Governance and Compliance

The Change Curve

Derived from work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the Change Curve identifies 7 typical stages people go through when faced with change.

The change curve maps typical stages people go through as they are presented with, react to and ultimately absorb impacts of, change:

Stage 1. Shock: The individual realises change is coming.

Stage 2. Denial: Defensive energy results in a temporary improvement in performance and mood.

Stage 3. Anger & Blame: Realisation that change is still happening can result in denial turning into externalised anger and blame - ‘it’s not fair’ or ‘it’s all their fault’

Stage 4. Bargaining and Self Blame: Blame becomes internalised and people start to ‘bargain’ to try and prevent the change – for example by offering to do more work to reduce the need for a new system.

Stage 5. Depression & Confusion: Realisation that change is unavoidable leads to the lowest point in terms of energy & morale.

Stage 6. Acceptance: Hopefully, eventually change is accepted, and the individual resolves to face the future

Stage 7. Problem Solving: Having accepted change, the individual starts to plan how they will adapt to the new situation.

Change Curve

The change curve can be applied to any kind of change - including work, relationship or bereavement. The extent of impact will depend on variables such as the person effected, their perception of the change, the nature of the change and secondary external influences.

From a change management perspective, it is important to remember that the steps described by the change curve represent a natural human process for adapting. Apparently different reactions to a proposed change may be due to people being at a different stage of the change curve, and emotional reactions (positive or negative) may not necessarily reflect how well the change process is being managed. People may fluctuate between stages before change is fully integrated into their new way of being. It is perfectly natural for people to display associated behaviours.

Early engagement in the change process – ideally including involvement in the planning of the change – can minimise the extent of the change curve ‘dip’ stakeholders experience, whilst honesty, openness and empathy can help people transition between stages 3 and 7.