The Four Stages of Change
Here we describe the four stages most people go through as they adjust to change.
Stage 1 – Shock or Denial
When first faced with the change, people’s initial reaction may be shock or denial, even if the change has been planned in advance and is known about, people still need to take time to adjust. An example may be when someone is faced with redundancy, at first they might go into denial thinking it may never happen to them, it will be ‘someone else’.
This is a critical stage for communication. Communicate often and make sure that people know where to go for more information if they need it, and ensure that you answer any questions that come up.
Stage 2 – Anger, Fear
Once the reality of the change starts to hit, the negatively may creep in. Using our example of redundancy again, you may then become angry … you’ve worked there 20 years of your life, how could they do this to you? How DARE they do this to you! How will you pay you mortgage – they don’t care! This is a stressful and unpleasant stage.
For the organisation, this stage is dangerous. If this stage is badly managed, it can be damaging to everyone and needs careful planning and preparation. If you are responsible for change, you should prepare for this stage by carefully considering the impacts and objections that people may have. As the reaction to change can be personal and emotional, it is often impossible to pre-empt everything, so make sure that you listen and watch carefully during this stage.
Stage 3 – Acceptance
Once you realise the change is happening to you, eventually you move into acceptance and start to process what this means. At this stage people stop focusing on what they have lost, they start to let go, and accept the changes. They begin exploring what the changes mean, of what’s good and not so good, and start looking at how they should adapt.
As the person managing the changes, you can lay good foundations for this stage by making sure that people are well trained, and have an understanding of what benefits the changes will bring. Be aware that this stage is vital for learning and acceptance, and that it takes time. Don’t expect people to be 100% productive during this time, try to build in the contingency time so that people can learn and explore without too much pressure.
Stage 4 – Future Plans
Finally, having accepted the change, you start thinking about all the new possibilities and become excited about the future and what lays ahead. If the change is an organisational one and you are the one managing the change, this is where you’ll finally start to see the benefits, when your team becomes more productive and efficient because of the change.
Don’t forget to celebrate the success with everyone who has contributed, if its appropriate. By celebrating the achievement, you can establish a track record of success, which will make things easier the next time a change is needed in your organisation.