Beyond20: A ServiceNow Elite Partner Why Line Managers are Critical to OCM Success
9 minute read

Why Line Managers are Critical to OCM Success

Kevin Jones
Written by Kevin Jones

Even the best solutions can fail spectacularly without Organizational Change Management

The reason I got into Organizational Change Management (OCM) in the first place was because I’d seen too many IT platform implementations and projects that should have been successful crash and burn – or in some cases limp across the finish line. Why did these technically solid solutions fail to meet their potential? Frequently, it was because the larger community simply would not embrace them. I can recall too many after-action conversations among team members that included comments such as:

  • “Why are they rejecting this improvement? Don’t they know how much it’s going to help them?”
  • “If they were only paying better attention, they’d see how much easier this will make their lives.”
  • “If only they knew how hard we worked on this solution, they’d all be on board. Big time!”

Our team’s angst and, ultimately, the failure of the solution was a result of our working in a vacuum when designing and implementing changes that would impact the behaviors of people across the organization. Beyond our key internal stakeholders, we had fully dropped the ball on communication.

So much of this pain could have been avoided if we had communicated with the line/people managers themselves to ensure they understood the solution and were sending the right signals to their direct reports.

To help your teams avoid some of the pain and suffering I’ve seen and find success with otherwise great solutions, this article will look at the many dimensions of change to consider, the basics of OCM, how to engage and empower your line/people managers so they can more effectively support the change, and ultimately, how to have more improvement efforts embraced by the wider organization.

Putting it in context: OCM and The Four Dimensions of Service Management

As a believer in leveraging best practices to avoid recreating the wheel, a concept from the ITIL 4 framework has some good thoughts on how to view change.

The Four Dimensions of Service Management (as shown below) provides a comprehensive picture of  each aspect (dimension) we need to consider when delivering products/services and thinking about changes to the organization. When we don’t take the time to address all four dimensions properly, we end up with problems.

The Four Dimensions of Service Management are:

  • Organizations & People
  • Information & Technology
  • Partners & Suppliers
  • Value Streams & Processes
The Four Dimensions of Service Management

The Four Dimensions of Service Management

Of the four, our main focus in IT (and this will shock you) tends to be on the Information & Technology dimension. And, to our credit, Value Streams & Processes and Partners & Suppliers dimensions are also typically considered. Where we fall down is with Organizations & People, which is often addressed as an afterthought if at all.

What we’re really doing when we omit this critical component of change is leaving people for last – and that’s a game-ender. Prioritizing the Organizations & People dimension, by which I mean spending significant time and energy getting the team aboard and giving them the information they need to enthusiastically embrace the change and charge forward is critical to the success of initiatives of any size. It cannot be seen as optional.

Sadly, if you build it, they will come only works for attracting old timey baseball players to an Iowa cornfield.

How do leaders, project teams, and OCM change teams work together?

“Project management prepares the solution for the organization while OCM prepares the organization for the solution.”

I really like the saying above, as it describes how good Project Management and OCM can work together. Successful OCM is like considering quality or security: it is not a stand-alone ingredient but rather an integrated, end-to-end approach aimed at achieving a specific result. To be successful, organizations must be intentional with how they carry out OCM, and that intentionality only comes from planning and forethought.

Good OCM is baked into projects from the very beginning – not bolted on at the end.

In order to successfully execute substantial organizational changes, we need three entities working together in concert: leadership, project teams, and change management teams. All three must work together as a well-oiled machine. When they do, they’ll deliver the change to fruition. Our people/line managers form part of the extended group of leaders; I’ll discuss how they fit into this larger picture in the next section. First, here’s a breakdown of what leadership, project teams, and change management teams do from an OCM perspective:

  • Leadership team/sponsors: We need decision makers to lead the way in communicating how a change supports the larger vision and demonstrating that this change will represent the new normal for the enterprise. Leaders speak volumes in their actions as well, so it’s imperative that leaders not only talk the talk, but walk the walk by educating themselves on the change, providing sufficient resources to support OCM, being accountable for their own actions, and changing their own behaviors accordingly (using the new solution, etc.).
  • Project Management Team: This is the body that plans, designs, builds, tests, and delivers the technical portion of the change. They are in charge of the solution itself.
  • Change Management Team: For many organizations, this may involve the creation of a new group. Their charge is making sure people across the organization are ready, willing, and able to adopt the change. Note: Many in IT, particularly those familiar with ITIL and IT Service Management, may be confused by the term Change Management when referring to OCM. Prior to the release of ITIL 4, Change Management meant controlling changes to IT assets, etc. This practice is now called Change Enablement; and the ITIL 4 framework has released a new practice called OCM. Outside of IT, most people use the term Change Management to describe OCM. I will use these new designations throughout this article.

How do Line/People Managers fit into the larger OCM picture?

Line/people managers are those whose direct reports are the people on the front lines doing the work that needs to be done across the organization. Common titles for this role are Production Manager, Development Manager, Service Desk Manager, etc. Keeping this group front-of-mind when implementing a change to critical business processes, practices, and workflows is critical to the initiative’s success; they are the make-it-or-break-it cohort. Why? Because:

  • Their teams trust them.
  • They are close to where the change is happening.
  • They are first responders when dealing with resistance to change.
  • They can build support.

While it may seem obvious to say this, a line/people manager’s influence with staff and direct reports is deeply personal. Certainly, it is important for leadership to communicate their vision, ideas, and activities through the organization’s official channels, but the really important personal messages, the WIIFM type of communications (What’s in it for me) come best from employees’ direct supervisors, as seen in the graphic below.


Preferred Sender for Organizational and Personal Messages

Preferred Sender for Organizational and Personal Messages

Whether through casual chats, team meetings, or other forms of contact, consciously or even unconsciously, line/people managers set the tone and the expectations for their teams when it comes to key changes. If they don’t believe in the change, none of their staff will either. Losing these managers is often the difference between a successful change and something less.

What do we mean by Resistance to Change when it comes to OCM?

Resistance to change comes in many forms and from many directions. When we see it, it tells us we haven’t provided employees with the information they need to calm fears and help them adjust to the future the change will bring. As discussed above, who provides employees with this critical information is nearly as important as what is being said, one among many reasons line/people managers are so very important.

Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management 11th Edition boils resistance down to these five key sources:

  • Lack of awareness: This kind of resistance happens when leaders or other teams spring a change on employees without enough information or warning. As a result, employees do not understand the WIIFM formula because leadership has not told them and/or line/people managers have not been properly equipped to tell them effectively and with appropriate context.
  • Change in role: Similar to lack of awareness, this point of resistance focuses on how employees’ jobs will change, and how they will be personally impacted by the larger change initiative. Substantial changes are not limited to processes and procedures (how people work). These changes can include implementing or migrating to completely new technology and taking on foreign skill sets with a potentially steep learning curve. The crux of the matter is that the employees’ jobs will be changing and that can be a very frightening prospect to face alone, or worse yet, at the mercy of the rumor mill. A trusted line/people manager is crucial in calming these concerns. Questions people will invariably have include, Will my workload increase? Will I lose power, prestige, or autonomy? Will I be forced to learn some new technology or system?
  • Fear: Many employees fear an upcoming change because it could lead to layoffs or reduced compensation. It could even impact their future within the organization. Again, information from a trusted line/people manager is critical in allaying these fears.
  • Lack of inclusion in the change: Many times, employees will feel frustrated that a change is coming down from “on high” without their input, opinions, or even assistance in the design. Transparency is the best way for them to feel included and part of the changes that could significantly impact their work life.Other than trying to get teams involved earlier in the process, this is one of the few big sources of resistance our line/people managers do not have major influence over for their direct reports. Change managers would do well to leverage the insight and wisdom from line/people managers on this issue, so those kinds of mistakes can be avoided.

Per Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management, here are a few other opportunities for line/people managers to provide support to their teams throughout a change initiative:

  • Sometimes, employees simply feel comfortable with the status quo and do not want to change. Line/people managers are great candidates for quickly working to help change this mindset.
  • Line/people managers can advocate for additional training if current levels are inadequate.
  • Even though most line/people managers have little say in the volume and velocity of changes impacting their teams, change fatigue is another very serious issue that, ultimately, they must deal with as part of their management duties.

How to set Line/People Managers up for OCM Success

Needless to say, we want to identify these groupings of line/people managers as key stakeholders in a change initiative and treat them accordingly. Since they will be so critical for our success with OCM, we need to provide them with every advantage possible. Prosci’s CLARC and ADKAR models help us provide our line/people managers with the tools needed to be successful in leading change.

Using Prosci’s CLARC model for OCM

Prosci has long emphasized the importance of our line/people managers by defining CLARC roles. These are the uniquely important functions line/people managers play within their existing roles. While we will mention the role of “communicator” here, these functions are so much more than that.

Prosci's CLARC Model

Prosci’s CLARC Model

  • Communicator – More than just disseminating organization-level communications that come from the top, line/people managers share personal information and stories with their teams that positively impact the change.
  • Liaison – Line/people managers act as information conduits between project teams and their direct reports.
  • Advocate – Here, line/people managers model desired behaviors in support of the change, not just through their words, but also their actions.
  • Resistance Manager – Because of their close contact with direct reports, line/people managers identify and even mitigate resistance to the change
  • Coach – Coaching skills in line/people managers are instrumental in helping employees navigate the change.

Another key component of the Prosci approach to OCM at the individual level is that of ADKAR:

Prosci's ADKAR Model

Prosci’s ADKAR Model

Below is additional detail on the CLARC roles and what they mean to line/people managers as the organization moves forward with change. Each element of ADKAR has been integrated into CLARC roles for line/people managers to illustrate how they serve as the connection between direct reports, leaders, change teams, and project teams:

CLARC Model Role: Communicator

CLARC Model Role: Communicator


CLARC Model Role: Liaison

CLARC Model Role: Liaison

CLARC Model Role: Advocate

CLARC Model Role: Advocate

CLARC Model Role: Resistance Manager

CLARC Model Role: Resistance Manager

CLARC Model Role: Coach

CLARC Model Role: Coach


OCM is all about sweating the details and addressing the human side of change. In this case, those details include finding and equipping key, influential people to steward the change from the drawing board to implementation and acceptance. Our all-too-often-overlooked line/people managers can be just the skilled pilots we did not know we needed to bring our changes down for a smooth landing. Without getting too theatrical, having our line/people managers prepared and ready to participate just might prevent us from shouting, “My kingdom for a horse!” as the change goes down in flames – wasting precious time, money, and skills.

Line/people managers can serve as our eyes and ears and helpers on the ground. We need to include them as the trusted information conduit that they are to transmit our messages out to our front-line employees, make sure everyone understands and is excited about how these changes will improve the enterprise for us all, and leverage their input to make necessary course corrections along the way. Doing so can mean the difference between a wildly successful and adopted change and one that’s not.

Want to learn more about OCM?

An ITIL 4 Foundation class is an excellent place to start.
View our upcoming courses

Originally published May 05 2022, updated February 02 2023