Change is inevitable. As the world changes, so we must adapt. When you lead, this means change management on a large scale. When you aren’t in charge, it means that you must know what to anticipate so that you can lower your own stress and support your team through the process.
How do you plan for change, even if it’s unexpected?
Understanding the four stages of change will help you to meet it proactively so that you can avoid pitfall and accelerate positive outcomes.
The Change Curve – the Four Stages of Change
The Change Curve is a popular model that explains how organizations and people move through change. It’s helpful to understand so that you can help lead change – whether or not you are in charge. There are many variations of this, but we think that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, well-known for her work on personal transitions with grief and bereavement, was the originator of the concept.
The Change Curve outlines four stages that people experience as they adjust and adapt to change. I’ve placed recommendations behind each of these to share how you can develop a framework for a change plan if and when change must occur.
Stage 1. Shock and Denial.
This is a time to reinforce trust. Keep the vision and mission in front and reinforce stability. Exhibit authenticity through open and timely communication throughout all levels of the business. The communications need to share what the change is, why it is needed, and the benefits to this. Share what you do know and what you don’t know. Built trust through sharing how and when they can anticipate more answers as you know them.
- When you are in charge, you will want to make sure that these communications are shared in a timely way with your team, and that you allow time for questions and discussion. Be transparent by identifying those answers you don’t have, rather than trying to come up with a slick answer. Keep your door open. Remind them that change is constant, and that you are confident you and the team can work through this.
- When someone else is in charge, be authentic through asking your questions during the group’s meeting time instead of doing this in corners outside the meeting. This keeps the team intact and allows all to benefit from discussing the topic and learning from it. Decide that you can use this change to showcase your knowledge and skills, and that if some of those are not yet learned, that this is an opportunity to do so.
Stage 2. Reactions and Resistance.
Understand that the threat of change can be real. People will wonder how they need to shift or change their way of working in order to remain effective. And some may even fear losing their position. This is a time when you will want to draw from empathy and compassion as performance may dip temporarily. Put yourself in the shoes of others and be tough on issues, tender on people.
- When you are in charge, encourage your people by touching base more frequently with them, asking how you can help. Remember that as people struggle to adapt, they may exhibit additional stress in different ways. Stay focused on the issue and not the personality as you manage this.
- When someone else is in charge, check your attitude. Keep the bigger picture in mind and support your colleagues through positive thoughts and language. If someone appears to have a rough moment or day, ask if you can help, rather than to avoid them.
Stage 3. Turning Point to Acceptance.
Change requires courage and humility. Taking on new ways of operating together, of performing work means making mistakes and pushing through until success is met.
- When you are in charge, admit that mistakes will be made and that this is a time of learning. Show your courage and humility by sharing a bit of how you are learning as well. Continue to communicate frequently and to acknowledge wins and positive behaviors in the team.
- When someone else is in charge, recall how you have successfully moved through change in the past and hold realistic expectations for your learning. Ask your leader how you are doing and check in as you need to in order to get a pulse on anything you need to do differently at this stage.
Stage 4. Embracing and Managing Change.
Motivation is key here (and of course, it is key all through the four stages!). Acknowledging wins and linking these wins to results needs to be stressed. As people master new ways of doing and operating individually and together, these culture shifts in mindset and behaviors can falter under stress. Sharing incremental wins and the results they engender is key.
- When you are in charge, recognition is key here. Any incremental wins, results, in behaviors such as heightened teamwork, performance, mastery of a skill or effective problem-solving is fair game for celebration. Share these celebrations with your team as a way to motivate them and move them forward.
- When someone else is in charge, pat yourself on the back as you master a step in a new process or way of doing. As you notice the positive aspects of working together on projects or initiatives, recognize this and acknowledge it to those involved. Celebrate to reinforce and motivate yourself and others.
Change can be challenging, but change can be exciting. It’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and to celebrate this. It can provide career opportunities, help the business to make greater impact on community and society. Making change should always mean making things better. Approaching this in a proactive way is always much more rewarding.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.