Understanding Change Reaction with the Change Curve

Major changes are not normally undertaken by us unless we are challenged. We tend to like routine and what we know. We don’t like uncertainty. Usually, we all need a push though to make a change. We need a “call to adventure”. A reason to change. It takes effort. Effort we’d usually rather not spend on yet another change.


One thing is for sure though. Change is a part of life. And in the modern world, especially at work, change is constant. So much so many of us suffer from change fatigue. But change still relentlessly keeps coming.


Does this sound familiar? If not for you then for people around you? People you manage perhaps? Then this post is for you.





Change and leadership


In my consultancy work, I have the privilege of helping business leaders seeking to make change. I’m usually there to help that happen and to advise on building powerful brands, typically because the CEO knows things could be better. This means that deliberate change is on the cards. For some businesses, it’s a massive shift in mindset.

Usually, business leaders cannot make change happen alone. A whole leadership team needs to get on board and align. Then they need to take the change story out to their parts of the business and inspire the people under them to embrace it. To make change happen. This is no simple task.


To successfully help people through change you need a strategy to minimise lowering morale and losses. in productivity. It requires simplicity, design and a good cause all wrapped up in an easy to understand story which motivates and drives on an emotional level. It also needs engagement and people need to feel involved in the change as it happens.


But even if you have all of that people will respond to change in a predictable way. Understanding this can help change happen more effectively.



The Change Curve


One helpful framework I like to go through with leadership teams when talking to them about changes we want to make is the “Change Curve”.


The Change Curve is a model used to articulate the way people typically react and deal with change. It works at all levels - from our personal lives through to our work lives. From people sitting on the board to graduates just entering the workforce. The change curve helps us to anticipate how people will respond to changes we propose - and so we can use it to be prepared and help them grapple with the new future we want them to live into.


Before introducing a change it is important leadership teams consider each phase of the change curve and strategically consider ways they will help their people move through it. It should help us to be more empathetic.



Where does it come from


The change curve model has been adapted for business. It originally was put together by Elisabeth Kundera-Ross and published in 1968 in her book ‘Death and Dying’. This book shook up the academic psychology world and its understanding of grief after a patient was given the news that they were terminally ill or someone close to them has died. Since then, Kubler-Ross’s ideas have been expanded and adapted into business. As change is an inevitability, especially in business leadership, it makes sense to be aware of Kubler-Ross’s principles.




The 7 Stages of the Change Curve


There are seven key stages of the change curve. These stages are typical phases a person goes through when navigating change. The stages and corresponding example thinking of someone going through them are:


1. Shock

“I can’t believe that things are that bad right now?!”

The person is surprised or shocked at the potential change in circumstances.


2. Denial

“This is not really going to happen and there’s no need for it”

The person is in disbelief and actively seeking evidence that change is not necessary.


3. Frustration

“Why are we wasting time and money on all this fluff!”

The person is struggling to come to terms with new information and the reality that things are going to be different.


4. Depression

“This really is happening and I’m feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty”

The person feels overwhelms by the change and can’t quite understand how they fit into it.


5. Exploration

“I might as well try a few of these ideas and at least see what I think”

The person begins to experiment and engages with the new situation. They become curious about the possibilities.


6. Decision

“Now I see it working things aren’t so bad”

The person accepts the change. Their mind is made up to learn how best to work with the new reality.


7. Integration

“Actually this is actually better than when we did things before”

Change is now completely accepted and part of everyday life.



Using the change curve in Brand Strategy


So if you are looking to launch a new brand and culture initiative that is big and bold and you need to get your leadership team and people on board, consider these seven stages. How are you going to help people navigate through these stages? What evidence, support and tools can you give them to help them do this?


For each step think of a time when you faces this feeling in your past. Draw on “mini-stories” of how you overcame that feeling and moved on to success. Couple this with practical tools and methods that you will build before your launch the change into your business so that your people are supported.


However you decide to use the change curve, I wish you all the best of luck in changing the world. In building the meaningful businesses and brands of the future.


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