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The change curve is a very helpful way of understanding the process of change. In this blog you learn about the change curve, the impact of the change curve, stages of the change curve and practical observations of the change curve for leading and managing change.

Whats in it

  1. What is the Change Curve?
  2. Impact of the Change Curve
  3. Stages of the Change Curve
  4. Bargaining and Self-Blame
  5. Practical Observations
  6. Benefits of Change Curve
  7. Conclusion
  8. FAQs

What is the Change Curve?

The Change Curve is a powerful model derived from the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) and we can use it to understand all the stages of personal transition as well as organizational change.

It helps you predict that how people will react to the change so that you can help them make their personal transitions, and also make sure that they have the help and support they need.

Impact of the Change Curve

One very helpful way of understanding the process of change for individuals or groups is the ‘change curve’. Also sometimes referred to as the ‘transition curve’, the ‘coping cycle’ or the ‘human response to change’.

It derives from the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) who observed people in the process of coping. All the changes involve the elements of letting go of the past and encourage to engage with a different future. As a result, the patterns she observed, they offer valuable insights into people facing change.

Other authors – notably Adams, Hayes and Hopson (1976), and Parker and Lewis (1981) – have developed Kübler-Ross’s thinking for various life changes.

The discussion here applies her approach in a way relevant to a variety of change situations. Although some challenges the research applying this model to organizational situations. It remains a helpful way of looking at change.

It is communicated and helps to explain many characteristic patterns of response observed in change processes. The figure shows how personal performance, energy and, characteristically, mood vary through the normal process of human change.

impact-of-the-change-curve

Stages of the Change Curve

 Shock and Denial

After the initial ‘shock’ (1) of being confronted with a change, an individual (or group) often resists engaging with the change as if trying to prove that the change is either unreal or unnecessary.

The burst of additional (defensive) energy characterizes this ‘denial’ phase (2) which tends to increase temporarily both performance and mood.

The shock element is minimized by effective and early communication. If at all possible, involve people in the planning process.

Once you get to know the change, be aware of signs that people are not taking it fully seriously, demonstrating both empathy and firmness of resolve.

Anger and Blame

Assuming the change is real and continue, there comes a point where those who experience the change, they can no longer avoid to engage with it.

And at this point, denial often gives way to anger or blame (3). The idea that ‘It’s not fair!’ may take hold. ‘The management’, ‘the market’, ‘the people in suits’ – always ‘they’ – are blamed for the change.

This is a time for empathy, and to help the people to consider realistically the impact that the changes will have on them individually.

Don’t try to minimize the losses that people will experience – they need to know that the cost of the change to them has been well understood.

Change Curve - Accelerating Change, and Likelihood of Success

Bargaining and Self-Blame

As the mood and performance decline further, blame may turn towards self, and elements of bargaining emerge (4).

In fear of bereavement, people try to do deals with God to preserve the life of their loved one.

Faced with imminent redundancy, people may take on additional work to delay or avert the threat. Personal support and empathy remain important.

An effective response will include effective line management, sharing concerns in peer groups and opportunities to contribute to planning how changes are implemented.

Good active listening can be a powerful tool to help people deal with any unwelcome consequences of change.

Depression and Confusion

The process to this point has been characterized by a drive to hold on to – or to revert to – the existing or former condition. Energy, morale and performance also may fluctuate. 

But, all these relate to the ‘downswing’ side of the curve, between anger/blaming others and self-blame/bargaining. The realization that all such efforts are failing leaves people at their lowest point of performance, energy and morale. 

Similarly, Confusion, sadness, even depression are characteristics of this period (5). Empathy, active listening and good support structures are probably the most effective responses to this phase of change.

Acceptance and Problem Solving

For someone to come through this hard period requires a point of acceptance.

It is the point at which the person accepts at a deep level that change is happening and resolves to address this ‘new future’ (6). 

For significant changes, a person may not reach this point quickly – and in some cases may not reach it at all.

But no real future-oriented behaviour will begin until there is true acceptance of what has changed.

This insight is like the first light of dawn, by which individuals see that they have a future beyond the change. 

Following this point, people start engaging themselves in problem-solving behaviour (7): how I live without my loved one, how I can find a new job, how I can configure this new work system to make my life easier.

This allows people to always try out new approaches, make new discoveries and eventually to integrate these into their new ‘way of being’.

Change Curve - Accelerating Change, and Likelihood of Success

Practical Observations for Leading and Managing Change Curve

First Observation

People sometimes get stuck in one stage, or oscillate between two – often around ‘blame’. Sometimes people regress through this process.

However, the stages it describes – where people progress through them – are normal human responses to change.

Second Observation

The length, as well as the depth of the personal change curve, can be anything from a brief and minor ‘wobble’ (fluctuation) to a major ‘roller-coaster’ lasting for months.

Some factors that tend to affect this length and depth – and the probability of emerging successfully on the upside – include: –

  1. How deeply an individual is affected by the change. Understanding the change from the perspectives of various stakeholders and stakeholder groups is therefore critical.
  2. The personal confidence and resilience of the individual. The contribution of supervisors and local-line managers is vital. They are best to assess how different people are likely to handle the level of change they expect.
  3. The interaction between a change and another one in the life of an individual. Someone who possesses a stable and strong network of friends and family may cope with redundancy better than another person who is currently undergoing a messy family breakup. Again, if supervisors and line managers know their people well, they can help to assess such impacts.
  4. How much control or influence people feel they have over the change. This is why involving people as early as possible, and as deeply as possible, improves the prospects for successful change.

So, Note that this may go a long way towards explaining the relatively small disturbance that follows ‘positive changes’; in many cases, these are changes that we have initiated ourselves and feel more in control of.

Third Observation

The change curve is a function of time. Some apparent ‘resistance’ simply reflects a difference between the position of those announcing a change and those receiving it.

Those announcing the change have had greater involvement in the process to this point, so their personal change curve is shallower and shorter. 

They have also had more time to process the impact of change on themselves. So are typically further through the curve.

So, at the point of the announcement, those receiving the change are right at the start of their curve. Judging their early reactions too harshly as ‘inappropriate resistance’ simply fails to recognize the natural process of human change.

Fourth Observation

When people become angry about the change in general, or about particular aspects of it. And when they blame those announcing the change they are (at least in part) expressing their own process of adjustment to the change. 

Of course, all feedback should be listened to and taken seriously. But anger and blame from the recipients of change do not necessarily evidence that change is being managed badly. It is wise not to take such anger and blame too personally!

Fifth Observation

It is important to note that this characteristic pattern of human response to change remains true for the positive changes in life as well as for unwelcome ones. Most people who have accepted a new ‘dream job’ will be able to trace their experience over the first six months through this curve!

Of course, not everyone will experience these things in exactly the same way, but many will recognize – from their own experience – elements of these descriptions.

Observations based on the ‘change curve’ tell us that people who feel involved in planning or implementing a change show a shallower and shorter decline in morale – and performance – than those who feel that change has been ‘done to’ them. Accordingly, the resistance of all kinds is lowered.

Tip to Handle Change Curve

The change curve is a personal journey. Don’t expect all members of a peer group to experience a change in the manner of synchronized swimmers!

Different personalities, different life experiences, different personal circumstances at the time of the change – all these and more will affect the way that different individuals respond – and how quickly.

Benefits of Change Curve

The change curve is a useful framework for describing the cycle of change. Communication and engagement efforts need to be appropriate to where people are along the change curve and help to support them through the change journey.

Leaders and managers are often unaware of this, and so they can’t align their messages appropriately with the thinking of their teams.

In their enthusiasm to progress with their plans, managers often try to ‘sell and push’ the idea of change, causing even more resistance and anxiety.

Instead, they need to support people through the journey that they themselves have been through.

People need to understand the bigger picture, the wider context, so they can understand the ‘why’ behind the change. They need to make sense of this before they can engage in the process of change.

Conclusion

This article briefly describes the change curve because change curve is a useful framework for describing the cycle of change.

Communication and engagement efforts need to be appropriate to where people are along the change curve and help to support them through the change journey.

FAQs

1. What is the change curve?

One very helpful way of understanding the process of change for individuals or groups is the ‘change curve’, also sometimes the ‘transition curve’, the ‘coping cycle’ or the ‘human response to change’.
The change curve is a useful framework for describing the cycle of change. Communication and engagement efforts need to be appropriate to where people are along the change curve and help to support them through the change journey.

2. What is the Kubler Ross Change Curve?

One very helpful way of understanding the process of change for individuals or groups is the ‘change curve’. Also sometimes referred to as the ‘transition curve’, the ‘coping cycle’ or the ‘human response to change’.
It derives from the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) who observed people in the process of coping. Change Curve tells us that people who feel involved in planning or implementing a change show a shallower and shorter decline in morale and performance than those who feel that change has been ‘done to’ them. Accordingly, the resistance of all kinds is lowered.

3. What are the five stages of change?

Te five stages of change are-
1. Shock and denial
2. Anger and blame
3. Bargaining and self-blame
4. Depression and confusion
5. Acceptance and problem solving

4. Who developed the change curve?

It derives from the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) who observed people in the process of coping with death and bereavement.

5. What are the benefits of Change Curve?

The change curve is a useful framework for describing the cycle of change. Communication and engagement efforts need to be appropriate to where people are along the change curve and help to support them through the change journey.