What is the role of a change manager?

There seems to be a constant debate as to when a change manager should join a project based on the perceptions of what a change manager does. Many change managers feel they are brought onto a change programme only once the programme/project team realise they need to start communicating to the business about the change. The fact of the matter is that although communication is a key element of generating change, it is not the sole element or what enables change to happen. You can literally have thousands of communications of all different kinds from emails, posters, videos and townhalls, to name a few, but none of this will mean that change will actually occur.

So what is the role of a change manager, if it is not about creating and delivering a lot of communications? Beyond the management spiel of change readiness assessments, impact assessments, risk assessments, training and comms plans, benefit realisation and ROI; the role of a change manager is to create, build and develop relationships.

This is more than just stakeholder management. This is uncovering what makes people tick, building a relationships to the point people trust and value your insight and support.

A change manager needs to meet with the senior leaders of the organisation and get to know them and what they and their teams do within the business – what are their goals, challenges – what keeps them up at night and why. It is about meeting up with people across the whole organisation at different levels to understand their perspective on the practices in the organisation, the world, and how they would like it to be different, their challenges and their frustrations.

Then the change manager can use that information to really understand the level of readiness and the impact the change will have and be able to develop the plans that are going to be right for the people in that specific organisation, rather than approach the change generically which won’t actually address some of the key issues and challenges.

The change manager builds a change network through the foundations of the relationships that they have already started to develop. They can identify the right executive sponsor and clearly articulate what is needed in regards to being active and visible which is backed by years of experience. The executive sponsor then starts to trust because of initial relationships and clear articulation of the requirements commitment needed to enable the change, along with a plan that will address their key areas that are specific for their organisation. Afterall, most Executive Leaders feel their organisation is different – how many times have you heard, “well that might be ok over at ABC but here at XYZ we are different because…” And to be fair, they are correct – every organisation is slightly different from any other simply because the people are different. And although, as my grandmother always said, “People are just people wherever you go;” as such there are nuances that play out due to different personalities and dynamics.

And that is why creating, building and developing relationships is so important. It is through relationships that things get done. How many times have you done something simply because a certain person asked you?

That is why the change network is the most important responsibility and differentiates a change manager from any other member of the project and support team. They need to work with the change leaders to ensure they are supporting and not blocking or hindering the change and give access to the resources needed to deliver. They then need to work diligently to create a ‘new internal network,’ which is based on relationships across the whole business of lots of different people – change champions. They need to not only be identified, the commitment needs to be clear from the start with full support from line and senior managers, as well as the person – they should not be forced into the role as that will affect their level of commitment and support of others through the change.

They then need to be promoted, so everyone knows who they are and hence who to go to for questions. They also need to be trained with confidence and given the assurance that you, the change manager, will be there for them through it all and will help them in every way possible, so they do not feel like they are ‘lone man on totem pole.’ If there is a question they don’t have the answer to, they know they can come to you to help them find the answer – again building trust across the whole organisation through relationships.

And finally there is the support and project teams in which the change manager works closely with to help deliver the key aspects of the activities, engagements and communications of the change. Working closely with the comms and marketing teams to get the right messages out in the right way to the right people at the right time; working with HR to ensure all areas of the business are involved correctly and the right policies and procedures are in place to help the change; working with technology to ensure the right systems are in place to help the change – sometimes things needs to be moved around and there is no power or connectivity, so this needs addressing or else the change won’t happen.

So when you think about a change manager, think about the relationships needed to enable the change to actually happen. What people will need to be involved:  whose support will you need, who will you need to do things, who will you need to communicate things, who will need training, who will just need to know what is happening. Then think about your change manager because it is they who will help you build the right relationships, with the right people, at the right time in the right way and that is what is going to enable you change to actually happen – not just a bunch of communications.