Managing Change

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There are a number of approaches to Change Management which all purport to smooth the path from one state, or situation, to the new state or situation.  At their heart, they all tend to follow the same model around progressing through neatly-defined stages.  The weakness of this model is that sometimes people can be at different stages simultaneously, and that you can go back as well as forward through the stages.  The progenitor of this mental model was Elizabeth Kubler Ross, who studied bereavement.  Lots of revisionists, including Kubler Ross herself, have challenged or extended her model, But notwithstanding the caveats, I think it is a helpful concept for understanding reactions to change.

The Kubler Ross curve posits that people go through a series of stages when encountering changes.  The stages identified by Kubler Ross were:

In a business change situation, the snappiest acronym I have seen in use here is SARAH.

S – Shock

A- Anger

R- Rejection

A – Acceptance

H – Hope.

This model isn’t hard and fast, some folk miss out stages, some folk get stuck in a particular stage, but I’ve found it a helpful notion to make some sense of the often extreme reactions you encounter when working with people going through a change at work or in their personal lives.

Pinpointing where people are will help with working out how much detail they can absorb and are ready to hear.

If someone is in shock, keep the messaging short, and don’t worry too much about explaining why something has to change.  Keep it in, but be aware that people will be reacting emotions and not logically.

So what’s the ideal script?
Here’s what I see as the bullets required to cover most change situations. Most people will know there’s a problem well before your management recognises it and forms a plan to respond.  So use that in the discussion.

  1. “You might know better than me that this thing has been happening, because you deal with it everyday.
  2. It’s had this impact.
  3. To deal with this, here’s what we’re planning to do.
  4. Here’s what it means for you.
  5. Here’s what will happen next.”

If it’s a negotiation, and you’re prepared to change your response to the external stimuli as a result of discussion, then make this clear and set out a timeframe and process for people to respond.  Be prepared to repeat this a number of times.

But if there’s no negotiation possible, don’t pretend there is.  That’s cruel and pointless and delays the journey to acceptance.  In this situation set out the timescales and don’t enter into lengthy conversations.  You might feel extending processes is helpful, and makes you feel better, but there is limited to no benefit for the other party in your situation.

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