FEW THINGS IN LIFE ARE CERTAIN. With the exception of Keith Richards, we can pretty much all count on the fact that death is guaranteed. Marriage and children are more than likely, and frustration with bureaucracy when applying for visas in China is a given. One other thing to add to this list would be change. Show me a someone who has never had to deal with change and I will show you a man who was born, lived and died in a cave having had no interaction with the outside world. Even then, I would suspect he would have had to deal with a few changes.
Helping teams to deal with that change is one of the hottest topics for training professionals right now.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross carried out research into how patients diagnosed as terminally ill had behaved as they processed the information. She discovered that a clear curve of behaviour was apparent in all of her subjects. This ‘change curve’ was then taken on by the business world as an accurate model of the emotions and reactions of staff to change. By understanding the ‘change curve’ managers are able to better plan change, predict the reaction of staff and offer support when needed.
Kubler-Ross’ model allowed for a four stage process in dealing with change. These were denial, anger, exploration and acceptance. In management, and in particular change management, we can use a six stage model instead. In order, these stages are:
1) Shock……………. ‘What the hell??’
2) Denial………….. ‘No, that cannot be right. That will never happen.’
3) Anger………….. ‘What are management thinking. That idea is both stupid and unfair’
4) Depression….. ‘I feel so powerless. The change is happening and there is nothing I can do about it’
5) Acceptance….. ‘Well the change is here to stay. I might not like it, but I’ll give it a go’
6) Integration….. ‘Having followed this new process for a while, I can’t quite remember what I was so worried about.’
These six stages are a process and staff members will feel the emotions in the order listed. However, not everyone enters the ‘change curve’ at the same place. A new member of staff for example may well skip the shock, denial and even the anger stages as they have no previous experience of the old systems to base it on. In general, the more experienced and set in their ways a member of staff is, the earlier they will enter the curve.
Leaders should focus on the positives and emphasise the benefits of a change, whilst not appearing to shy away from negatives.
Once a change is underway, support is the order of the day. Managers should be available to staff and ready to talk through whatever issues and complaints they may have. When team members begin to experiment with the new process or system, managers need to be on hand to offer guidance and above all encouragement.
Finally, once it is clear that a change has been successfully integrated into the working day, managers should make sure that praise is given, and in liberal amounts.
Change is inevitable in business, but a manager’s ability to lead a team through it, is not guaranteed. By using the change curve as part of your pre-change planning, you increase the chances of any new change being implemented more successfully.