learning resources

An introduction to change management


The topic of change management is huge and I’m sure it’s an area we’ll revisit at a later date. It’s an aspect that is constant in most organisations and one where the role of the HR professional is key. In this regard I think it’s worth identifying the two main aspects of change:

  1. The change itself – a new system, a new product or service, a new process or way of working.
  2. The process of change – how the change is introduced, implemented and embedded.

The latter aspect is where HR can play a vital role, bringing employees along towards the goal and being effective in this aspect also impacts on staff morale and their willingness to stay with the organisation. Part of effectively communicating through change is about understanding how people respond to change and adapting your style as necessary.

Responses to change

The Kübler-Ross change curve is probably the best known model used to explain how people respond to change. For our purposes, I’m going to use the personal change curve, which is a simplified version. As you can see, this consists of four stages:

Denial– a term in pop psychology, the denial stage is the first response to change and is typified by numbness. The news doesn’t seem to sink in, nothing happens and people continue to work as usual. At this stage it’s important to be consistent, authentic and self-aware and to reinforce the need for change, reiterating the big picture. Positive feedback should be given on what people are doing well.

Resistance– this stage occurs when colleagues have moved through the numbness of denial and begin to experience self-doubt, anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, fear or uncertainty. In the resistance stage, productivity dips drastically and the workforce is often upset and negative. While it is difficult for an organisation to allow negative views to be aired openly, this is exactly what helps to minimise resistance. Allowing colleagues to express their feelings and share their experiences make this stage pass more quickly.

Exploration– during this stage there is an outburst of energy as colleagues turn their attention to the future. This stage could also be described as one of chaos, as colleagues try to fathom new responsibilities, work out new ways of relating to one another, discover more about their future prospects and wonder how the change will work in practice. There is a lot of uncertainty during this stage, including stress. Some colleagues may need a lot of guidance and providing structure, direction and re-focusing on the big picture can help here.

Commitment– after searching, testing, experimenting and exploring, a new stage begins to emerge – the individual or group is ready for commitment. Commitment is the stage where colleagues are willing to identify solidly with a new set of goals and be clear about how to reach them… until a new change comes along. At this stage celebrate success, recognise people and reflect on learning from the change.

Supportive actions

2. Read the signs and act

There are three key questions here:

  • Where are you?
  • Where are your team?
  • What can you do to help?

Look at what’s happening and establish where people are at and adapt your style accordingly. Remember that different people can be at different stages so there’s no place for a one-size fits allapproach here.

2. Manage your own reactions

HR professionals are often privy to information about change well ahead of it being communicated to everyone else. In all likelihood you will be further along the change curve so recognise where you are and adapt how you deal with others. For example, don’t use your commitment to tackle their resistance.

3. Keep it up

A significant proportion of change initiatives fail to meet their goals so now is the time for strong leadership. Keep focusing people on the reason for the change to maintain commitment and harness exploration.

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