The Rollercoaster of Change

Newsletter 61

The CEO shook his head sadly as he spoke to his senior staff. ‘I was afraid of what might happen if we started this new change initiative. Now everyone seems to feel bad; they all seem to be either angry or depressed. I had high hopes for this project, but now I think the whole thing may have been a mistake.’

Does this situation sound familiar? It certainly will if you have ever been part of an organizational change initiative. It turns out that this state is just one of several very predictable stages that occur during change. Though it may sound counterintuitive, not only is this temporary state inevitable, it is desirable and necessary!

After researching over 20 different models of change, Steve Haines posits that there are six major stages of change, and these stages are natural, normal, and highly predictable. Also, it is important to realize that “organizational change” is merely a misnomer; change actually occurs personally in the myriad of individuals who make up the organization.

  • Rollercoaster Stage 1: Smart Start. Plan to plan; assess the situation and agree on a plan and method before beginning a change initiative.
  • Rollercoaster Stage 2: Shock and Denial. When organizational members are told about the upcoming change, they will inevitably experience shock and then deny that the change will ever really come to fruition (“it’s just another ‘flavor of the month'”). To help individuals progress through this stage, change agents need to explain the “why” of the initiative. Why do we need to make this change?
  • Rollercoaster Stage 3: Anger and Depression. Once a change initiative is begun, you cannot go back and erase what you have started. If you try to reverse it you will only succeed in starting the rollercoaster of change over from that spot (Anger and Depression) and this almost always will result in individuals going further into a state of depression and taking longer to emerge from it. People must grieve and let go of old ways in order to make way for new ones. What helps people move through Stage 3 is change agents a) listening, b) asking questions, c) empathizing, and d) explaining the new vision and why it is important.
  • Rollercoaster Stage 4: Hang-In and Persevere. This is the stage at which most change initiatives fail. People become weary of the pain of the change and want to abandon it. Remember, however, that quitting the initiative only kicks off a new rollercoaster of change from a lower starting point. Change agents must consistently encourage people to continue to move forward. Only by persevering can people reap the rewards of the new improved future state that is to come; perseverance is the key to successful change.
  • Rollercoaster Stage 5: Hope and Readjustment. Change agents must help to clarify each person’s new role and their required new expectations of performance. Change leaders must emphasize maximum involvement of people and be sure that they understand WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) to achieve the new vision, values, and culture. Remember, people support what they help create.
  • Rollercoaster Stage 6: Rebuilding and Productivity. The change in the organization is institutionalized through new behaviors and rewards. The senior leadership team must serve as role models for the change through delegation, monitoring progress, and feedback. Keep the goals and benefits of the change well known through regular strategic and operational update meetings which include further continuous incremental positive changes.

TECHNIQUES

Technique #1: Keep in mind that “organizational change” is a misnomer; change actually occurs at the individual level for all the members of the organization.

Technique #2: Remember that shock, denial, anger and depression are a very predictable and healthy part of the individual change process. People must grieve and let go of old ways in order to make way for new ones.

Technique #3: Perseverance is the key to successful change initiatives; if you turn back you only begin the rollercoaster of change over at a lower starting point.

Technique #4: Some very effective change management tools are a) listening, b) empathizing, c) encouraging, d) clarifying the new vision and the individual’s role in it, e) showing WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?), f) being a great role model for changing behavior, and g) conducting regular strategic and operational update meetings.

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