Change is inevitable. So is the resistance to it. Unless of course, you hit the lottery for millions of dollars – then it is welcomed with outstretched arms, and maybe a “hallelujah” or two. Wouldn’t it be great if employees accepted organizational change as readily?
To quickly demonstrate change, cross your arms. Now cross your arms again, this time changing your arms in the opposite position. How does it feel? Most likely, uncomfortable. If you trained yourself to cross your arms opposite of what you are accustomed to, you could condition yourself to make a permanent change. Consider what happened when COVID-19 appeared. People and organizations across the globe had to adapt to change quickly.
Change is a constant at every organization. Unfortunately, you rarely hear all employees exclaiming that they’re excited to be a part of it. Now imagine during your monthly meeting, Project Manager Chris, energetically presents a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Chris explains the many benefits of the new system to only encounter apprehension.
- Why do we need this new software?
- The current system works just fine.
- Impossible! Whose idea was this?
The Eight Stages of Change
Many managers can probably relate to this experience. To grasp why people are generally resistant to change, let us look at how it is handled based on its origin.
- As initiators of change, we are proactive in introducing change.
- As discoverers of change, we are reactive to changes presented to us.
In this scenario, the discoverers are reacting to a change initiated by Chris. As they adapt, they’ll be going through eight different stages of change:
- Denial: This cannot be possible.
- Anger: This will not work out.
- Nostalgia: Everything will be different.
- Fear: What will it be like in the future?
- Negotiation: What advantages are there? How can we adapt?
- Decision: I can live with it.
- Readjustment: I would do it this way.
- Commitment: It works well. I like it.
Please note that change management is subjective. Not everyone spends an equal amount of time in each stage, nor does it always happen in the same order.
Given that, managers need to understand the different stages of the change curve to help their teams navigate the various stages efficiently.
The Challenges of Managing Change Well
A manager’s success depends on the success of his/her team. Change management should offer benefits for everyone involved as well as the organization as a whole. As a manager, here’s how to lead a team through change.
- Understand that each stage is part of the natural process of change acceptance and assimilation.
- Let each team member advance through the different stages at his/her own pace and in his/her way.
- Personalize your approach and adapt your behavior according to the different stages your team members are experiencing. Do not expect commitment from a team member who is still in the denial stage.
- Avoid shortcuts. Do not encourage your team members to skip a stage. Someone who’s rushed through stages in the change process may find it more challenging to reach or complete the decision stage, and may ultimately revert a step (or more).
This last point is crucial because people are not always transparent about how they feel. We may assume that someone is in the commitment stage when he/she may still be in the fear or nostalgia stage. What may seem like a shortcut, in the beginning, can be costly in the long run.
Managing Change Well in the Decision Stage
The manager’s behavior during the decision stage is vital to managing change well. The decision stage is where he/she must balance his/her role as a participative manager and an executive manager.
When balancing these management styles, managers should ask themselves:
What risks are there for the team (and the company) if I’m not sufficiently assertive in the decision stage?
- What stage will my team member revert to if I don’t manage the change process well?
- What can I request from him/her?
- Who makes the final decision?
- What’s causing him/her to stall?
Sometimes the manager is also the discoverer of change and has to balance this situation by creating the right conditions for the team to accept and assimilate change in the best way possible.
Helping team members reach the decision stage and guiding them beyond it isn’t enough. Managers also have to be assertive. Otherwise, you risk team members:
- Entering an endless loop of bouncing back and forth between stages without arriving at the decision stage. Doing so may be harmful to them and the organization.
- Understanding that the decision to accept change lies with them. As a manager, you’re responsible for maintaining the balance of management and creating the optimal conditions for this acceptance.
- Hindering the team’s progress. If a manager allows team members to stall, they will spend months jumping from stage to stage and may even sabotage – albeit unintentionally – the team’s efforts and progress. Watch out for those with a yes, but… attitude and those who fixate on the tiniest of issues. Through a desire to avoid confrontation, unassertive managers may unwittingly make an undesirable, negative impact.
- Causing conflicts. This endless loop will inevitably lead them to be conflictive – with themselves, with the company, and perhaps even with their families due to a lack of control over the new reality. Their unacceptance will cause them to yearn for the old.
Leading Change from Within as an Exemplary Manager
Here’s another scenario.
Phil is a manager who has to inform his team about the Board’s decision to change the order control system. Here’s how he delivers the news:
The Board has decided to change the order control system. It seems pointless, but I have to implement it, so here we are.
This attitude isn’t uncommon from managers when addressing changes in the company – especially changes that weren’t initiated by them.
Managers are responsible for relaying messages of change. In doing so, not only are they discoverers of change, but they must also establish the right conditions for their teams to accept and digest this change as efficiently as possible.
Phil’s attitude is counter-productive, unmotivating, and not one of an exemplary manager. How can Phil expect his team to accept the change when he has vocalized his reluctance?
Managers are the first to experience the stages of change. As an exemplary manager, you must be comfortable in the commitment stage before informing your team of the change and guiding them through the process.
In other words, accept and guide change over yourself before exercising it over others.