By Tom Marsicano, CEO of ‘and Change’, a global advisory and change management consultancy

Frontline workers and managers are the backbone of any institution. The people who offer your services to customers reflect your organisation’s internal state of affairs. Therefore, their careers and happiness are core to your success, and their buy-in is the key to effecting positive organisational change. 

Organisations worldwide must manage extreme change, especially in the face of the so-called ‘polycrisis’ – a term coined by the World Economic Forum describing the ongoing global crises affecting our lives. 

From economic depressions to global conflicts, many institutions are treading water, hoping to maintain their development while keeping their workers’ happiness intact. This circumstance is especially true in South Africa, where we must deal with compounding factors like inflation, crumbling infrastructure, and brain drains. 

Frontline workers are usually the first to experience significant organisational changes, from restructuring to implementing new systems or determining new ways of working. The most successful of these front liners can see these changes as an opportunity, not a threat. Yet developing that mindset does require training, supportive management, and reasoning from leaders to ensure the change is fully understood – a vital process in avoiding resistance to the change. These are all critical elements of change management, and the risk of not seriously taking change resistance is evident when you consider that 70% of organisational transformation efforts fail without proper employee buy-in.

So, what can those of us across an organisation do to ensure that frontline workers are ready and willing to embrace change? Implement change management principles across the organisation, from executives to frontline managers to workers on the ground – the change value chain

Frontline managers

From their relationship dynamics with their teams to their dual role as both recipients and agents of change, team leaders are essential to managing the current seismic shifts organisations are facing. Research from Prosci, and on-the-ground experience tells us that there are multiple vital activities that frontline managers must perform in times of change: 

  • Communicate the change with their direct colleagues and subordinates. 
  • Manage any perceived resistance to the change.
  • Actively advocate the change.
  • Coach their teams through the change. 
  • Become an intermediary: Liaise with the project teams who build the change and help keep them grounded in how well the change works with the frontline. 


Senior executives/sponsors

As those giving permission and approving funding for the change, top-level leaders of an organisation also have an essential role in giving frontline managers the support they need: 

  • Provide the organisational context for the change: the high-level reasoning and positive impact
  • Provide the resources and skills to frontline managers to give them what they need to manage change resistance in their teams 
  • Build coalitions between themselves to support the change


The frontline workers themselves

Much of the change management work should be conducted by organisational leaders, and ambitious workers on the frontline can leverage the change to showcase their leadership abilities. 

  • Learn how to manage your change – especially in an environment where middle managers are overworked or, worse, untrained. They can do this by inquiring about the change, how it affects their career, and how to help facilitate it 
  • Avoid feeling like a victim of change. Instead, they can use the change to their advantage and express what they need to succeed to decision-makers

In our consulting experience, we’ve seen how successful organisation-wide training can be. One of our clients in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sector was implementing an entirely new distribution process for their products and decided to train their distribution units at the ground level in change management skill sets. The adoption of the new system was rapid, and this not only empowered workers across the business but also dramatically heightened efficiency. 

We advise our clients always to acknowledge the frontline experience. However, one must go beyond simple verbal recognition and follow through with action to ensure their lives and careers are positively affected by the change – especially in these difficult times.


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