Change Management for Frontline Managers

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Nov 10, 2010

By Aaron Fausz

Competition among companies has escalated as never before.

With the rise in technological advancements, evolving customer expectations, demographic shifts, globalization, sociopolitical upheaval, and changes in regulatory requirements, to maintain your competitive edge you must become faster, more responsive, and more efficient at providing quality products and services to your customers.

However, as your search for efficiency expands beyond your core operations into your administrative areas, change becomes the norm, and change makes most people uncomfortable. The change management strategies you utilize will be crucial to ensure a productive experience for your entire organization.

Although it is commonly said that “change is the only constant in life,” when policies and procedures are subject to change within a company, employees can be left feeling entirely threatened — especially if the changes are not managed correctly.

For example, in the area of technology, advancements have facilitated the automation of many activities involving an organization’s human resources, including staff scheduling, timekeeping, the calculation of employee pay, and the creation of paychecks. Since your employees’ paychecks are arguably the most visible and important manifestation of the employee-employer relationship (and one of the few things organizations provide that affects all employees), any initiatives that could alter them have the potential to generate great anxiety within your workforce.

While it is clear that you must make adaptations in policies and procedures in order to remain competitive, it is critical that you manage change within your organization correctly. Unfortunately, most organizations are doing a poor job of handling change.

According to the book, Conquering Organizational Change: How to Succeed Where Most Companies Fail, by Pierre Mourier and Martin R. Smith, the average success rate is only about 30 percent across all types of organizational change. The numbers are even bleaker with respect to technology changes, where only 9 percent of all major software development applications in large organizations are worth the cost, 31 percent get cancelled before completion, and 53 percent result in cost overruns that average 189 percent.

Why change efforts fall short

The reasons that change efforts so often fall short are numerous. Too often, companies make the following mistakes:

  • Incorrectly assume that the “case for action” is broadly understood.
  • Fail to communicate a clear picture of the company’s vision and/or begin communication too late in the project.
  • Do not build sufficient level or breadth of buy-in.
  • Do not obtain commitment from stakeholders, support resources, and end users.
  • Underestimate resources required to break with the past.
  • Miscalculate the effort required to change individual behavior.
  • Focus on the business plan, instead of the people who will be impacted by the change.
  • Do not sustain change leadership, ownership, and focus.
  • Lack a thorough, detailed change process.

The bottom line is that companies typically change organizational processes or introduce new technologies, but either fail to prepare their people to make the change or lack the organizational components to sustain the change.

If 70–75 percent of change efforts are failing, consider the astonishing amount of money, time, human effort, energy, and talent that are being wasted as well. Just as taking extra precautions to protect yourself and your property will insure your greater safety, think of change management as a necessary precaution to improve the odds that your initiatives will reflect the 25–30 percent of changes that are implemented successfully and that enable you to achieve your desired results.

Four steps to create a felt need for change

For change to take hold, and for your employees to become intrinsically motivated to change, they must first feel the need to change, as well as the need to respond to forces that pose a threat to their own long-term security and satisfaction. Project leaders should start by creating conditions in which people begin paying attention to the forces that are influencing the organization and its future success.

The four steps for project leaders to take to create a felt need for change are to:

  1. Identify what needs to change.
  2. Sell” the need for change by identifying the consequences of not solving the problem or not responding to the challenge.
  3. Immerse people in information about the change (e.g., performance successes and failures, customer complaints, budget data, competitive pressures, etc.).
  4. “Sell” the problem, NOT the solution.

After a change is introduced, have your project leaders respond by communicating with their employees, as well as listening to and empathizing with their anxieties or fears. The strongest ways to be supportive of your employees are to tell them what is known (as well as what is not known); listen to and acknowledge their objections, concerns, fears, and perceived losses; ask outright for their input and help; work with them to create a shared vision for change; and encourage discussion and debate about the change.

Motivation is the force to be used to energize, direct, and maintain behavior. In the context of building employee competence, this force can influence enthusiasm for training, keep attention focused on learning new skills, and reinforce what is learned in training, even in the face of daily pressures to discard what has just been learned and revert to old practices when back on the job.

Your project leaders can sustain motivation by explaining to your employees how the change will make things easier and why it is relevant to their job performance. Help your employees to understand and accept their role in using the new system, demonstrate how the new system can be learned, and show how it can be quickly applied on the job.

Your employees’ motivation will have a strong impact on the efficacy of your overall labor management initiative. This is a big reason why change management is so important. By keeping your employees in- formed, showing them how the change will positively impact them, allowing them to ask questions, and enabling them to make sense of the change for themselves, they will become more mentally engaged in the change process.

The more people are engaged in the change process, the more they will be willing to go along with it, and the more they will be willing to learn about the new system and use it in their jobs.


Few conditions evoke the same kind of intense emotional reaction that often accompanies change — especially when an organization is automating critical labor management processes. Change is upsetting because of the uncertainty it creates and the fear of the unknown it breeds. When change occurs, it often reduces a person’s perceived sense of control.

Employees do not always understand why a change is occurring, and they will tend to be wary of moving away from their old and predictable ways. More than robust technological capability is needed to truly reap the benefits of automating any manual labor management process.

When the automation affects an entire organization, a full-scale change management strategy that strongly takes your employees’ needs into consideration should be implemented to ensure that everyone understands the change, contributes to the implementation process, and adopts the new system.

To ensure the smoothest possible deployment of a new system, begin your change management strategy very early in the implementation process and focus on maximizing your employees’ acceptance of it. Proactively present the new technology to both your managers and your employees, and educate everyone about the system and how it will positively impact them.

Effective communications will be a key component in your overall change management effort and a critical factor in the success of your project. Your implementation should be a collaborative effort involving members from each department, such as payroll, human resources, and labor relations.

By following these strategies, you will be able to effectively implement your labor management application, maximize the financial savings from your new system, and migrate towards a common set of labor management best practices.

Excerpted from Creating the Workforce — and Results — You Seek: A Thought Leadership Anthology on Workforce Management from the Workforce Institute at Kronos. Copyright 2010 by Kronos Incorporated. Reprinted with permission from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated.

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