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Implementing change in any organization is a task of herculean proportions. Restructuring a business or even just introducing new tools and processes creates tremendous resistance.
The key to successful change management is preparation and communication. And a useful framework to address change is by working with the Kübler-Ross change curve.
In this post, we’ll break down how leaders can leverage communication to manage change along the different stages of the change curve. This will create lower resistance to change and help employees navigate their new work processes easily.
Let’s get started.
The Kübler-Ross change curve was originally created to show how people reacted to a diagnosis of terminal illness. It explains how people go through different stages of grief before arriving at acceptance.
But today, the change curve is commonly accepted as a framework that helps businesses manage reactions to change within an organization.
Image source: shutterstock
To visualize the change curve imagine an upside-down bell shape. The curve starts with a slightly flattened top, dips down, before turning upwards and flattening out again. The curve reflects the different stages of emotions people go through:
These stages don’t have to be in this exact order.
They represent changes that happen and for the purpose of this post, we’ll group some of these stages. We’ll also approach ways to manage change in your business with communication and other strategies.
In major business overhauls such as restructuring or mergers and acquisitions, employees will feel shock and denial. This is a phase where performance and productivity starts to dip. If there is a lack of information i.e. if the change is announced without any indication of it coming, experiencing surprise and fear is normal.
Denial can appear as resistance to the announced changes. People may question why such changes were necessary at all and may state that the existing way of doing things were fine.
These emotions are normal and resistance needs to be met with empathy from those in leadership positions. Your employees are dealing with the unknown and questions of job endangerment.
How to best manage this?
To start with, try to involve your employees in the change management process itself. You need to make your employees aware of an oncoming change as early as possible and to do so with reasonable transparency.
During this stage where you’re creating awareness, collect employee feedback on their feelings about change. This will form the baseline information against which you can compare feedback collected further down the line.
Another approach is to directly involve your employees by asking them for ideas. You can create special channels on internal messaging platforms for ideas. Form tools are also great ways to get information from people.
By communicating potential changes early on and involving your employees early, you cushion the initial shock and make this stage shorter.
Once people realize that change is underway, denial gives way to anger and the desire to blame someone. During this time, conflict at work can arise as well as a continued drop in productivity. As people manage the newly implemented changes, the discomfort will lead to confusion and resistance.
Be aware that people may look for scapegoats in the form of a leader, the business itself and in their own peers.
The lowest point of the change curve is depression. Here, change is accepted but is held in a negative light. Performance and morale are likely to reach their lowest points.
As a leader, you need to turn this into an opportunity to bond. Create online communities within your organization to help people share information and support each other. Learning that people are in this together will alleviate negative feelings.
You need to be proactive and lead the conversation by focusing on the positive aspect of change.
Schedule posts and create content in a micro-blogging fashion. You can also send emails and share social media posts that are informative, positive, and thought provoking.
Once the lowest part of the change curve, the depression stage, starts to ease, people begin to adapt to the new workflows and changes. There can be a rise in optimism which gives way to living with the ‘new normal’.
At the stage of acceptance, you can create momentum and help grow it into excitement. Use this time to offer training and skill development opportunities. This will help your employees feel proficient and able to grow with the changes happening.
Use collaboration tools for people to help each other. In my brand, employees use Slack channels to ask questions. People join channels that are not necessarily related to their work or team and the entire company offers insights and solutions to problems that anyone may have.
Change is difficult in the best of circumstances.
You need to act from your position of authority and lead the change with communication strategies.
Your employees will rely on you for information. Anything less than transparent, honest, and timely information will lead to a low morale and bring performance down.
A study by MIT found that when digital transformation was discussed with employees, 93% of them were supportive. However, only 36% of CEOs communicate the vision in a comprehensive and compelling way.
Here’s what you should keep in mind to make your communication strategies more effective.
Create desire for change
Creating a desire for change in employees is a hard task but this should kept in the top of your mind when implementing a communication strategy. Focus on the positive outcomes and keeping sharing things to look forward to during meetings, in internal emails, and your internal messaging platforms.
Communicate a vision
When you have a powerful vision that speaks to your employees beliefs, you can create a desire for change. A vision for a better organization, improved employee relations, better customer support and more will engage your employees at a deep level.
Make a communication plan
Now that we’ve looked at what the curve change is, you have a fair idea of the kind of changes you’ll see in employee morale during the entire period.
Stay ahead of the curve and build content and plan how you’ll communicate with people at every step. Preparation is half the work and will allow you to be more present to troubleshoot problems as changes take place.
Set up goals and measurable objectives in line with building awareness and creating a desire for change. You can aim for a minimum response to employee feedback forms. Achieving a certain employee satisfaction score and other KPIs to track how people are dealing with change.
Collect employee feedback
Throughout the change process, continuous feedback loops are important. You can use social media, feedback forms, and anonymous platforms to allow your employees to express what they feel. Focus on understanding your employees’ feelings and to communicate effectively when you identify pain points.
Remember to also give feedback to your employees. They need to know what their position is during change. Research on employee retention shows that just 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work. And 79% of employees state that “lack of appreciation” compels them to leave even good jobs.
Revise your strategy
Remember to keep monitoring and changing how your communication efforts work. When you see resistance, see if you can tweak your message or adopt an entirely different approach.
Revising your communication strategy is key to a healthy change process.
Change is essential because it ensures that your business grow alongside technological and economic developments. However, once a culture is in place and work processes are embedded, creating change will lead to resistance.
There are helpful frameworks and approaches that will enable us to manage such changes. The Kübler-Ross framework for grief gives helpful guidelines that can be leveraged to manage change in a business.
The goal is not apply the framework directly but to use it as a guideline for what to expect. We’ve also outlined several ways to address each stage. As expected, communication forms the most important feature. By using the points made in this post, you’ll have a better handle on change management and keep your employees happy.
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