Change Management: Are Participatory Managers Better?

There’s nothing like a poor manager to act as a change management brake. This observation of mine from personal experience is backed up by recent findings from the 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey, which found that only one-quarter of organizations are able to keep change momentum going over the long term. The survey blames the lack of continued success with change management initiatives partly on companies’ inability to prepare and train managers to be effective change leaders.

Employers participating in the study say 55 percent of their change management initiatives meet their initial objectives. However, only one out of four respondents (25 percent) say they are able to sustain gains from their change management initiatives over the long term. Change management initiatives can range from program or policy changes to business transformation and mergers and acquisitions.

The survey also found that most companies recognize that managers have an important role to play in managing change. In fact, nearly nine out of 10 respondents (87 percent) train their managers to manage change. However, less than one-fourth of all respondents (22 percent) admit their training is effective.

Product revamp or improvement initiatives seem to me to be some of the most daunting change management challenges. Work groups stretched thin from years of recessionary cutbacks often resent a view-from-the-treetops manager acting as a spectator-critic. I suspect that greater employee buy-in would be possible if more change management was led by managers who ask for changes that they, personally, also will have a responsibility to pitch in and make a reality. For example, if a product improvement campaign requires greater design time, or added redos during production, an effective change manager would set aside related tasks for him or herself. On a symbolic level, doing so demonstrates the manager has “skin in the game” in the changes he or she is leading. On a substantive level, the manager taking responsibility to pitch in eases the stress on already stretched-to-capacity work teams.

My question to readers: How do you prepare managers to lead change management initiatives? What do you find is the best way to gain team buy-in? Does it help to have a participatory, rather than a reflections-from-the-peanut gallery manager?

Please comment below.