Change in today’s turbulent business environment, is a constant and a regular experience. It [change] is endemic, rapid, and often has significant implications. Change has become the norm rather than the exception and leading organizations through fundamental change processes poses a major challenge to management.

Research suggest that people respond emotionally to change in one of several ways (1) with negative reactions in terms of stress, anxiety and loss; (2) with resistance due to an individual(s) inability or unwillingness to change; (3) a lack of understanding the reasons for change or (4) with anger, frustration and guilt in connection with “survivor syndrome” after downsizing.

Individual Response to Change

During times of significant change to organizational strategies and structures, employees can experience high levels of stress as their jobs, areas of responsibility and roles also change. Prior to the implementation of these strategies, however, organizations must empower employees to adopt the role of “change agent” and encourage them to take action to solve the problems that stress them. At the individual level, employees can respond to the stress created by organizational change by using problem- and emotion-focused solutions.

Most management experts agree that people tend to be uncomfortable with change. Change means giving up the security of a known situation, with familiar routines, old friends and an established role, for something different and new. It means risking a current situation for an unknown one. Managing change effectively requires an understanding of the variables at play, and adequate time must be allowed for adjustments.

The Emotional Stages of Change

Organizational change has an element of loss inherent in the process, and it is a loss that is often deeply felt by employees. Four emotional states experienced throughout the change process may be expressed by employees in behaviors that are obstacles to the process of change. By understanding the emotions employees often encounter during change, you will be better prepared to facilitate the change process.

The Kubler - Ross Grief Model addresses four emotional issues associated with change.

Denial. At this stage individuals believe that they can ignore the change. They may feel that it will not happen or that it will not affect them.

Unresolved fears about the change initiative need to be addressed during this phase. Fear and mistrust need to be replaced by acceptance. To be an effective, an organization should encourage acceptance to change by initiating trust-building activities.

Resistance. At this stage individuals may try to prevent the change from taking place. They may actively resist it, putting up barriers or refusing to engage with it.

During this stage you must be able to spot resistance when it occurs and formulate sound strategies for overcoming it.

Exploration. If employees are unable to stop the changes from occurring, they begin to explore their new roles.

During the exploring stage, it is important that unresolved issues that continue to surface be addressed. Be alert for employees who remain angry about the change initiative. Those individuals should be counseled at the first sign of falling back to old behaviors. If trust has been created among the group, then peer influence can be used to encourage behavioral change.

Commitment. Here people have let go of the past and begin to investigate what the change means for them. This is when people accept and own the change. It becomes the normal way of working and people at this stage may become advocates of the benefits of the change.

Implementing Change Agents

Individuals are more apt to support change if they are ready to make changes. This means they believe in the changes, have the time and energy to invest in the changes, and your organization is ready to help them support the changes. High energetic, positive individuals are known as “Change Agents” to the organization. Change agents have an ability to help people come to terms with change and make the change process easier. Change agents understand their organization and its culture. Above all, they believe in the benefits of change and its positive advantages. Change Agents are identified as:

Innovators (ready for change) are often seen as adventurers and risk-takers, but may not command respect from colleagues.

Early adopters (positive about change) are generally respected and act as opinion leaders. They tend to have a favorable attitude to change, and an ability to cope with uncertainty and risk. They usually have good networks that stretch beyond their immediate work base. They are also information seekers.

The early majority (open to change) consider change carefully before deciding to follow opinion leaders.

Overcoming Resistance to Change (Change Management Plan)

There are several suggested ways top level staff and identified“change agents” can assist employees in overcoming resistance to change:

1. Education and communication

Resistance to change is often based on inaccurate or inadequate information. People need to understand why the change is needed and what benefits it will bring, both to the organization and to themselves as individuals. During times of uncertainty communication voids are filled with rumors. By providing specific information to everyone at the same time, rumors can be minimized. When communicating, communicate only the facts- Effective communication lowers stress and anxiety. Not communicating to employees when implementing change programs is the worst mistake a company can make.

2. Participation and involvement

Involving people in both planning and implementing the change can help to overcome their resistance. Proper consultation that includes listening and responding to objections and suggestions about the change is a powerful method of reducing resistance and increasing support. It is a way of helping people gain some control over the change they are experiencing, and thus helping them to cope with change.

3. Facilitation and support

Change may demand new skills and new working practices. Those who are affected need to develop their skills through training and development. People can become anxious and stressed during change, so they may require extensive support and practical help, such as time off or reduced duties, where necessary.

Team leadership

Vision and leadership drive successful change. As the change agent, first you must create a vision of the future that is capable of focusing the group’s energy. The vision should contrast what is, with what can be and it must be comprehensive enough to direct attention at how to bridge the gap to the future. Implemented change must become a core organizational value using internal and external customer feedback to develop organizational improvements and other external feedback.

One of the deciding factors in the success of any team in achieving its goals lies in the strength its leadership. Change is often greeted by resistance in its initial stages; the teams that have been established to manage change may themselves be resistant to the measures they are trying to implement. Strong leadership and constant reassurance, coupled with constant reiteration of the team’s goals, vision and mission are necessary to overcome resistance.

Leaders can implement and influence positive change to ensure that the team’s tasks are achieved.

• Set clear success criteria

• Co-ordinate the team’s activities so that work is neither duplicated or missed out

• Encourage commitment to the team’s tasks

• Keep the team focused on the project at hand

• Draw in outside expertise when necessary

• Enable decision-making

Call to Action

Change must be continually managed to yield sustained results. Measurement provides a way to track progress. An effective measurement system would be specific, simple to understand, creative and involve both managers and employees. The results should be visually displayed so that employees can track their progress.

A consistent process of measuring the results of the change initiative combined with a rewards program that reinforces the desired behavior is the backbone of an effective change program. When teams are managed well, they can prove a formidable force for implementing change and making it acceptable across the organization.

1^Burke, W. Warner, and Bill Trahant,Traveling Through Transitions, Training & Development, 1996, 50, 37 - 41.
2^Buchel, Mary, Accelerating Change, Training & Development, 1996, 50, 48 - 51. D’Aveni, Richard A., Hypercompetition: Managing the Dynamics of Strategic Maneuvering, New York: The Free Press, 1994
3^Copyright 1999 by the Credit Research Foundation.

Author's Bio: 

For the past 10+ years Taras has addressed whole person management; mind, body, spirit, to include negative emotions associated with stress. Her service differential is to educate, inspire, and integrate life coaching and wellness programs as an alternative to traditional diagnosis and treatment.

Her specialties include: Stress Management, Emotional Well-being, Aromatherapy, and Breath work.

Taras' honors include: Masters of Public Administration (Public Health); Credentialed Holistic Health Practitioner, Certified Holistic Stress Management Specialist, Life
Coach, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist, and Clinical Aroma therapist.