Organisational Development

Managing change

There are many benefits to effective change management, including improved communication, increased productivity, reduced stress and improved decision-making. It can also contribute to improving employee morale and creating a more positive work environment.

Introduction to Managing Change workshop 

Organisational Development offer the Introduction to Managing Change workshop for anyone who wants to improve their knowledge around change management and learn how to support people/teams through periods of transition. This workshop is part of the Management Essentials programme and runs on a rolling basis every term.

The workshop covers: 

  • The impact of change and different responses to it
  • Methods for support individuals/teams through a period of transition
  • Ways to engage a team in continuous learning to harness the positive impact of change. 

View the Organisational Development events calendar to see upcoming workshop dates and book a place.

A team meeting

Managing your own reaction to change

Understanding your own feelings and how these affect your reactions, and learning to manage these, gives you and others confidence in your ability as a leader of change. And it powerfully enables your ability to manage personal change. Here are four Emotional Intelligence strategies to use:  

Question the basis of your own emotional response:

  • What is your primary emotion associated with this change?
  • Ask yourself, ‘What do I believe to be true that is making me feel this way?'
  • ‘How can I influence or check what I believe to be true?'

Identify the source of your own resistance:

  • Use your self-awareness to understand what’s at the root of it.
  • Take steps to take some control of what you are concerned about.

Own your part in the situation:

  • How are your attitudes and behaviours contributing to your own negative experience of change?
  • Examine your feelings and how they are affecting your attitude.
  • Any negativity orpessimism is going to impact your performance, behaviour, and ability to lead your team through change.

Turn up your positive outlook:

  • What are the opportunities with this change?
  • How will these opportunities help me and others?
  • Move from being a problem-solver to an opportunity-finder.

Personal transitions through change

The personal transition curve reflects the psychological and emotional journey that individuals go through during a period of change. This curve is often used to help leaders understand the emotional aspects of change, recognising that people may experience a range of emotions before fully accepting and embracing a new way of doing things. Different change management models may incorporate variations of this curve, but the general idea is to acknowledge and address the personal and emotional aspects of change alongside organisational processes.

The curve typically involves several stages:

  1. Denial or Shock: Individuals may initially resist or deny the need for change, feeling shock or disbelief about the upcoming transition.
  2. Resistance or Anger: As the reality of the change sets in, people may enter a phase of resistance or anger. They may feel frustrated or upset about the disruption to the familiar ways of doing things.
  3. Exploration or Acceptance: Eventually, individuals may start to explore and accept the changes. This phase involves a willingness to adapt, learn, and understand the new situation.
  4. Commitment or Integration: In the final stage, individuals become committed to the new way of working or the changed environment. They integrate the changes into their daily routines and fully embrace the new reality.

It is important to remember that people have greatly varying reactions to change and experience it in different ways and at different rates. Effective change leaders will make time to understand where people are in their journey and support them to make the transition to a new way of working/thinking.

To learn more about the change curve and how it was developed, watch John M Fisher's 'Personal Transition through Change' on YouTube.

Leading your team through change

Change consultant, William Bridges, highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they are faced with change:

  • Endings: saying goodbye and letting go of the old way.
  • Exploration: the “neutral zone” of uncertainty, where people experiment with and find ways of working in the new situation
  • Moving forward (new beginnings): accepting the new ways and values and being comfortable with those.

Bridges points out that people move through this transition at different rates, and leaders and managers who are closer to the decision-making often feel more in control and are therefore more resilient to change. Even when a change has been planned, and the processes, systems and infrastructure have moved into the new state, every individual needs to make the transition to a new way of thinking about what they do. As a leader of change, your role is to identify where people are on their journey, and help them move on, bearing in mind that they will be at different stages from you, and from each other.

Effective change management also requires brilliant communication. It has to be managed, and information has to be given at the right time and in the right way. Therefore, if you are required to lead a change, your ability to communicate effectively and encourage people to accept change is vital. You need to model positive attitudes towards change and reassure others. Learning how to go about managing the change is important, but it is even more important to be aware of your own attitudes towards others and your own attitude towards change.

In managing change, your job is to make sure that each person in every team feels confident and knows:

  • Why the change is important
  • How it will benefit them (or at the very least how it affects them)
  • What is expected of them
  • When the change is required
  • Who will answer their questions
  • How to do what they are expected to do and perform optimally.

You will also need to make sure that they can sustain the changes and continue to work in this way into the future.

Don't just impose change - get people involved

In his latest book, Accelerate, J.P. Kotter emphasises that change is not just led by a change management team, but by a motivated network of volunteers. Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity. At an individual level, they must want to actively contribute. Collectively, they must be unified in the pursuit of achieving the goal together.

This is why it is important to get people involved in the change, rather than just imposing change, and communicate as often as possible to reduce uncertainty. Poor communication leads to lack of trust. When senior leaders show they actively support change, it creates a positive environment for everyone. You can learn more about Kotter’s award-winning methodology by reading The 8-Step Process for Leading Change | Dr. John Kotter.

Emotional reactions to change

Change can be unsettling or, in some cases exciting, but it will always generate a reaction of some kind. Here are some of the ways in which the people you are communicating to might be feeling about change.A young woman looking anxious while reading something on a tablet

  • Anxiety – can I cope?
  • Happiness – at last something is going to change!
  • Fear – what impact will the change have on me?
  • Threat – the problem is bigger than I thought.
  • Guilt – are the past failings down to me?
  • Disillusionment – this is not for me, so I’m leaving.
  • Acceptance – maybe things won’t be so bad.
  • Excitement – I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Normal defensive behaviours

When we experience excessive stress – whether from internal worry or external circumstance – a bodily reaction is triggered called the ‘fight or flight’ response. This response is hard-wired into our brains and is designed to protect us from bodily harm. It is our body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response and is completely normal.

The fight or flight behaviours you might see:

  1. Disengagement – silence, avoidance, ignoring communications, indifference, apathy, low morale
  2. Work impact – reduced productivity/efficiency, non-compliance, absenteeism, mistakes
  3. Acting out – conflict, arguments, sabotage; overbearing, aggressive or passive/aggressive behaviour 
  4. Negativity – rumours/gossip, miscommunication, complaining, focus on problems, celebrating failure   
  5. Avoidance – ignoring the change, reverting to old behaviours, workarounds, abdicating responsibilities  
  6. Building barriers – excuses, counter-approaches, recruiting dissenters, secrecy, breakdown in trust    
  7. Controlling – asking lots of questions, influencing outcomes, defending current state, using status

Resistance to change

There's an old saying that goes “we can only lean on that which resists”. This suggests that there might just be something good, or at least useful, about resistance. Discovering what this is and learning to work with it is key to understanding reluctance to change. After all, change often occurs as a direct result of resistance. Great people, such as Nelson Mandela, are testimony to this.

Resistance can be viewed as alternative, negative, or wrong, but we need to balance this with a healthy view of resistance which points to active engagement rather than placid acceptance. It helps to understand that resistance is a normal response and that trying to avoid any resistance is not helpful. When you accept this, you can respond differently to resistance by anticipating it and working with it.

Why do people appear to resist change?

It can be hard to understand, especially if you're doing everything you can to focus on the benefits. While there are many reasons people resist change, most of these reasons have a common source: fear.

Many of us hold a deep fear of change and doubt our ability to adapt to new expectations. These fears can also be related to loss associated with the change. All change involves loss at some level and this can be difficult to contemplate. Loss associated with change can be very practical - such as loss of work, colleagues, or office environment. Or it can be less obvious, relating to concerns about loss of status, self-esteem, or ability to perform new work.

Understanding and working with colleagues to address the particular fears they have can help them move through the transition curve and feel more positive about it. Real resistance usually only occurs if people's uncertainties and questions regarding proposed changes have not been adequately addressed.

Related behaviours

Signs and symptoms of an adverse reaction to change may include:

  • Unusual flare-ups of emotion including aggression and anger
  • Encouragement and mobilisation of resistance amongst others
  • Self-portrayal as innocent victims of unreasonable expectations
  • Insensitive and disagreeable behaviour
  • Not meeting key performance areas (missing meetings and not responding to emails, for example)
  • Increased absenteeism, late arrivals
  • Not responding, not listening, seeming disinterested
  • Active attempts to disrupt or undermine work / projects

However, each of these don’t necessarily mean that people are opposing change. They might be indicators, but remember they could just as easily be indicators of other issues in the person's life. A conversation with them will help you to understand the cause.

Six strategies for helping your team embrace change

  1. Help them understand the need for change 
    Share information openly. If you help your team see what you see, know what you know, and understand what you understand, they will probably reach the same decision regarding the need for change.
  2. Engage your team in planning the change
    “Those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” Involving your team creates a sense of ownership in the outcome of the plan, resulting in a higher level of engagement and commitment to the success of the plan.
  3. Address the concerns of your team members
    The first stage is information concerns: your people need to know what the change is and why it’s needed. The second stage is personal concerns: team members want to know how the change will impact them individually. The third stage is implementation concerns: How will this happen? What do I need to do? Will there be enough time?
  4. Give the team autonomy and permission to make changes
    Create clear boundaries for what they can influence so that they feel more in control of the change process.
  5. Create emotional moments to help the team “feel it”
    Take time to acknowledge what has been achieved and celebrate the new team or department.
  6. Be open to feedback and changing course
    Responding to feedback defensively by digging in your heels and refusing to listen to others will only cause your team to lose commitment and actually work against the success of the plan, rather than working for it.

Further resources

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Contact and advice

Organisational Development
Sussex House SH-230
01273 075533 (ext 5533)