Coaching Your Team Through The 5 Stages Of Change

We know that change causes unsettling times and often leads to great resistance, lack of productivity and general bad feeling amongst those affected. Managers and Team Leaders see the human emotional effect of change on a daily basis as the process progresses.

The human reaction to change largely follows a similar path for each individual. Following through five stages from denial to acceptance; The Kübler Ross change curve is one of the most effective ways to explain how humans handle change.

Kübler Ross change curve

The Kübler Ross change curve is a psychological model originally created by Elisabeth Kübler Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, who outlined the stages of emotion in relation to loss and grief. The concept has been extended, as it is seen to fit perfectly with human reactions to any situation that involves change and this applies equally well to workplace change. Change for many, no matter how small will involve some loss, and even where the change is positive, there can be a mourning for the past. While there are some dos and don'ts for leading people through change, and communication skills training may help you deliver change in a more effective manner, understanding how your workers process change is a cornerstone for making effective change.

The Kübler Ross change curve defines the five stages of grief and whilst people do not move methodically in a linear manner through each of the stages, they will ultimately follow a similar path on the road to acceptance.

1. Denial

This is the initial shock stage, often accompanied by a refusal to accept what is happening. There may be a desire perhaps to cling to the past, not believing that moving on is necessary and choosing to ignore it is happening. This can lead to reduced productivity as people struggle to move past disbelief.

As a team leader, you should be there to listen. You may not be able to answer all or any of the questions, but offering an outlet for them to be asked and encouraging face-to-face communication is the beginning of the process. Do not bombard information at those who are in shock or denial; it is better to release it slowly, as you feel the recipient is ready.

You may need to hold individual meetings to hand over news rather than a group meeting which can make receiving the news more readily digested. The danger of delivering news to a group can be that group negative thinking spreads quickly. Negativity is damaging and reducing the opportunities for it to spread through rumour, gossip and speculation is critical.

2. Anger

The next step you may encounter is anger, resentment and fear. Anger may be contained within an individual and cause them stress and affect their ability to be productive. Each individual deals with anger in a different way and management should seek to show understanding that this phase is a difficult one. Others may attempt to turn the anger into action and direct it towards others to gain support.

It is a time where particular attention should be paid to avoid a crisis. It is possible to plan for this stage as a leader. Consider the impacts and likely objections and be prepared to listen, explain and spend time watching the dynamics of the team as this stage happens.

3. Bargaining

Once anger subsides, you will start to see the thinking process. You will hear people asking where they fit, and what if they do this. They may attempt to broker a delay or simply seek more clarification on the change, as they seek to explore what the change means for them exactly.

Again, a leader should seek to listen and be open to suggestions. This is the initial move towards acceptance. Resistance may still be a motivator as they try to learn only what they believe to be important. Whilst bargaining and understanding is taking place, be clear that the change is happening and you may need to allow extra time at this stage as productivity is likely to be a little less, but still set timelines and expectations for your team. Patience at this stage can build a stronger foundation for acceptance.

4. Depression

This stage is the realisation that the change is happening regardless and will not stop. You may see low morale and energy, and an indifference to work.

Team leaders must support individuals through this phase, and seek to renew feelings of motivation.   Provide training in an engaging way and share successes. Give a clear message of benefits and show that employees moving forward and giving their best will see benefits. Now is a good time to motivate with rewards and give positive feedback.

5. Acceptance

This is the stage of acceptance, and realisation that any resistance is over. It may not be the end of the process, but workers may now become resigned to the situation allows the move forward. Changes start to become the new normal, old ways are forgotten, the improvements are embraced, and productivity improves.

Now is the time for team leaders to see the benefits of the work put in, moral will improve. Team leaders should use this time to reinforce objectives, repeat messages and share the successes.

Remembering that your team are not looking to be difficult or stubborn, but are simply processing the situation in a way that is a part of the human brain function is vital. Each has a process to go through to reach acceptance and the timeline for each individual will not be the same. Understanding this should make your management of the situation less frustrating, and help you be supportive to your team members.

It is likely that there will be more changes ahead and now is a time to foster general acceptance of change. Create an environment that see change as an opportunity.

Focussing on the human aspect of change can help you manage dynamics of change management and Leadership development training can give you the tools and techniques you need to manage your team effectively. If you can recognise and support employees in each stage of the change process, you may be able to effect change in your organisation more smoothly.

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