CHANGE is a common aspect of life in many organisations today. Behind this simple statement lie countless individual stories of worry and fear, confusion and anger, excitement and possibility.
Understanding the Change Curve and subsequent Transition Curve is a helpful way to relate to the change process.
Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross worked with terminally ill cancer patients.
In her book, On Death and Dying, she introduced the notion of five stages of grief: denial (this isn’t happening to me); anger (who’s to blame for this? (Why me?); bargaining (if I can live till my daughter’s wedding); depression (I am too sad to do anything); and acceptance (I’m at peace with what is coming).
The Transition Curve
In an article called Beyond the Peter Principle—Managing Successful Transitions, Ralph Lewis and Chris Parker describe a transition curve that includes seven stages experienced by someone who has been promoted. This can serve as a model to help make sense of other experiences of change or loss.
Lewis and Parker’s seven stages are:
1. Immobilisation or shock: a sense of being overwhelmed;
2. Denial of change: minimising or trivialising the change;
3. Incompetence and depression: with flat performance, frustration, and difficulty in coping;
4. Accepting reality: letting go of the past and accepting the situation;
5. Testing: trying new approaches and behaviours;
6. Search for meaning, internalisation: a reflective period with an attempt to understand all that has happened; and
7. Integration: incorporating new meanings into new and enhanced behaviours.
The Seven Stages in a Newly Promoted Manager
Stage 1: Shock
This first phase describes the reaction when the individual initially encounters the new situation. Shock or surprise arises from the mismatch between the way in which the individual manager believes things might be, and the way that they actually are. Confidence dips in this first phase as a result of the impact of experiencing the new set of circumstances.
Stage 2: Denial
Following the shock stage comes a period of denial during which the individual makes his or her own conclusions about the new situation in order to minimise the dissonance experienced in the first phase. In order to “cope” with this change, the manager may try to deny the reality of the change and rely on past behaviours as “what worked well in the past will work in the future”.
Stage 3: Awareness
The third stage brings with it a greater awareness of his or her real level of competence in relation to the required level. This is an important phase as the individual becomes emotionally engaged in the situation, and so this time is frequently marked by feelings of frustration or confusion about how to handle the change process.
Stage 4: Acceptance
The downward move in competence and confidence stops when the manager recognises and accepts the reality of the new situation. It requires letting go of attitudes and behaviours that were effective only for the old situation.
Stage 5: Testing
The identification of new behaviours is followed by the phase of starting to test them out. These new behaviours may be effective and achieve the desired outcome but at other times, the manager may need to work harder to practise or “polish” his or her new abilities.
Stage 6: Search For Meaning
Learning from his or her success and failure helps the individual start to search for meaning in the new situation. This stage involves a questioning of why certain behaviours are effective, and why others may be ineffective.
Stage 7: Integration
The final stage is characterised by the individual taking ownership of his or her recently acquired behaviours, thereby increasing their sense of confidence and competence to a level higher than before.