Change is constant; it is something that cannot be avoided or even prevented. What can be done, however, is to manage it or, better yet, to master it. In business, organizations have to deal with different types of changes all the time. It is already inherent in the business process that things are not going to stay the same. Both internal and external factors will be at work to bring about these changes, which the organization has to adapt to.

When we speak of change taking place in an organization, we are likely to think about changes in the organizational structure, the systems and process, as well as in the external forces that the company deals with on a regular basis. What many tend to overlook, though, is how the members of the organization deal with such changes. How do they go about the transition? Do they accept the changes willingly, or are they resistant to it? There is a need to answer these questions, and we can find those answers by using the Change Curve.

Emotional Change curve - 4 stages_

© 1969 by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross; copyright renewed © 1997 by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

In this article, I will explore 1) the change curve and 2) how to master the emotional change curve.

THE CHANGE CURVE

The Emotional Change Curve, or simply known as the Change Curve, is a model that is employed in business and change management, primarily as a tool to understand the various stages of organizational change and personal transition of individuals that are affected by change.

It did not start out that way, though. When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist, first developed the Change Curve in 1969, its purpose was to understand what people go through when dealing with grief and bereavement. More specifically, it was originally used to find out how people handle the news that they have a terminal illness.

Over the years, the Change Curve has evolved and undergone many variations, until it now became one of the most powerful models used in business management. It is now seen as an effective tool in accelerating change and increasing the rate of success of these changes.

Business owners see the advantages of being able to predict how their people, or the members of the organization, react to changes as they take place. This will then enable them to implement measures that will help them through their respective personal transitions, providing them the aid and support that they require during the transition period and even beyond that.

It is a fact that one of the biggest assets of every business is its manpower. Productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness start from the workforce; without them, any business’ goal of growth and profitability will not be achieved.

Let us take a brief look at the Change Curve by listing down the 4 stages that people go through while they are adjusting to change.

Stage 1: Status Quo

This is when the change is first introduced, and the people express their initial reactions. Usually, they will be in a state of shock or even denial. They just found out about the change, and the impact has not yet fully sank in. Once it does, the tendency is for them to react negatively, resisting to the change.

Stage 2: Disruption

“The change is real.” It is, indeed, going to happen. Fear will start crowding in, along with anger. ‘What ifs’ will start flooding the minds of the members of the organization. They will also start becoming vocal or demonstrative in showing their anger and their fear, and this is often in the form of protests, which are disruptive and can potentially cause more harm to the company.

Stage 3: Exploration

If the people want to move on, instead of remaining stuck in stage 2, some open-mindedness is called for. All the negative feelings and thoughts in stage 2 will have to be transformed into optimism, which will then make way for acceptance of the changes. This means that they are more open to testing and exploring the implications of those changes, so they will be able to figure out how to adapt to them.

Stage 4: Rebuilding

The people will now embrace the changes, fully imbibing them and applying them in their functions.

When the workforce has reached the last stage, the organization will then be able to start reaping the benefits of the changes it has implemented.

HOW TO MASTER THE EMOTIONAL CHANGE CURVE

Many business owners are likely to say that understanding their people and their reactions toward change is easier said than done. Yes, it is tough, but it is not impossible. You can manage the Change Curve and eventually master it. Here are some ways to accomplish that.

The first and very important step in mastering the Change Curve, is to understand it, especially the stages. You, as the business owner or project manager, must be aware of the typical reactions and responses during the different stages of the curve so you will know how to react to them accordingly.

Managing Stage 1

In this stage, the key word is communication. More often than not, the state of shock and denial that they are experiencing are caused by:

  • Lack of information about the changes;
  • A general fear of the unknown;
  • An accompanying fear of appearing inept, stupid or uninformed.

These can be mitigated through proper communication. The fear of the unknown is an almost natural reaction, and can be alleviated when they are able to communicate or interact with the proponents of that “unknown”.

Acknowledge the fact that people resist change for a reason.

When faced with resistance or refusal to accept changes from your people, it would be wrong to easily dismiss their opinions as brought on by awkwardness or bull-headedness. Put yourself in their position. It is possible that you can only see the positive benefits of those changes to the organization, but not the effects on your people personally.

Your people are bound to ask you the “what’s in it for me?” question, and rightly so. This is the primary issue that you will have to contend with. Delve deeper into their thoughts. Why are they afraid? Why do they feel threatened?

Conduct information dissemination activities.

Assuming that the organization already has platforms for sharing information, such as bulletin boards, company newsletters and publications, and documentation mechanism that goes all the way to the lower levels. Many organizations now also utilize the internet, especially if they have a working intranet in place.

What information should you offer or communicate? Start with that the change is and what its potential effects are – to the organization as a whole and to the individual members. Provide as much details as you have to, focusing on the key points. Do not forget to include the reasons for the change. What are your objectives in enforcing the change, and what are you hoping to achieve with them?

Communicate with members of the organization.

This is actually the best thing that you can do in order to manage the Curve, particularly during the first stage.

Top management, or whoever is proposing the change, should present itself as accessible to everyone. They must be a source of reassurance and a ready and steady source of support. When there are questions, they must be on hand with ready answers. In fact, it would be best to maximize face-to-face communication.

Pace your communication.

If you are not careful, you might overwhelm your employees with too much information in a short amount of time. Communicate with them regularly, but pace it well, so that they will not feel like they are being bombarded with information. Being overwhelmed will only confuse them and make them react even more negatively.

Managing Stage 2

This stage is deemed to be the most critical stage. This is where anxieties, doubts, anger and even depression surface. Morale is going to be low, and you can expect a dip in the performance and productivity of the organization.

Organizations often expend the most effort and energy in keeping things under control during stage 2. Failure to handle this stage properly pretty much means failure of the entire implementation of change.

  • Plan and be prepared. From what you have gleaned during stage 1, you should now start making plans accordingly. Adopt an anticipative attitude, preparing answers and proposing actions that can be done once your people present their objections and the reason behind them.
  • Come up with alternatives and present them. Seeing things from the point of view of the employees will then prompt you to come up with possible alternative solutions. You must be able to present solutions that will mitigate or solve the problems that they are likely to encounter due to the changes you are putting into place.
  • Again, maintain open lines of communication at all times. Employees should always feel that they can reach the top management at all times. This will give them a boost of confidence and will also pave the way towards convincing them to accept the changes.
  • Be observant. As stage 2 is the most dangerous stage, it might not be a good idea to be very proactive. Most organizations take to simply sitting back, listening, and watching, instead of actively going out there to persuade their team to cooperate. Playing the part of the observer will make them more prepared to respond to any unexpected event or circumstance.
  • Do not be averse to employees seeking the companionship of their colleagues. Do not immediately assume that they are banding together to launch a protest. It is also highly possible that they are simply seeking reassurance that they are not the only ones going through the same feelings or emotions. Connecting with their peers is probably one of their best sources of support, thanks mainly to their shared experiences.

Managing Stage 3

Just because they are beginning to come around does not mean that your work is done. They are still getting used to the idea of the change taking place, so you’ll have to prod them along.

Give them time.

Do not rush them into accepting the changes. Change is not something that is easily accepted, so it is a given that they will need some time to get used to it. But what if you are time-bound, or you only have limited line?

One thing you can do is to communicate a timeline so your employees will be guided, and they will also have a sense of urgency without feeling too rushed or pressured.

Be patient.

This is a particularly turbulent stage, especially for your people, so you should not expect them to turn in 100% productivity. Your operations are likely to still suffer during this stage, so you just have to be patient and let the stage pass, knowing that, soon, the recovery period will begin.

Again, always be on hand to provide support and assistance.

They would now start to explore the possibilities, and even test the potential effects that the changes may bring to them. These support and assistance could come in the form of the following:

  • Training and workshops. You will be hitting two birds with one stone through this method. First, you will have well-trained people, and second, they will be trained so as to be equipped and prepared to deal with the changes you will be implementing.
  • Simulations. Give them a taste or a peek at the changes and what they could bring. This is a good way to allow them to learn and, eventually, grow to accept the changes.

Communication is always integral in any stage of the curve.

This time around, as they are becoming more enthusiastic, and optimism is on the rise, continue communicating with them in order to encourage them to embrace those changes instead of resisting them. To do this, you may present them with exciting new opportunities that may arise from the change. Think of it as that final push towards full acceptance.

Provide regular progress reports and offer praise and recognition when they are called for.

You do not want to lose the momentum you are gaining, so you have to keep the mood high. There is always that possibility that a buoyant mood may arise, but it will drop once again, reverting to stage 2. By ensuring that the mood stays high, reverting to earlier stages will not happen.

Managing Stage 4

You’ve reached the final stage. Is your work done? Of course not.

The changes have been implemented, and the people have accepted them. In fact, they have become second nature to them already. You may already have been starting to reap the benefits, watching your profits skyrocket and your business expand.

But do not rest on your laurels. The Change Curve is not yet over.

  • Monitor. Of course, you want to see whether the effects of the changes that you have foreseen are actually happening. The best way to do this is to establish a good feedback mechanism – possibly even more than one – to know the thoughts of your employees after embracing the change and executing them.
  • Conduct activities that are aimed to repeat and reinforce the objectives and strategies you have put in place. Make sure that the employees will clearly see that the changes are still aligned with the vision of the business.
  • Give credit where it is due. You are more profitable. Productivity is up, employee morale is as high as ever, and the future looks positively brilliant. It is time to celebrate and acknowledge the vital role that your people played in the success of the changes.
  • Always maintain open lines of communication. Communication is vital in all stages. Even when you are now riding on the success of the changes, you still have to remain connected to your people.

There is another thing that you have to keep in mind when dealing with change or trying to manage the emotional change curve: each person is unique, so it also follows that they will have unique reactions to change. In a group of people, you will find mixed reactions to change. Some will accept it right off the bat; others will turn it down flat at the first mention. Some will display some apprehension and will ask a lot of questions, while others will keep their doubts to themselves, stewing in silence.

Your choice of activities in your effort to manage and master the curve will depend on the personality of these individuals and how they react to change. Do not be surprised when one method will work on one group or team, but not on the others.

This is why it is important to be familiar with the members of your organization or their personalities in order for you to master the Change Curve more effectively. It will help you understand your people better, interpret their reactions more accurately, and figure out what barriers are preventing them from accepting change. It will also help you come up with solutions and recommendations on how to overcome this resistance, make them embrace the change, and start reaping the benefits of the change.

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