Why managers play a vital role in change management

Posted November 18, 2020

headshot of lady smiling

By Cari Murray

Senior Editor at Outreach

Guest post by Tonille Miller, Transformation Practice Leader

We’ve all heard the assertion “change is hard.” As a transformational leader, I’ve heard this phrase a time or two (maybe even several hundred, if I really counted). To some degree, it’s true. As humans, we find comfort in the status quo.

This year, like it or not, we have been shoved — not just stretched — out of our comfort zones. Executives have had to create plans for organizational change overnight. Some of those changes stuck, while others struck out. So what is the biggest influencer in successful organizational change?


As a sales leader, you are not just “key” to change management — you’re critical. You have the most direct influence on your people. In fact, managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement, according to Gallup. You’re the person who meets with them one-on-one, coaches them through challenges, holds them accountable, and evaluates their performance. Whether you realize it or not, the example you set is what they look to in order to make sense of things. As a result, you’re the person they expect to help them navigate change.

You have the ability to shift their mindset from “change is hard” to “change is an opportunity.” Here’s how you can make change management a success at your organization:

Take Ownership Over Change

Whether you work for a medium-sized company or an enterprise, your company will need a point person to oversee the change company-wide. Preparing, equipping, and supporting a team through change is a role in and of itself, and someone has to own it. Larger companies may hire a transformation consultant. Small- or medium-sized businesses may end up leaning on managers to absorb this role. When you’re first brought into the fold about an organizational change, ask questions, such as:

  • What is the business case (or the “why”) behind this change, and how does it fit into our strategy?
  • How will it impact our people?
  • What’s the change management plan?
  • How will managers play a role in leading it?
  • How are we communicating the change to our team?
  • Will an advisory board or change management team be created to provide input and support employee buy-in?
  • What feedback mechanisms are in place to collect the employee voice, wins, and pain points?

By asking these questions, you establish clear expectations about the change, which will help you successfully transition your team.

Think Through Your Change Management Engagement Strategy

During the workday, employees spend an average of 209 minutes checking their work email, according to the 2019 “Adobe Email Usage Study,” which surveyed 1,002 U.S. adults in July 2019. That was even pre-pandemic.

Now, many of your employees may still be working from home. Imagine how many urgent emails about a big organizational change they might receive from all levels of leadership — executives, directors, HR representatives, and you, their manager. It’s important that change management communication is cohesive, streamlined, and consistent.

That was a challenge for a global financial services company when it launched an initiative to improve the customer experience at its call centers, Gallup reported. The employees were inundated with high-priority messages about the change. The messages would cascade from leaders to directors to managers, picking up additional priorities at every touchpoint. By the time it reached the individual employee, the priorities had grown to 40 or more action items. How many of those things do you think realistically got addressed?

To mitigate overwhelm, determine:

  • What are the top three priorities our team should focus on, and why are they important?
  • How will our success be measured, short- and long-term?
  • How will these changes benefit the individual team members?
  • Who will be responsible for communicating these changes?

As a manager, you’ll need talking points that really drive home the employee benefits: What’s in it for them? This goes back to helping them shift from a “change is hard” to a “change is an opportunity for me” mentality. Additionally, start a conversation with executive leadership about how employees will be held accountable and rewarded for implementing the changes. Come to the table with ideas for both aspects of the change management strategy.

Ask for Feedback

People have varying degrees of acceptance to change. To promote that acceptance, ask for employee input. After the change is announced, ask your reps for feedback during your next one-on-one meeting. Here are some of the questions you could ask:

  • What do you think of the change?
  • Why would it work or not work?
  • What do you see as the biggest benefits and challenges of it?
  • From your vantage point, is there anything we should keep in mind as we make these changes?

Asking these questions allows your reps to become part of the process, which makes them more invested in the outcome.

Think Past Launch

One of the biggest mistakes of change management is only planning a strategy up until launch. That’s like stopping your bat as soon as it touches the ball. You have to swing through to determine how far the ball will go.

To make sure the change is sustainable, think through the following:

  1. Metrics tied to your team’s three priorities. Employees that meet certain goals might receive a higher rating on some aspect of their performance review or get a bonus.
  2. Continued communication. Share successes reps had once they made the change. This provides recognition for the people who worked hard to make the changes and it motivates others who haven’t embraced it yet.
  3. Opportunities for ongoing feedback. Recently, I’ve seen companies create open Zoom or Slack channels. This allows reps to share feedback or pain points they’re experiencing in the moment instead of trying to recall them a week later.

Show Permanency of the Change

The digital transformation has been the biggest change of 2020 for go-to-market teams. Outside sellers have become inside sellers. You’re relying on video and live chat more than ever before.

As it turns out, it’s not a bad thing. Roughly 70 to 80 percent of B2B decision-makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service over face-to-face interactions, according to McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm. Respondents liked that it’s easier to schedule, they save on travel, and (right now) it’s safer. Here’s the real kicker: They’re still willing to spend (big) remotely. Nearly 70 percent of B2B decision-makers are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases of $50,000 or more, and 27 percent would spend more than $500,000.

In addition, the study found that B2B sales leaders have moved from feeling “forced” to go digital due to COVID-19 to now believing that it’s the right direction — period. They see the results. The change also isn’t being communicated as a back-up plan. It’s the new way of doing business.

When supportive managers like you clearly communicate priorities, show how success will be measured (and rewarded), and solicit feedback, change doesn’t feel as hard. It feels like an opportunity.


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