Things Change, People Transition: Change as a Process


In general, change isn’t complicated, but it is complex. In its simplest form we use terms like; to alter, shift, adjust, move, switch, transfer, etc. Change is a transformation or transition from one phase, condition, or state, to another.

From a change management perspective, assumptions that each individual impacted by a new initiative will always experience change on time, on budget and on schedule, is flawed, because this approach lacks context and doesn’t always consider the people side of change. It may not consider outcomes and results after the change or ask what behaviors need to change and be sustained. Organizational and personal change have to be approached and measured differently because people embrace or resist change differently. No two are alike.

Organizational and personal change have to be approached and measured differently because no one will embrace or resist change the same. Individual Response to Change Management BestBehavior doesn’t happen in a predictive order and as a result, it is imperative to think about change as a process, rather than a project.

Things change. People transition.

The change curve was created in the 1960’s by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as a way to explain the grieving process. Over time, it has evolved as a tool to help people understand responses and reactions to significant change. Since change is a non-linear process, some people may take two steps forward and one step back along this curve for a number of reasons. Some examples might include:

  • Assumed or no role clarity for the change
  • No visible support and commitment from leadership
  • Lack of project, organizational and individual change integration
  • Those impacted do not feel they have had input into the process
  • Leaders and/or impacted people are not engaged
  • No consistency in change messaging formats, channels and frequency
  • Lack of transparency about why the change is happening
  • People impacted don’t understanding of “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)
  • Business readiness or training may have limited or no understanding of adult learning theory application
  • People don’t feel permission to speak with candor
  • Past performance with organizational change could create assumptions that history will repeat itself
  • Impact on current role and/or fear of losing a job

There are countless strategies and tools we can use to help us to understand where people fall on the change commitment curve and then subsequent strategies to take corrective action. As change management practitioners, we focus on results, outcomes, reinforcement and realization of benefits (including ROI), for the people side of change. We do this using a structured, yet flexible set of tools, processes, skills and principles to achieve the required goals of projects and initiatives.

What challenges and approaches have you experienced or used to help bring people impacted by the changes along for the journey?

Please leave a comment below. I’d like this blog to be a forum where people feel comfortable sharing what they agree or disagree with along with best practices or key learnings. I will honor desired anonymity, so if you would like to leave a response without having your name listed, please feel free to let me know.

If you found this post thought provoking, please share it with others and thank you for visiting my blog!

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2 Responses to Things Change, People Transition: Change as a Process

  1. Clive Bevan says:

    Oh no, not the death curve !!

    Kakie, we create the world in our heads then we live in that world, If we keep on describing the death curve theory then we will find the evidence to prove it to ourselves.

    Is this model an example of where the Change practitioners world refuses to move on and in effect to Change. Quotable quote… Doctor first heal thyself.

    Thoughts from all appreciated.

    • KakieF says:

      Hi Clive, thanks for the response, your point is well taken.

      By no means would I suggest the change curve is scientific and the end-all be-all answer to lead change. But it is a tool that can help us understand the complexity of human resistance which all individuals experience, and may help some articulate change as a process when coaching leaders, sponsors, change agents, middle-level managers, etc. through change to scan the environment, identify resistance so we can complete a root cause analysis, take corrective action and mitigate risk.

      It also can provide a basis for explaining why it is critical to separate outcomes at the individual level and organizational levels.

      Of course, we have to use language and tools acceptable in each culture/environment. Some change practitioners will use this curve to guide leaders through, while others know too much technical change management speak results in glossed over eyes and the risk of losing our audience.

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