Stages of Change

Negative change comes  in many forms:  A termination, the merging of organizations, a bad performance review, a reorganization, to name a few.  You may not be able to control a negative change, but you can control how you respond to it.  But first you’ll need to understand how individuals and organizations typically react to change.  If you can understand the dynamics of the change process, you can position yourself in a positive and proactive way.

INDIVIDUAL REACTIONS: Individuals behave in a different ways depending upon how they are affected: Is your job at stake? Are you highly marketable? Are your skills critical to the organization? Are you highly paid? Are you close to retirement? No matter what the cause, there are common stages that most individuals will move through.

As an individual, moving through these stages more quickly can position you as an early supporter and leader, versus a detractor and impediment.  As a supervisor, if you understand these stages and are flexible in your approach, you can move performance and productivity of your group to a higher level more rapidly.

The following stages of major change are credited to psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, supplemented by Bill Kaufmann’s experiences:

STAGE I:  SHOCK/DENIAL- (This can’t be happening to ME / us !!)

STAGE II:  ANGER- (Who do they think they are!!!)

STAGE III: DEFENSIVENESS/ DEPRESSION- (I don’t know if I can do this)

STAGE IV:  RATIONALIZATION – Maybe it won’t be that bad if …)

STAGE V:  ACCEPTANCE- (This may turn out OK after all)

ORGANIZATIONAL RESPONSES:  Organizations respond to change in somewhat predictable ways.  The following stages tend to be sequential. However, depending upon how the changes are managed will determine if the next progressive stage is reached.  In other words, where top management is clumsy, non-communicative and insensitive to the needs and feelings of the organization can lead to a situation where the behaviors of STAGE I remain for a very long time.





To understand how people and organizations respond and react to bad news is a valuable asset.  Effectively managing change is a skill and career accelerator.

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