managers role is to foster this ability from knowledge acquisition through coaching, mentoring, feedback, testing or any combination of these. These tasks are imperative as you move the employee from Exploration to Commitment.  The important thing to remember is that the coaching/feedback should begin to happen immediately after the training or communication is delivered as it is necessary to reinforce the new knowledge and create the new habit right away.  Again, this can happen in team coaching sessions or in individual performance coaching sessions or a combination of the two. It may be necessary and useful to use a Development Action Plan with certain employees that might be struggling with a new skill. Front Line Managers can assess the need based on the nature of the change or by assessing the employee's will/skill issues through use of the Hi / Lo Matrix.  As the individual exhibits the ability and the new skills, front line managers with good leadership skills will reinforce the new behavior by providing feedback on what the employee is doing well.  Front line managers with good leadership skills will also provide recognition and appreciation to reward the successful efforts of implementing the change.   Without the reinforcement the individual is likely to revert back to the old habit and abandon the new. 

In the end, the front line managers role in effectively managing change is to raise awareness for the need to change and to acknowledge they need to have the employee desire or see the need to make the change.  The next steps are to increase the individuals’ knowledge and ability or to train the employee.  The last step is to provide reinforcement in the form of feedback or coaching to help instill the new skills, policies, or procedures. Front line managers with good leadership skills will show they are effectively managing change by leveraging each phase an employee goes through and will ultimately get their team to the commitment phase of the change curve using this technique.