The Change Curve: Leading People Through Times of Change

by compasspartnership

The Change Curve: Leading People Through Times of Change

by compasspartnership

by compasspartnership


Change is a fact of life. Especially in business environments where the rate and scale of change has become so unprecedented that the word ‘change’ doesn’t seem sufficient to explain it. We now frequently see the word ‘disruption’, or the term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) being used to express the changes organisations are experiencing.

The language itself is enough to alarm individuals and teams in your organisation. It’s no wonder that people become fearful and resistant to change when it’s labelled as ‘disruption’: a word synonymous with disturbance, disorder, interference, trouble.

The Change Curve

Individuals dealing with organizational change often experience a personal transition that is similar to dealing with grief. As leaders, it’s crucial that we closely coach our teams through these changes; it is often the key to successful change in times of disruption. Individuals feel they are being supported in their own personal journey and the organization is much better placed to be able to embed the changes successfully.

With big change projects, it’s often easy to explain the rationale behind the change, but the real skill of leadership is in appealing to people’s emotions. This is where the opportunity for real transformation lies. As a leader, you can use the Change Curve Model to anticipate the stages of an individual’s change journey, which will then allow you to make this journey easier and offer the right support.

The real skill of leadership is appealing to people’s emotions.
This is where the opportunity for real transformation lies

Stage One – Status Quo

In the first stage, people may be in shock or denial. They need some time to adjust to the news of the change. Give them the information they need to understand what is happening and why, the journey of the change, and where they can go if they need to get help.

As a leader: Your focus should be on communication and, most importantly, listening. Be patient and try to take onboard the information (and potential opposition) without leaping to explore solutions. Keep people informed, little and often so they feel updated but not overwhelmed. Offer them ways to ask questions and answer them as they come up.

Stage Two – Disruption

In many ways, stage two is where your skills are most needed. This is a time when fear, resentment and anger may be evident and could result in resistance to the changes. It’s important to try and make this stage as painless as possible and not let things descend into crisis, but you must allow people the time and space to express their feelings and worries, and even to let their anger out.

As a leader: Make sure you prepare for this stage. Recognize and notice the reactions through observing and listening to people. They may try to hide their opposition to the changes, or some may be passively resisting, so the skill is in recognizing things that may not be openly communicated.

Stage Three – Exploration

By stage three you will have reached a turning point. People are beginning to accept the changes but might need help to explore what this means for them. You might hear people asking questions such as “How do I use the new system?” or “What does this mean for my role?”

As a leader: Develop and train people well so that they can personally experience the benefits. Give people the space and opportunity to test things out and learn without fear.

Stage Four – Rebuilding

This is the stage where people commit to the changes; they start to become second nature and the benefits of the changes become clear.

As a leader: You can look back and see what you have learned. Remember to celebrate the successes that individuals and the wider team have accomplished.