This is the second article in my series about how we can better manage ourselves and work with others in the workplace. One of the most difficult processes I found in my career was managing change and conflict. As humans we are often resistant to change, in our personal or work lives, and dealing with conflict is something we often want to avoid rather than address.

So in this article we’ll start with examining change in the workplace. In particular we’ll look at what your role could be in the change process, what stages people often go through when faced with change and how, as a manager, can you support them through this process.

What do I need to do to manage change?

The honest answer is you manage it as you would anything else of a turbulent, complicated nature focussing more on leadership rather than just management skills.

To manage change you need to reconcile and resolve the conflict between and among disparate points of view. The real trick in managing change is to minimise the disruption individuals experience during periods of uncertainty. And a key tool for this is effective communication, through sharing and gaining people’s full buy-in and involvement in the change and dealing with issues before and after they arise. See my previous article Effective Communication in the Workplace.


What is my role in managing change?

There are two elements to consider. The first is the mechanics of implementing change and the second is managing individuals through change. Both of these are equally important to achieve success.

One approach to change management is based around forming a partnership, which involves a series of iterative steps and fosters positive relationships. In managing individuals through change there needs to be an awareness of how people react. One of the key challenges in achieving successful change is managing resistance from those who need to do things differently.

Individuals feel wary or scared about change and what it will mean for them. Most fears result from a loss of power and control over the job, uncertainty about what will happen or loss of the job itself.

Individuals typically go through an emotional cycle which is referred to as the transition curve.


What stages do I need to be aware of?

The transition curve is made up of seven unique stages that most people will go through. Some people will quickly move through one stage, almost as if skipping it out, and then may linger on the next stage for some time. Everyone will work through these stages at different speeds and deal with them in different ways. The seven steps are:

  • shock – a sense of being overwhelmed. Reality does not match expectations ‘what am I doing here?’. Individuals need information to understand what’s happening;
  • denial – denial of change. False competence. Behaviour built on the past not the future ‘this is how I did it before’. A time to communicate often and answer questions;
  • self-doubt – reality of change becoming apparent and causing uncertainty. A feeling of sinking rather than swimming ‘I’m not sure what to do!’. Minimise and mitigate problems that might arise;
  • acceptance – letting go of the past. Experimenting with change. Optimism for the future ‘I can see where I was going wrong’. Allow enough time to explore the change;
  • testing – trying out new behaviours. Lots of activity and energy – mistakes liable to happen ‘I should be doing it this way’. Provide training opportunities and time to practice;
  • internalising – searching for meaning of change. Seeking understanding of why things are different. Support individuals as they embrace the change; and
  • integration – incorporating meaning into new behaviours. Stabilisation. Increased self-esteem.


What else do I need to know about the transition curve?

When people are first made/become aware of change there is little concern or feeling as it does not yet appear or feel real. When the shock wears off people will start going into denial and refuse to believe change will ever happen. As more detail is communicated people will start to worry about what it means for them and what is going to happen to their jobs.

As change progresses there is more concern and it is an unsettling period of time with doubt about the future. Once in the thick of change where the inevitability is accepted people feel at their lowest – depicted as the ‘valley of despair’.

When it feels like they can’t stand being in the ‘valley of despair’ any longer they start testing out how the change will feel and what it means for them. This tends to lead to some kind of association of personal meaning about the change and finally to integration.


How do I support others?

The skills required to support others through change will generally fall under the headings of communication or interpersonal skills:

  • be visible and approachable – ensure everyone understands the need for change, impact on them and the business and have opportunities to discuss and clarify;
  • communicate – open and honest communication to understand individual’s concerns, thoughts, feelings and suggestions about the change;
  • listen – actively listen, restate, reflect, clarify without interrogating, draw out concerns to get to specifics, channel discussion to plant ideas and develop them; and
  • motivate – energise and inspire individuals through the change, value and recognise contributions, involve in decisions and implementation.


Hints and tips

Things to consider in gaining support for change:

  • prepare the ground well in advance, communicate proposed changes;
  • try to think of objections before they are raised and address them in advance;
  • have regular briefings and discussions with groups and individuals;
  • highlight the positive benefits to win support;
  • once change is implemented continue to offer support;
  • provide development and coaching opportunities;
  • show genuine appreciation for their work; and
  • be clear when the ‘old way’ is over and the ‘new way’ is to be embraced – there is often a period of overlap.


What makes change successful?

Change is a way of life, nothing stands still in business and we know that we are most successful in achieving change when:

  • there is clarity and common understanding of the change needs and impact;
  • change context and vision is commonly understood;
  • emphasis is on action and reflection – not on planning;
  • there is a sense of purpose and urgency created via unambiguous stretching targets;
  • freedom and responsibility to take action is given to people working on the change;
  • decisions are taken as close as possible to where the change impacts;
  • meetings and processes are focussed towards enabling completion of the task; and
  • an 80% solution is implemented using well defined and communicated processes.