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Stages of the Change Curve

written by: Sidharth Thakur • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 9/18/2010

The change curve has four stages, and for a manager it’s important to understand the dynamics of each of these stages in order to make the process of change easier and smoother.

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    The Simplicity of a Change Curve with Four Stages

    Although there is no dearth of change management models, the simplest and the most practical change management model identifies just four stages of the change curve. Despite its simplicity, it has gained universal acceptance in the field of change management. Mangers and employees find it easier to understand and relate to these simple four stages of the change process.

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    The Change Curve

    Change is never smooth and easy; it involves a lot of turbulence and thus if it is to be represented graphically it can never be a straight line. As soon as a change is proposed stress and negative emotions rise to a peak before the change gets acceptance and normalcy is restored. It’s important for a project manager to understand the change curve and the typical reactions that can be seen during the different stages of the change process. The change curve is best represented as an inverted ‘U”, with time on the X-axis and emotional intensity on the Y-axis. At the peak of the change curve a slow down in the productivity is seen resulting from the heightened stress and uncertainty. But as the team members realize the importance and the beneficial aspects of the proposed change, their acceptance to the new norms brings down the emotional upheaval and the work progress gets back to normal. A change curve goes through four noticeable stages, and here’s more information on each of these stages.

    Stages Of a Change Curve 

    Screenshot Taken By: Sidharth Thakur

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    The Four Stages of the Change Curve

    Denial

    For most people in denial change is not easy to accept, and they react to change with a shock. In the first place most people do not believe that the change is happening for real and try to ignore thinking and talking about it. This denial is mostly on an internal level and to avoid showing off the denial people focus their attention on anything but the change. Since change is interpreted as uncertainty, people shift their attention to the past and familiar feelings that make them feel secure. This shift causes a dip in the morale of the team members. At this stage it is for the leader to help the people to understand what is happening and how it affects them. Keeping them informed and familiarizing them with what is happening helps in building up a sense of security.

    Resistance

    Resistance to change begins as people realize that the change is actually taking place and there is no way to avoid it. During this stage of the change curve feelings like anger, self-doubt, fear and anxiety can build up, which can significantly stagger the progress of the change process, besides causing the morale and productivity to take a nosedive. This emotional mayhem is because people are being pushed out of their comfort zone. Arguments, blame game, and non-cooperation are some ways in which the team members may show their resistance to the change. The leader’s role, here, should be to lend an ear to the team member’s concerns, demystify the myths and fads surrounding the change, empathize with them and to encourage them to pass through this stage.

    Exploration

    The next stage of the change curve is the exploration phase where the team members leave out their arguments and instead become a part of it. This is where people start acting and learning new ways so as to constructively contribute towards the change. A fresh wave of thinking sets in where people understand the rationality of the change process and the importance of their role in the change process. What’s worth noting here is that even though people may have started contributing towards the change they may still not have completely accepted the change at this stage. It’s mostly an explorative stage where people are experimenting with the change to find out what is in store for them, in the overall change process. This stage can stretch on if the leader doesn’t intervene and help the team members to participate actively and provide them with the knowledge and training that will make them feel comfortable and secure in their new roles.

    Commitment

    Commitment is the final stage of the change curve, when productivity and emotional normalcy would have been completely restored. The team members feel more in control as they settle down into their new roles. Work activities return to normal as team members begin to co-operate whole heartedly. It’s important for the leader to acknowledge and reward the team members for their active contributing, so as to keep them motivated and committed.


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