Change practitioners will often mention the change curve developed by Kübler Ross. The model was designed to map the emotions associated with bereavement and loss but has since been used for any crisis, such as the emotions employees go through during a period of change.
This second article in a three-part series (read part 1) looks at how to engage your employees on the change journey. I will cover how to overcome the resistance that is often the stumbling block to positive and effective change. I will also look at how this in turn builds engagement and trust so that further change programmes draw upon success and create a positive change experience.
Laying the groundwork to support employees through the journey of change
You have created the vision for the future, you’ve got the burning platform for change and now it’s time to get your employees on board. This is often the biggest challenge that organisations face and indeed fear. And because of this, looking at the employee journey is often avoided for far too long.
Of course the change programme itself may involve some difficult issues, such as potential redundancies. However, any change requires moving people’s expectations to a new place. With this comes new ways of working, new processes and behaviours, all of which take time to embed and fully develop. Stalling on any part of the change programme therefore risks leaving far less time for what is one of the reasons for failure – embedding change.
So when you’re ready to start implementing the required change and you are getting your communications plan ready, there are three key stages to consider to help your employees experience, hear, understand and fully accept the change.
Three crucial stages to communicating your change programme
Kübler Ross change curve: shock event through to resistance
Announcing change needs to be delivered in a way that is specific and practical. Communications need to simply and clearly explain what the change will be.
Leaders often feel that they want to shield employees from the end game and so filter the information out over time, only telling part of the story. However, being fully transparent about what the change will mean is important because the key anxiety that employees will have is ‘what does this mean for me?’. Until you tell your people this, they won’t be able to focus on all of the other details.
In communicating the change, don’t trash the past. By pointing out how awful systems have been previously or how poor production has been, is likely to build resentment amongst your employees.
As well as saying what will change, make sure you tell employees what will remain the same. For example, if you are staying in the same building, location or keeping the same team, tell them.
And finally, don’t think about selling the benefits of the change at this point. It won’t land with employees who are busy working through the change itself. Any selling of the benefits of the change needs to come much later when employees have come to terms with what is going to happen and moved past the anxiety, anger and despondency that is felt.
Much of this feels very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But it really is the difference between providing information and promoting change and in this phase, information is key.
Kübler Ross change curve: resistance through to resignation
This stage is perhaps the most difficult one to manage from a change perspective, as it’s a time of confusion for employees. They now know that they are moving into something new but it has yet to happen. So for leaders and change agents, it’s a time to allow for plenty of discussion, creating space to hear questions, fears and anxiety.
At this point, the change team should be mindful of selling the future ‘to be’ state, while at the same time leaving the past behind. The team will be starting to shape up pilot groups and experimentation so talk openly about these with your employees and acknowledge where failures happen. Your people will know if plans have not gone well and will respect honesty and reflection, rather than bluster and half-truths.
Equally though, be quick to celebrate success, perhaps through bringing in other parts of the organisation that have already been on the change journey and come out the other side. Hearing from those who have trodden the same road and survived can be a powerful antidote to stress, fear and resistance.
Encourage networking across the organisations and create opportunities for your people to come together and share ideas and experiences. Many organisations remain silent and leave employees feeling quite isolated. This can often be for legal reasons, perhaps via formal consultations with employee forums and trade unions but don’t forget that compliance with process often swallows the people element of change. Accept that your employees will be on a journey at this point, some quicker than others, and you need to help them along the way.
Kübler Ross change curve: resignation through to reintegration and ultimately acceptance
If you have been following the stages, you will know that you shouldn’t have been in selling mode with your change. Your employees are still coming to terms with the change and experiencing all the emotions that comes with it. Stage three is now about the sell. Your employees are moving from transition into a new beginning where the change is real and there needs to be a clear picture they can all see and engage with.
The vision you shared in stage one is now a fully fledged implementation plan, with a detailed road map through to the end where change is achieved. Your communication now moves into what the benefits will be and what part the employees will play in this ‘new world’.
You will want your leadership team to be out and about, ‘walking the talk’, taking every opportunity to engage employees in the change message. The majority of your employees will be receptive and ready to engage. They have worked through the risk of not engaging, they know what it means to them personally and they understand the journey.
How long it takes to deliver a change programme
The one question I know you will be asking is, ‘so how long do these stages take?’ And of course… it depends. Impacting factors include the scale of the change, the history of how change has been managed previously, how thoroughly the change plan and related communication plan has been driven forward so far. And importantly how confidently your change team and leadership team have developed the change plan. There is no fixed period. You could go through the three phases in a week or it could be weeks or even months. But keeping to the principles outlined above will help secure a successful change programme that employees will engage with and support.
Be aware that employees can go both forwards and backwards on the Kübler Ross change curve. Individuals will also move through the change curve at varying paces.
By following the above three stages, the journey through to the other side will be much easier.
If you would like to speak to an experienced change consultant for a no obligation, initial chat, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07773 342084.