What’s the most difficult part of just about every technology adoption? It’s not the technology. It’s the adoption. Your employees must actually use the technology, and getting their buy-in isn’t a guarantee. In fact, one survey conducted by strategy+business revealed that about 50% of manufacturers believe their employees are not open to digital change. Thus a thoughtful change management plan must accompany any IT initiative.
Managers play an important role in change management and ensuring that their direct reports embrace new technology, so it’s critical to get their buy-in before they introduce the technology to other employees. In a Prosci study of 575 change leaders, 84% ranked manager and supervisor engagement as “extremely important” or “very important” to project success.
A new role for managers
Managers on a factory floor have plenty of daily responsibilities, and change management isn’t usually one of those. Yet they’ll be on the front lines of change management for their direct reports, with multiple responsibilities that are likely outside their expertise:
Managers are the most appropriate people to communicate changes to their direct reports. While they should receive relevant information and talking points from senior leadership, managers are better equipped to deliver messages in a way that will resonate with their employees.
Managers’ level of acceptance for change will directly impact their employees’ perception of (and potential resistance to) that change. Managers, then, must be more than messengers. They must be enthusiastic advocates for the change ahead. They must also be prepared to address employees’ reservations and concerns to build support for change.
The introduction of new technology changes daily processes and procedures, and employees will look to managers to support their adjustment. Managers will invariably act as educators and coaches as they guide their employees through issues that might hinder effective adoption.
Managers will be responsible not only for communicating the progress of an IT initiative with their staff, but also for communicating with the project management team. They are uniquely positioned to act as a liaison, bringing back insights on usability and functionality, particularly during the implementation phase.
It’s clear that a manager’s role in change management will require wearing multiple hats—in addition to fulfilling all their regular duties. But before managers can act as effective change managers, they must first understand and accept how the change will affect them.
Preparing managers for change
You might have heard the term manager’s dilemma before. It refers to the fact that managers cannot be effective agents of change until they have first accepted the change themselves. Meanwhile middle managers tend to be the most averse to change because the change process can squeeze them in multiple directions: they are still responsible for their everyday duties, but now also have multiple additional jobs associated with this new project. Overcoming the manager’s dilemma requires strategic communication for and education of the management team, particularly if previous attempts at change have failed.
Treat managers as a distinct audience
Senior leaders evaluate an IT project based on how it will impact business processes and its potential return on investment. Meanwhile factory floor workers might worry about whether the introduction of new technology will mean they get fewer hours or be outright replaced by a robot.
Managers often fall in between. Like senior leadership, most managers are invested in maximizing operational efficiency. And like floor workers, they may wonder about being replaced by technology. But they’ll also have to consider other factors, such as potential compromise of their authority, or whether the new technology will be user-friendly enough for temporary workers. Because managers will have a unique set of concerns, it’s important to build an equally unique communication strategy.
Choose the right value proposition: Start with a strong use case that will positively impact managers, such as increasing OEE or eliminating bottlenecks. Leading with the benefits will help keep managers focused on how the change will improve their workday.
Proactively address relevant sources of resistance: Consider how this change could impact managers, both personally and professionally. Will they be putting in longer hours during implementation, for instance? Find ways to address, and not dismiss, these issues.
Be authentic and enthusiastic: Managers need to hear that senior leaders are truly excited about the change and engaged in the process. Consistently convey that the leadership is on board for the change and will be actively involved in ensuring it goes smoothly.
Provide a forum to discuss concerns: Managers should feel comfortable expressing their reservations and issues long before they have to present a change to their employees. Offer both formal and informal opportunities for managers to speak up, and address any resistance appropriately.
Provide training in change management
Change management is complicated, and most managers don’t have to manage large-scale change very often. Yet few organizations provide any sort of training for their managers, jeopardizing the success of any operational change. Although SMEs may not have an extensive budget for change management training, it is possible to provide some guidance that will help your managers be successful in this critical role.
Model change management for the managers: Use the change management strategies for your managers as models for the change management techniques they should use with their employees. Walk them through how change management messaging was crafted for them, so they can think about how and why it worked.
Put it in print: Don’t expect managers to sit through one change management session and feel like pros. Give them concise cheat sheets outlining the basic principles of effective change management. It should include specific examples of appropriate language and a plan of action in case they meet with unexpectedly strong resistance.
Offer ongoing support: Managers will likely face different challenges during different phases of an IT project. At the beginning, they’ll have to communicate the benefits of the change. During implementation, they may be responsible for coaching frustrated employees who are learning a new process. At every step, assess their needs for managing change and provide any necessary support.
Treat managers as leaders of change
Managers will bring a vital perspective to any technology adoption because they’ll be intimately familiar with how the new technology will impact specific processes and procedures. Take advantage of this expertise and invite managers to actively participate in defining and implementing the new system. This approach will not only improve their own sense of ownership for the change, but it will also better position managers as leaders to their employees.
Work together early and often: Get your managers in on the plan to adopt new technology as early as possible. This doesn’t mean that the process must be entirely democratic. Present the business challenge or problem, along with the proposed solution. Invite managers to evaluate that solution. In the case of new technology, for instance, managers might be invited to participate in a software demo and provide feedback.
Guide managers as liaisons: Managers are well positioned to act as liaisons between workers and the IT project management team, and this is an incredibly valuable role. Coach them on the kinds of questions to ask workers during usability testing or user acceptance exercises, and on how to communicate what they’ve learned to project management.
Position managers as knowledgeable resources: Any major change will require company-wide communication. Be sure to reiterate that managers have been an active part of the decision. At every opportunity, assure workers that they can go to their managers with any questions or concerns, reinforcing the managers’ vital role in the project.
Ultimately investing the time and resources in change management \Managers who embrace a change will work to make the change process run more smoothly and efficiently. They will also work harder to ensure that workers are onboard and understand the new technologies and SOP’s. Finally, managers who embrace change will also be more likely to seek innovative solutions to other business and operational challenges.
Would you like to find out how you can successfully promote your Industry 4.0 ideas in your company? Take a look at our free webinar with CEO Oliver Stollmann.