A Change Management Model That All Leaders Must Understand

A few weeks ago I wrote about dealing with organizational change in my post “The Secret Of Organizational Change Management.” This post was based on a great article in Strategy + Business magazine which outlined 10 guiding principles for change.

That post was focused on how leaders should roll out change inside their organizations but it made me think about the flip side of this. How do the employees see change from their point of view? A few years ago I attended a leadership development class that provided a model of how people react when confronted with change. This model is from Spencer, Shenk and Capers . According to the model, everyone reacts to change by moving through the following six stages;

Stage 1: Loss – Employees are shocked by the change and experience fear and trepidation. They are cautious and can be paralyzed and unproductive for a period of time. It is analogous to a period of grieving.

Stage 2: Doubt – Employees are resentful of the change and very skeptical that the change will work. They will tend to resist the change at this stage. They may do things to push against the change with hopes that it will fail.

Stage 3: Discomfort – Employees are anxious because of the change and they are still confused about how to deal with it. They are still unproductive at this stage.

Stage 4: Discovery – This is the critical tipping point for moving people through the change stages. Employees are now beginning to come to grips with the change and experience positive anticipation. They begin to get creative on how to work with the change. They are more energized overall.

Stage 5: Understanding – Employees are now confident that the change will work. They understand how they can contribute to the success of the new program. They are pragmatic and productive.

Stage 6: Integration – Now the employees are satisfied with the change direction, they are focused and working productively as a team.

Some key learnings for leaders to be aware of with this model;

  1. The people affected by change need time to process the change regardless of how well it is rolled out.
  2. Leaders are usually between stages 4 to 6 when they roll out change. They need to remember this as they are communicating the change and realize that the people that are hearing about the change for the first time are still back at stage 1. They will need time and some coaching to get caught up with the leaders.
  3. If there are too many changes rolled out over a short time period, employees will never get out of stages 1 to 3. This will result in a demoralized and untrusting work force. Each new change resets employees back to stage 1.
  4. The “danger zone” in this model is clearly between stages 3 and 4. Leaders must work closely with their staff to coach them from Discomfort to Discovery. Note that employees will move much quicker from stage 4 to 6 than they do from stage 1 to 3.

The next time you or your organizatiuon is working through a big change, remember these six stages of change. Consciously work through each stage and coach your employees through them.

“A single act of courage is often the tipping point for extraordinary change.” Andy Stanley

Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy

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