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Fighting the Change Curve

Let’s face it, change is hard. It’s hard in our personal life and it’s hard in our professional life. Even if you’re someone that embraces change, there is still a level of stress and anxiety that comes along with it.

I’ve pretty much built a whole career on helping people implement change in their business. Whether it’s something relatively minor like capturing new data during an existing process, or something large like implementing a whole new ERP system, there are challenges and hurdles along the way.

If you aren’t familiar with the Kubler-Ross change curve here it is in all it’s glory:

The thing to note is that this relates to any sort of change regardless of whether it’s personal or professional. And in most cases, everyone follows this same curve even if they are the ones initiating the change!

For example, my girlfriend and I decided to sell our current house and buy a different one in a different neighborhood. So naturally this is something that we are excited about. But even though we are the drivers of the change, I can still follow the curve and think of moments where we have been in each of these stages. All the way from frustration with the process, to being depressed that things weren’t going to work out, to finally deciding and acting on that decision.

And this was something that we WANTED to do! So, managing change within an organization where there might be inherent resistance to that change is even harder.

A lot of the advice about managing the stages is like color coded boxes in the above chart. Things like “Spark Motivation” and “Share Knowledge” are great, but those are sort of no-brainers. But what are some real-world ways of making organizational change easier to swallow for the people that have to deal with the change?

  1. Accept that it will be hard. Don’t sugar-coat just how hard it’s going to be when communicating the change to the people that it impacts. Be direct and to the point. There will be tears, late nights and some people might even decide to quit as a result of it.

  2. Keep things the same as much as possible during the first phase. This might sound counter-intuitive to a business transformation, but will ultimately help buy-in, especially during that depression/anger phase. Sure, the tools are changing. The data is changing. Everything is changing! But do your best to keeps roles and responsibilities as consistent as possible. And when applicable, even keep the flow of information the same. If all expense invoices get approved by Jeremy in Accounting and today, he rubber-stamps them approved, let Jeremy keep approving those invoices, just now it will be by hitting a button. This instills a sense of comfort, then processes can be improved upon once the foundation is in place.

  3. Plan, plan again, and then plan some more. I’ve never been a fan of over-analyzing things, but when a large change is happening, it’s important to plan out what will happen when and who is responsible for what. It doesn’t eliminate the emotions on the curve, but when everyone knows that on X day we are going to pilot, and then on Y day we are going to do user acceptance testing, and then on Z day we will go live it helps to alleviate some stress. And it’s important that everyone understand their part in the plan. This helps with the “buy-in” portion, but also gives everyone a little warmer and fuzzier feeling as the day of change arrives. After all, if they’ve been working in the new systems for weeks or even months, then they aren’t really “new” anymore.

It might be a little more complicated than just three steps, but if you keep those ideas in mind it will go a long way and smoothing the road for your transformation.

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