How to Work Through Change

Change and conflict are both inevitable and constant. However, the reactions to change differ depending on the impact, severity, sense of personal control/ involvement, cultural expectations and environmental factors. Using various sources, I developed a model that describes the different reactions to change. Generally, there are four observable behaviors:

Denial

Denial can vary from a quick reaction of “this is never going to happen”, to a complete inability to picture, describe, understand, or accept the impending change- regardless of how well it is explained or how inevitable it may be. The denial stage may be very brief for those who understand the cause, need, and effects of change. However, for those with limited understanding of the change, the denial stage could last much longer.

Resistance

The resistance stage can consist of a wide variety of behaviors. Some people may simply take a longer time to adapt to new ideas or processes and begin using them in a systematic fashion. Others will blatantly refuse to adopt the new idea and may even rally support from those around them to resist the change. Still others will passively resist- never actually saying anything, but resisting the change in other ways such as pointing out its failures or simply ‘forgetting’ to do a task the new way.

Experimentation

During this stage, employees begin to ‘play’ around with the new concepts, processes, ideas, or practices and try to make them their own. This step is vital to ensuring the change process is effective. The change process will be altered by various inputs from people throughout the organization, which strays from the original image that management had in mind. In order to get to this stage, the company must recognize the importance of everyone having the opportunity to experiment, test, question, improve, and build upon the original concept. Once this happens, the change becomes truly effective.

Commitment

During the commitment stage, the change is generally accepted by all. Therefore, the need to justify its existence is diminished- at least until the new great idea comes along.

Working Through Each Stage

Each stage of the change cycle needs to be worked through. During each stage, the leaders of the company must respect the needs of employees. Here are some suggestions to help move people through the cycle more smoothly:

Work Through Denial:

  • Describe the possible future state in ways that are appealing and practical to a given job function.
  • Develop a clear picture of the current state and what the benefits of change may bring. 
  • Define the impact of change in clear terms. 
  • Plan for resistance.
  • Involve as many people as possible.
  • Garner support from management and sponsorship. 
  • Make yourself available and approachable to answer questions. 

Work Through Resistance:

  • Be empathetic and open to listening when people voice concerns.
  • Ask questions.
  • Hold small meetings periodically to allow for employees to voice concerns and answer questions.
  • Stay positive.
  • Create opportunities for others to get involved so decisions are made as a group.
  • Reinforce and reward observed positive and effective behavior.

Encourage Experimentation:

  • Involve people in demonstrations.
  • Provide training.
  • Provide clear instructions.
  • Be consistent.
  • Offer “dummy systems” as a way for employees to try things out.
  • Enforce progress reports to monitor change implementation.

Forms of Communication

As the organization moves through the change cycle, keeping people well informed is critical. Below are a few ways in which a company may choose to do this:

  • Online or printed newsletter
  • Meetings to foster buy-in from the differing levels of management and on the ‘shop floor’.
  • Published timeline or schedule of milestones and events.
  • Regular addresses by the most senior people in the company regarding the state and progress of change.
  • Comment boxes and/or another form of two-way communication.

My hope is that after reading this article, you will be better equipped to anticipate these reactions and work with your employees through the process of change more effectively. 

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