Change Management and Change Management Models

Introduction to Change, change management and change management models

For any organizational development (OD) intervention to be effective, change needs to be lead or at the very least managed.

Many organizations focus on the project management aspects of change. While this is an important factor – it is not the critical factor. People are. Having said that, it is about balancing the development or change of both at the same time – see our business growth model.

Change Management and Change Management Models

Change Management and Change Management Models

Often when undertaking change processes in organizations we focus on the process, the project management.  Usually when change fails, it fails because we have not taken into account the impact change has on the individuals concerned from a psychological perspective.

When you are researching or talking to others about change remember the three important leadership rules:

Rule #1 – People are different

Rule #2 – People are different

Rule #3 – people are different

Each person will react in their unique way. Some will embrace change, others will accept and some will reject.  It is down to Paretos 80:20 – the question is – what is it for you and the change you are expecting to manage?

Generally every piece of change management activity we undertake, we work on a change framework – 20:60:20 (yes a wild assumption but a great place to start.


Supportive & positive
towards change

On the fence – need leadership in the context of change

Negative towards change

Where 20% will be positive and supportive of the proposed change, 20% will reject the change out of hand, and we need to worth with the 60%.  In most organizations we spend our time with the ‘bottom’ 20% – well they will sap the time and energy from you – so chose your strategy carefully! Of course this is only a crude rule of thumb and not scientific in any way – but a good hypothesis to start from. Any change intervention needs to be owned at the top but implemented in an appropriate way throughout the organisation – sometime top down, other times bottom up, depending on the structure and existing culture of the organisation. In some structures you will use verticals or horizontals to deliver the message effectively.

Habits and the impact on change and change management

As people we learn habits. Habits are formed when we do repetitive tasks, they are formed to help us cope with the wide variety of data (information) presented to us on a daily basis.  It is too much to cope with at a conscious level. Any change management intervention need to take this into account.

To cope with the variety over time we form habits. These habits may be simple routines like the order we get dressed in the mornings, the first few minutes in the work place – coffee, tea etc. It may even be the order in which we talk to people.  When this structure or order is changed – it impacts us in many ways. It is often the simple changes to routines like this that cause individuals them most problems.  It is not the fact that a desk may be now facing a different direction or on another floor in the building that is the issue – it is the break in the pattern that has been enforced on an individual.  It is the little things that take time to resolve.

As human beings we can often deal with the big changes easily – it is the little things that cause us more difficulty!

When change is ‘imposed’ on people, that is they feel they have little ownership in the decision, they often feel out of control. As organizational development or change agents we need to help this process.

Please note that as humans we all have a choice – we can engage with the change or we can leave. As organizational development (OD) professionals we need to recognize this as a legitimate strategy. We cannot and should not force change on people, our role should be to enable change and to encourage people to mage a choice or decision.

The models shown on this page can help individuals recognize that what they are experiencing is ‘normal’ and that this is often a process that they need to go through.  Some people will go through the process quickly – others more slowly.

Why change management fails (Kotter)

In his book “Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management“, Kotter lists the following as the main reasons why change fails:

  • Allowing to much complexity
  • Failing to build a substantial coalition
  • Understanding the need for a clear vision
  • Failing to clearly communicate the vision
  • Permitting roadblocks against the vision
  • Not planning and getting short-term wins
  • Declaring victory too soon
  • Not anchoring changes in corporate culture

So the real reason why change fails – people… see the three rules at the top of this page.

Many change management models

There are many change management models, the most common one is the Kubler Ross transition (grief) cycle. Originally titled ‘The 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News’ these stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The Kubler Ross change theory is well grounded in academic research within clinical environments, however little research has been undertaken in the business change management environment.

As an example, apply the 5 stages to a ‘traumatic’ event most all of us have experienced:

The Dead Car Battery.

Its winter and a cold morning. Its dark outside with a crisp frost under foot. You’re going to be late to work so you rush out to your car, open the door and you place the key in the ignition and turn it on. You hear nothing; the battery is dead. What happens next neatly demonstrates transition phases:

  • Denial – What’s the first thing you do? You try to start it again! And again. You may check to make sure the radio, heater, lights, etc. are off and then…, try again.
  • Anger – !$%&*@~$! car!, I should have junked you years ago. Did you slam your hand on the steering wheel?
  • Bargaining – (realizing that you’re going to be late for work)…, Oh please car, if you will just start one more time I promise I’ll buy you a brand new battery, get a tune up, new tires, clean you, and keep you in perfect working condition.
  • Depression – Oh God, what am I going to do. I’m going to be late for work. I give up. My job is at risk and I don’t really care any more. What’s the use.
  • Acceptance – Ok. It’s dead. Guess I had better call the breakdown service or find another way to work. Time to get on with things; I’ll deal with this later.

This is not as trivial an example, although at first glance it may appear so. In fact, we all go through this (or a similar) process numerous times a day. A dead battery, the loss of a parking space, a wrong number, the loss of a pet, a job, a move to another city, an overdrawn bank account, etc.

I am not suggesting for one minute that we need to provide grief counselors for all changes – but to be aware that as a human being we have a mechanism and we do use it to varying extents in our day to day life. If we as change agents know this we can make sure that people that do experience some of these stages have the information readily available to enable them to progress at a pace that is right for them.

Most write ups of this model in recent years has focused on grief, while this is great for doctors and councilors, it is not helpful in business. Any theory or model needs to be used in a similar context to the one in which it was first identified or developed for maximum effectiveness.

Business use of Change Management Models

In business I have found that while the Kubler Ross grief model is a valuable change management model, staff and managers find it ‘difficult’ to understand and relate to… so I often use a simplified version with only four stages:

  • Denial
  • Resistance
  • Exploration
  • Acceptance or Commitment

The graphical version is listed below. I occasionally change the last one from commitment to acceptance depending on the ‘depth’ of change, and the reaction I see in participants. I encourage the ‘users’ of the model create their own words. When they own the model they are more likely to use it.

Change management cycle model

A Simple Personal Change Management Model

Encouraging people to create their own labels for each of the four stages in the change model helps them to own the change model. If they own the model they are more likely to use it.

Remind them that these types of reactions to change are common. In fact we all react like this to a greater or lesser extent. It is normal. Understanding the fact that they are/ might be having an emotional reaction to a logical proposal is a big step for many people. Some times we will go through the stages quickly, other times more slowly. Sometimes we may be going through several change processes at one time, so will be in different places on the curve depending on the change. Often at the same time!

Remember this is only a model – not reality of change and the psychological impacts on a give individual.  The change management model provides a vehicle for use to engage a conversation – no more.

If you would like any more information on the use of the change management model or how we have integrated it into our organizational and culture change products please contact us or visit our diagnostics page.

Other change management models and theories include:

The ADKAR model for individual change management was developed by Prosci. This model describes five required building blocks for change to be realized successfully on an individual level. The building blocks of the ADKAR Model include:

  1. Awareness – of why the change is needed
  2. Desire – to support and participate in the change
  3. Knowledge – of how to change
  4. Ability – to implement new skills and behaviors
  5. Reinforcement – to sustain the change

John Kotter has set out an eight-step strategy for change management:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency.
  2. Create the guiding coalition.
  3. Develop a vision and strategy.
  4. Communicate the change vision.
  5. Empower employees for broad-based action.
  6. Generate short-term wins.
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change.
  8. Anchor new approaches in the culture.

Other change management models and adaptations

There are many ways of graphically representing a psychological  ‘change curve’. below are a few variations.

When working with individuals and teams undergoing change, it is not the actual model used that is important, but that the individuals see it is relevant to them.  The best change facilitators use the one which best matches the culture of the organization they are working with at the time.

Kubler-Ross change curve transition model

Kubler Ross Change or Transition Curve – Grief based

eight 8 step change curve transition model

Variation of the Kubler Ross Change or Transition Curve

Seven 7 step transition change curve model with loops

Variation of the Kubler Ross Change or Transition Curve

Change management continuum model

Change Management Continuum

Kurt Lewin Change model - Unfreeze, change, refreeze

Lewin Change Model – Unfreeze – Change – Freeze

If you would like any more information on the use of the change models or how we have integrated it into our organizational and culture change products please contact us or visit our diagnostics page.

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Please note the change management models and theories here are provided for educational purposes only. No copyright is assumed.

Keywords: change management, managing change, psychology of change, change model, psychological model, psychological theory, intervention, initiative, process, culture, structure


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  1. Mike Morrison says:

    Random entry from my site- Pls RT

  2. Nerissa J Williams says:

    Change management and Change management models –

  3. Deb Mason says:

    Change management and Change management models –

  4. EN/Persona says:

    Change management and Change management models –

  5. Change management and Change management models

  6. Change management and Change management models

  7. “@RapidBI: Overview of the kubler-ross change curve.
    I have an article here #cipdod”Thanks, really useful!

  8. Overview of the kubler-ross change curve.
    I have an article here #cipdod

  9. “@RapidBI: Overview of the kubler-ross change curve.
    I have an article here #cipdod”Thanks, really useful!

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