The GPS that every company needs: How to better take the curve of change to strengthen your team leadership

31, 2021

10 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There are many myths about change management in organizations , and one of them is that radical modifications must be made in the operation so that they generate different results. Maybe yes, maybe not.

Leaving the books and the theory, and moving to the daily reality, the change does not occur only because processes, training and new models of culture are implemented. Companies change when the people who make it up change .

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist and writer, one of the world’s leading experts on death, dying, and palliative care. She defined, in this environment, five stages in the face of changes: denial, resistance, depression, exploration, and acceptance and commitment.

Inspired by these points, in the business world we can identify some similar instances of inflection to apply in the management of transformation.

The 4 stages of the change curve

Image: David Talley via Unsplash

It is the change curve, which allows measuring the reactions and behaviors of people to what is new in the company. It has several stages, and I invite you to review them in simple language:

Stage 1: Shock

Any attempt to change takes people out of the known space; a loss of stability is felt, and that is why it generates a reactive and negative emotional state. Shock is like a bucket of cold water if this initial instance is not well prepared.

Fear appears, real or imagined; even many times motivated by internal communication problems (for example, a rumor through which teams learn of a major restructuring in the company).

There are also associated behaviors, such as:

  • Avoid talking about the topic
  • Try to deny the change
  • Assuming change is more of the same
  • Refuse to cooperate
  • Get into the routine of meeting
  • Getting fussy
  • Blame others
  • Criticize each method of change

General recommendation: work on the individual dynamics of fear to quell these phantoms, and create psychological security frameworks about what the process will be like. Communicate clearly and on time.

Stage 2: Resistance

This is a stage marked by stress and unpleasant behaviors that will not help the success that is sought. People focus on what they think they are losing with the change, instead of looking at the possibilities of expansion or business continuity (something that must always be stressed).

In this emotional entanglement, there are sensations of losing the space gained, even being unemployed; there is doubt, gossip, misunderstandings and power disputes to hold on to what remains, instead of looking at what could be gained in the new instance of transformation.

These are some of the common behaviors:

  • Widespread resistance
  • Wait for precise orders
  • Work to regulation
  • Remember all the failures in the company’s history
  • Criticize
  • Not support
  • Foster a negative and harassing climate
  • Bad predisposition to solve the basics
  • Discuss everything
  • Listlessness and even depression
  • Absenteeism increases

General recommendation : Work with personal transformation tools that help change paradigms in each person. Listen and process. Round-trip feedback, and incorporate feedforward (feedback towards the future: create that potential of things to come, without reviewing the past so much).

Stage 3: Acceptance

In this phase the panorama begins to clear, with overtones of optimism and acceptance; and it is possible that more than half of the workforce will begin to cooperate moderately. This generates that, gradually, the restrictive mental model of stages 1 and 2 becomes more flexible and begins to integrate the new.

It is possible that people continue to feel overwhelmed by change, although they do so in a dual way: they connect (as an opportunity for something new) and at the same time, they have doubts about the results (they feel it as a threat). Even so, they are placed in a more contributory position.

Let’s look at this from the observable behaviors that can be expected:

  • Enhance energy to aid in the process
  • New ways of working
  • Gradual increase in productivity
  • Willingness to unlearn and learn the new
  • Investigate what is not known, and is recognized as necessary to continue.
  • Propose initiatives
  • Ask change management leaders
  • Help colleagues anchored in the steps of resistance to change.

General recommendation : congratulate, highlight, stimulate and challenge people who are agents of change in the process with challenges from least to greatest.

Stage 4: commitment

A phase is finally reached where people commit to change. It is marked by acceptance and begins the process of rebuilding the way of acting, collaborating and reformulating what is done daily.

By putting this into action, teams begin to see the benefits, increasing productivity and improving the internal climate.

The key here is to work on establishing the new forms imposed by the transformation, and transferring them to the brand new corporate culture that is to be developed.

Regarding behaviors, they appear:

  • Greater pride and enthusiasm
  • Celebration of achievements
  • Team spirit (dissolving the “small groups” that had been formed in previous stages)
  • Notion of the contribution of each person in the process
  • New capabilities added
  • The rituals that unite people appear
  • Effective ways of working
  • Enthusiasm for the first results

General recommendation : it is strategic that, from the leadership of the process, achievements are recognized and progress is celebrated. The union of the team is an essential traction element for the permanence of the result.

Where to start? 3 central tips to implement an organizational change

Image: Adolfo Félix via Unsplash

To cross the curve of change you need to flatten it, make it as flat as possible so that there are not so many ups and downs.

This can be achieved by focusing on motivating, inspiring, activating and driving the energy of the teams in line with the transformations they want to achieve.

Although many companies opt for “cosmetic changes” in their dynamics, such as healthy snacks, free Fridays, telecommuting and onboarding kits (welcome) or merchandising with a new slogan or motivational phrases, this, by itself, does not guarantee that people are going to change. I do not rule out these strategies; I just think it’s not the only thing they need to do.

And when I speak here of people, it is necessary to cover the entire organization: from the founders, partners, shareholders, to the levels of senior management, executives, middle managers and other operational lines.

Without a total, transversal and complete endorsement at all levels of the company, it will not be feasible to implement the new. Remember that the process of change starts from the individual and is built along the way with the other members of a team.

As a synthesis, there are three aspects to consider to face the transformation. There are three points of attention and action that, implemented in depth, will flatten the curve of change:

1. Work on resistance to change

For many human beings, the new implies a dose of uncertainty, which can plunge them into attitudes of low collaboration, poor adherence to new initiatives and striving to maintain the status quo of things.

Practical tools : I suggest working on raising awareness through spaces for conversation, active listening and resolution of needs, executive and business coaching for teams, development of self-leadership, and change of prevailing paradigms, to pave the way towards what you want to achieve, shaping people.

2. Work on elaborating the trauma of failures in the learning process

In the transformation process, an important key is learning to re-signify the failures and failures that will inevitably occur. Far from demotivating, the tendency to promote is to detect what each person and the entire team is learning, to highlight this aspect over cognitive shocks.

Ools H: incorporating dynamic learning from the error; accept them as part of the process, instead of punishing them as many companies do. Work on the cognitive flexibility of each person, so that they can expand their mental model and focus on the next and overcoming step. It is also important to create support and containment networks, not only from the leader in that role, but with colleagues themselves. Finally, the lessons learned will arrive, which will become part of the cultural heritage of transformation.

3. Work on the design of the appropriate transformation mechanism for each company

There are as many models as there are organizations, so the design must be unique to each one. In the heat of radical change, it would not do much to take change management manuals that are 10, 20 and even 50 years old, and want to force them together. Rather, it is advisable to create it from scratch, starting with what each company already has, and improve from there.

Tools: the process can begin with a consensus between senior management and interdisciplinary teams of collaborators on the course to be taken. Then, download the same to documents, graphics, work sessions and methodologies that help make it visible, while working on the emotional dimension of change in people. It is necessary to establish deadlines and people in charge, and assign the necessary resources, to be able to measure the fulfillment of the proposal. Finally, start the implementation in phases linked to each other, to ensure that this unique model is effectively established and can continue to be measured and sustained within the testing period, and, with its corrections, leave it permanently active (… until next time change, of course).

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