In Part One of this series, we introduced the concept of change management. In this article, we will describe the processes that individual employees and entire organizations experience during change.

The Change Curve

Based on a model originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s to illustrate the grieving process, The Change Curve describes the four stages most people endure as they adjust to change. [See Figure C from Change Management Resource Guide.]

The Change Curve stages include the following:

  • Stage One: Denial—This occurs when people react to a challenge of the status quo.
  • Stage Two: Anger—As reality sets in, people tend to feel angry about the shift in the status quo and fear the resulting impact.
  • Stage Three: Bargaining—A lot of bargaining occurs while people are still angry; once their anger dissipates, so does much of the bargaining.
  • Stage Four: Depression—As people make the transition from dealing with their emotional reactions to accepting the change, many experience depression.
  • Stage Five: Acceptance—People stop focusing on what they have lost and start testing and exploring what the changes mean and how they must adapt.
  • Stage Six: Moving On—Acceptance leads to an embracing of change, which means the rebuilding of a new normal.

While the Change Curve depicts an individual’s experiences through change, the following model shows an organization’s transformation through change.

The Change Cycle

The German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin, known as the founder of social psychology and one of the first people to study group dynamics and organizational development, created one of the first models for understanding organizational change. This model, developed in the 1940s, is known as Unfreeze—Change—Refreeze. [See Figure F from Change Management Resource Guide.]

Stage One: Unfreeze

You are preparing the organization to accept that change is necessary, which involves breaking down the existing status quo before you can build up a new way of doing things. This stage often involves strong emotions as people may try to resist the disintegration of their current reality. Although these emotions can be difficult to work through, they are necessary so people can come to an understanding—and eventual acceptance—of the need for change.

Stage Two: Change

People are beginning to resolve their uncertainty and seek new ways of doing things. This stage involves two distinct parts: First people intellectually accept the change. Then they show their support by participating in the change management process. Their behaviors begin to show evidence that they support the new direction.

Stage Three: Refreeze

Only when you see evidence of lasting change is this final stage in effect. Some signs of sustainable change include a new organization chart, revised job descriptions, and new staff on payroll. It is important to establish a new normal, although another change will inevitably come along. People must feel some sense of stability so they understand how things get done and are able to perform at full capacity.

The next article in this series will look at a case study example of an organization moving through the above change models. Stay tuned!