The workplace is a challenging place to navigate. Understanding the transitional stages of change and how behavioral psychology impacts how we experience change will put leaders in a better position to support their teams. Scott & Jaffe’s Resistance Cycle model shows four stages that employees go through when undergoing organizational change.
Denial: This phase begins when business-as-usual employees first learn of a change. Look for employees who appear unconcerned, downplay, avoid, or ignore change, and show a particular interest in reflecting on the past. During this time, employees generally feel very stressed. When productivity falls, morale suffers. Communicate why the change is happening and share the negative impact if it doesn’t happen. Find and listen to feedback on alternatives and how the change makes employees feel. Manage expectations by helping employees understand what’s really true versus what they desire.
Resistance: When employees come to terms with the reality of imminent change, they tend to fight and show frustration or anger. This often manifests itself in feeling overwhelmed, complaining, blaming others, being very critical or passive, and overly focused on the change. This is a good time to ask employees what they think the change will look different and what they are most looking forward to in the future. Encourage employees to talk optimistically about the change with their colleagues and guide them through the urge to assign blame. If changes are rushed or forced, your organization can get stuck here, so be intentional and cautious at this stage.
Exploration: When employees accept that change will happen regardless of resistance, they become very sensitive and at the same time curious to explore what the change means for them as individuals, for the team and for the organization as a whole. Critical thinking skills are activated and employees begin to consider and integrate information at a deeper level. Signs of this phase include experimentation, sharing ideas, vision and goal setting, eagerness to see role clarity, and early efforts to take initiative and get work done. This is the time to get employees trying new things, exploring different perspectives, considering ways to contribute, and identifying the outcomes they want to see from the change.
Acceptance: When employees implement their ideas and try things out, they will also begin to see opportunities that the change offers. The team begins to relax as they develop a sense of control and begin to show appreciation for their journey with a more proactive and forward-thinking attitude. When employees feel a sense of accomplishment from persevering, it’s time to focus their energies where they can make the most difference. Get curious about how your employees see themselves succeeding with the change and help them identify rewards for themselves when the change occurs. This is also a good time to discuss long-term opportunities that might arise based on their experience of being part of the change process.
Change is never easy, but understanding how it affects organizations psychologically allows leaders to show compassion for employees’ feelings and experiences while helping them to stabilize and understand their circumstances. Remember to invest in communication and be purposeful about the change you are striving for!
Jolene Thrash is the owner of JMT Consulting and offers professional consulting for organizational development, human resources and personnel development. She is a certified HR specialist with a Master of Professional Studies in Organization Development and Change. She can be contacted at [email protected] or visit her website www.jmtconsulting.org.