Explainers

Upskilling Managers to Lead Change

If your organization is going through rapid change, you need change co-pilots and champions at every level of the organization

Organizational Change

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If your organization is about to embark on a major change initiative, you know you can’t go it alone: you need change co-pilots and champions at every level of the organization to succeed. But what do you do if an initial search for those leaders comes up short? Maybe your organization is scaling for the first time, or you have a lot of first-time leaders. Or maybe they have led change initiatives before, but not quite at the scale you need them too. Either way, you’ll need to upskill your managers quickly if you want to succeed. Here’s how to start:

  • Identify potential leaders of change and future change champions. Look for individuals who are already performing well and ready for growth opportunities, with a particular focus on those who can meet people where they are. While leaders themselves might be excited for the change, not everyone on the team will have the same experience, and must be supported with empathy and understanding. 
  • Create a safe-to-fail environment. Don’t ask a novice to lead a change initiative with far-reaching, high-risk consequences, such as reorg. Instead, allow them to learn in a low-stakes environment. When things do inevitably “fail,” be supportive and assess the situation together so they learn from the experience. 
  • Build ownership of the change. Managers need to feel like they’re directing part of the change, not just that change is happening to them. Encourage questions and feedback to make them feel a part of the effort. If they’re capable of leading change but don’t resonate with this particular change, explore ways to build their conviction.
  • Communicate the outcome. To avoid micromanagement, be clear about what the end goal of the initiative is, but not necessarily prescriptive in how it’s done. You can, though, help new change leaders identify outputs or smaller goals that build to the intended outcome, and explore how to continuously measure and celebrate achievement. These steps will give teams a sense of progress right away and build momentum for continued change. 
  • Help managers prioritize. It’s not enough to give managers more responsibility to lead change—you also have to take things off their plate or help them prioritize their responsibilities. Consider an Eisenhower decision matrix to sort responsibilities by urgency and importance, inclusive of company cultural commitments such as wellness and restoration
  • Build feedback loops. Finally, lasting change isn’t commanded. It takes active listening, empathy, and building feedback loops for teams to share what’s working and not working in a psychologically safe environment with their manager. Make sure that both you and the manager have created regular opportunities to hear from teams so you can reflect and adapt, and address managers’ personal growth and skill-building in 1:1s.
Published May 1, 2022

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