Startups and scaleups are perhaps the epitome of fast-paced organisational change; they are, by very definition, starting (or scaling). But companies don’t remain at the start line for long, and those that do are left in the dust by their faster growing, and superior adapting, competitors.
With this in mind, as a leader of a fast-growth business, you need to learn to adapt yourself and your organisation to changing dynamics. 47% of managers participating in a survey about change reported that they need to change their business model every three years to survive.
As they say, change is the only constant.
But even if it is essential to the existence of startups, it is also one of the biggest reasons businesses fail. Managing change in your organisation is challenging. In fact, research suggests that 70% of all change programs fail (a scary statistic indeed).
These change programs fundamentally fail because of a simple reason – we humans don’t like to change. We love our comfort zones, and whenever someone or something tries to get us out of it – we resist.
Here, we will try to explain a simple theory about change management – and how to use it to your advantage in both professional and personal spheres. You will discover how humans usually react to change, the stages of change, and how to best deal with it.
The theory we will talk about here is the Kubler-Ross Change Curve.
The Kubler-Ross Change Curve was actually introduced to us by Kandidate Embedded Talent Partner Nasar Mahmood. Nasar shared:
“As an ex contractor, change has always been a part of my working life. Starting a new contract, new company, new team, new recruitment processes, etc.
I have always taken pride in being someone who is incredibly adaptable. But, even for someone like me, change wasn’t always a walk in the park. A few years back, I came across the Kubler-Ross change curve, which put this change-culture I frequently experienced, into perspective.”
The Kubler-Ross Change Curve defines three stages of human reaction to change. It was initially known as a theory about the behavioural implications of traumatic experiences. But it soon started to be applied to business settings. Human’s reactions to change seem to be the same irrespective of the scenario in which it occurs.
The Change Curve Theory
It is a model that describes the three stages people go through when adjusting to change. The following figure defines the model in further detail:
As you can see above, the four major stages people go through when adjusting themselves to change are:
Shock and Denial
It is when the people are in a state of denial. Because of the trauma and the shock, they are not in a position to accept reality. At this stage, if you are the change maker, it is your responsibility to communicate clearly what is happening, as well as why.
Those who are witnessing the change are in a state of shock and need some time to digest it. As a business leader subjugating your team to rapid changes, it is your responsibility to communicate as much as you can (as long as it is both honest and valuable) – this will help provide a sense of relief and security for your team.
As a change-maker, try to communicate as much information with them as possible.
Anger and Depression/Fear
After some time has passed, people start getting frustrated about the change. At this point, they can show either a sense of fear, as well as depression or anger; depression and anger are two very different, but not so far disconnected, emotions.
Depending on the nature of the change, as well as the way that it has been managed, these reactions will have varying degrees of validity. The resistance and anger of people make this a make-or-break moment for change-makers. If there’s any mismanagement at this stage, the change program can easily spiral into a bigger chaotic situation that is difficult to manage.
To effectively manage your people at this stage, you need to listen and observe as much as you can. It will help you dive deeper into the minds of people as they are throwing everything out about their fears and grudges. Listening and observing them at this stage will enable you to learn more about the ground realities in your organisation and decide what needs to be done.
Acceptance and Integration
Lastly, when the Anger/Depression stage is over – people enter the Acceptance Stage. They start accepting the change and make changes to their surroundings accordingly.
Remember that acceptance and integration are two different things; integration is the act of integrating the change which is now being accepted. If your people have accepted the change, you become an enabler, enabling their healthy integration of the new system/change program.
As the leader of change, after a healthy acceptance and integration, you can begin to look towards a positive new horizon alongside your team. But note, this will only be possible if the acceptance and integration stage is managed effectively.
As noted earlier, this theory was initially introduced as the one that defines human behaviour after a moment of grief. It tells us how people reacted, as well as how they coped. And, depending on the change, employees in a professional setting may see change as a sense of loss, leading to the feeling of grief.
This will vary from situation to situation, for example an employee who is having to take a step down in seniority due to automation, rendering their previous role unnecessary, and dealing a heavy blow to their ego, will react differently from someone who is going through a transition they’ve requested into a more senior role. Either way there are emotional responses, but the key thing is to be mindful of the nature of the change, and the subsequent emotional response from your employee.
Nasar also shared:
“Ultimately, by understanding where I was in the curve, I was always able to keep going and have confidence that my next contract was just around the corner. Not only that, it also helped me to integrate into a new company smoothly, and become an integral part of their internal talent team.”
Change and grief both are inherent parts of life. And whenever someone faces them, there will inevitably be some resistance. The Change Curve theory helps you and your organisation identify the stage you, and therefore your employees, the people who actually are experiencing these emotional responses, are in, so that you can minimise the emotional peaks and valleys your employees will go through, ensuring a smooth transition that minimises negative disruption, and enables and encourages the positive changes that brought these very changes about in the first place.