The change curve has, for a long time, been used in a business context to help managers understand how people react to organisational change. On a recent management development programme, Mark used the example of Brexit to help bring it to life. Here he explains how…
The Kubler-Ross change curve, first introduced in 1969, now has widespread use in an organisational change context. It’s a beautifully clear representation of the ups and downs of emotions in response to changing events over time. A few months ago I was tasked with designing and delivering a workshop to help managers understand it and think about their role in supporting people through change.
The most obvious example of major (and highly emotional) change was staring me right in the face. It had to be Brexit! This topic also presented me with another challenge of remaining impartial and not getting into any political debate which might sidetrack us. The solution was fairly straightforward; setting a few ground rules first as to what we were and were not discussing and then helping the managers to view the change curve from both leave, remain and neutral positions, whatever their political standpoint.
The change curve, in a business context, can look at emotional responses over various stages of the change process; with people moving, at various speeds and levels, through shock, denial, frustration, and depression, leading to bargaining or experimentation and finally acceptance. In asking managers to view the curve in a Brexit context, we drew out some brilliant learning points:
• people move through the curve at different speeds
• people can move backwards along the curve as events change
• some people may stick at denial for a very long time
• the ‘dip’ in the curve can be very pronounced for some people and this is where the danger can lie in terms of performance and employee wellbeing
• the move to bargaining/experimentation and acceptance are impossible if there is no clear vision for the future
• organisations need to work really hard to convince those opposed to the change, of the rationale for, and the benefits of that change. For leaders, this may mean that they have a real fight on their hands with people who do not believe in the change
• for people at the bottom of the curve, in depression, this is a major worry in the context of employee health and wellbeing. Depending on the nature of the change, organisations should invest significant time and resources in supporting people who may be at this stage
• when change is not being managed well, the organisation’s performance can suffer significantly as focus and attention is directed in places other than the day job
Next time you’re explaining how to manage and support change, don’t be afraid to use a real or political example to help draw out key learning points. An emotionally-charged topic area can be perfect for exploring a concept that is of course about emotions!