People managers hold the key to successful culture change

Catherine Stewart

Many culture change programmes focus huge amounts of attention on senior leadership, HR teams, and networks of champions. People managers are often sometimes ignored, yet they will make or break your transformation efforts, and therefore your strategy. But why are they so critical, and how can you help them to support your change?

They know their people best
People managers are the closest to the people who do the work. They know what’s happening day in, day out on the ground. With their orchestration, work gets done as it needs to. They are also the bridge between the frontline and senior leadership, providing feedback up and down the organisation. Upwards, they make leaders aware of progress, challenges, and reactions to change. For their teams, they deliver messages, translate strategy into action, and empower and develop them.

They can derail culture change – fast
A main reason change efforts fail is that people managers may not understand or buy into the desired culture. They may not have been briefed or consulted on the changes, and as such trust can start to breakdown with their senior leaders, or they don’t believe in the change (we’ve seen all this before etc). Either way, without their active support and role modelling, change initiative can be derailed and quickly die. When changes are announced, teams will watch their people manager closely and copy their response, as if they are a good people manager, that is who they often trust the most. Lose your people managers, and you lose your organisation.

Explain the What, Why and What’s In It For Me
Fundamental to all successful change is explaining the what, why and what’s in it for your audience. In the case of people managers, this is especially important as these messages not only need to be clear and resonate with them, but also be cascaded onward to their teams. You must be specific and compelling about what is changing, the reasons why, and engage your people managers about a change in how this impacts and benefits them. If you take the time to educate your people managers about a change, involve them in giving input, and help them to see their role in the change and make it their own, they will be your champions and your transformation will spread like wildfire throughout your organisation. People managers are often time poor so any intervention either needs to be light on live delivery time, flexible in delivery (e.g microlearnings) or teaches them something that saves time.

Culture change is a critical enabler of business success. Given the importance of people managers in any transformation, you ignore them at your peril.

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