Managers often make the mistake of assuming
that once a change is started, that
employees will see that it is going to take
place, and get on side. This is rarely the
case. Because change causes fear, a sense of
loss of the familiar, etc., it takes some
time for employees to a) understand the
meaning of the change and b) commit to the
change in a meaningful way. It is important
to understand that people tend to go through
stages in their attempts to cope with
change. Understanding that there are normal
progressions helps change leaders avoid
under-managing change or over-reacting to
As we go through the
stages, you will probably find many
similarities with the process a person goes
through with the loss of a loved one.
An early strategy that
people use to cope with change is to deny
that it is happening, or to deny that it
will continue or last. Common responses
during this stage are:
"I've heard these
things before. Remember last year they
announced the new customer initiative?
Nothing ever happened, and this will pass."
"It's just another
hair-brained idea from the top."
"I bet this will be
like everything else. The head honcho will
be real gung-ho but in about six months
everything will be back to normal. You'll
"I'll believe it when
I see it."
People in the denial
stage are trying to avoid dealing with the
fear and uncertainty of prospective change.
They are hoping they won't have to adapt.
The denial stage is
difficult because it is hard to involve
people in planning for the future, when they
will not acknowledge that the future is
going to be any different than the present.
People tend to move out
of the denial stage when they see solid,
tangible indicators that things ARE
different. Even with these indicators some
people can remain in denial for some time.
Anger & Resistance
When people can no longer
deny that something is or has happened, they
tend to move into a state of anger,
accompanied by covert and/or over
resistance. This stage is the most critical
with respect to the success of the change
implementation. Leadership is needed to help
work through the anger, and to move people
to the next stage. If leadership is poor,
the anger at this stage may last
indefinitely, perhaps much longer than even
the memory of the change itself.
People in this stage tend
to say things like:
"Who do they think
they are? Jerking us around"
"Why are they picking
"What's so damned bad
about the way things are?"
"How could [you] the
boss allow this to happen?"
Actually people say far
stronger things, but we need to be polite.
Exploration & Acceptance
This is the stage where
people begin to get over the hump. They have
stopped denying, and while they may be
somewhat angry, the anger has moved out of
the spotlight. They have a better
understanding of the meaning of the change
and are more willing to explore further, and
to accept the change. They act more
open-mindedly, and are now more interested
in planning around the change and being
participants in the process.
People in this stage say
"Well, I guess we have
to make the best of it."
"Maybe we can get
"We need to get on
This is the payoff stage,
where people commit to the change, and are
willing to work towards making it succeed.
They know it is a reality, and at this point
people have adapted sufficiently to make it
work. While some changes will never get
endorsement from employees (downsizing, for
example) employees at this stage will commit
to making the organization effective within
the constraints that have resulted from the
Let's conclude with some
The change process
takes a considerable amount of time to
stabilize and to work. Don't under
manage by assuming it will "work itself
out" and don't over-react when faced
with reasonable resistance.
Worry if there is no
resistance. If the change is significant
it means that people are hiding their
reactions. Eventually the reactions that
are not dealt with will fester and can
destroy the organization. Likewise with
Post your comments at
Copyright © 2014 AIM Inlines. All rights reserved.
No portion of this web site may be used or
reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission, except in the
case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Back to Articles
| Top of the Page