Joe stumbles upon an accounting tool which provides innovative features which he believes everyone on the team will love(but will they really?).

Joe, the director of an accounting firm has been handling a large team which has been primarily been working on excel sheets. He purchases the tool, ensures all the documentation for training and rolls it out expecting the team members to thank him for the amazing tool.

However, the team totally hates the tool and everyone seems to complain about the tool. Joe has no clue why.

Before we talk about others, let me start with this question.

How would you react to change?

The change could be anything as simple as changing the location of your work table or something as significant as relocating to a different country. Now think how would another member of your family react to the same change. Hold that thought for now.

Let us take for example any change in personal life or at work, like moving to a new house, going through a breakup or taking up a new job. The change could either be positive or negative.

You could possibly be loving the change or hating it, but your brain is still not very comfortable accepting it. Maybe your new job is fantastic, but you hate the commute to work or few of the responsibilities that the role forces you to carry out.

The bottom line is, change is disruptive and puts your brain out of its comfort zone.

You might consider yourself a highly adaptable and flexible person. You could even be a great leader who knows how to handle change well, however as per science, change is not welcomed by the human brain.

Even if you have gotten into a relationship with your long-time crush, you might be loving the change but your brain and body still need time adapting to it. This is the truth and there is nothing one can do to change it. This does not mean that change should never be implemented.

While changes are crucial for business success, so is the need to manage the change effectively.

Let us talk about how change impacts work with the business example of Joe. The online tool which provides centralization for the whole team serves as a repository so that records are not lost, provides so many other impressive features which were never available to his team before. He truly believed this will make the life of all his team members easier and boost productivity in no time and all excited about the upcoming days.

Suddenly, surprise surprise, people still persist in their old ways. The improvements that he was expecting are nowhere in sight.What is more surprising is that the team seems to be disrupted and annoyed, with productivity taking a downward spiral. From his perspective, it seems absurd that people are still sticking to their old ways when the new alternative is far superior and easier.

Does this ring a bell?

It happens far more often than you think. Welcome to the change curve management. The problems that you are facing has nothing to do with the new tool or the features that come with it. The underlying issue is that the change was not handled correctly. Not always do human beings act rationally even if the benefits seem obvious from an external perspective.

As a leader, it is important to recognize how people react to a change and here are a few initial pointers.
• Change is upsetting and disruptive, irrespective of how beneficial it can be to the team members itself
• Everyone looks at change differently(definitely way different than how you look at it)
• Different people adopt change differently
• It is necessary & normal for everyone(including yourself) to go through the change curve

This brings us to how exactly the Change Curve is.

Imagine a vertical line right in between which divides the curve into two parts. The first two phases are considered the left side of the curve and the next two the right. The target is to have your team on the right side of the curve.

Stage 1(Shock or Denial):

This is the stage at which the employees may be in a position of shock or denial. This is in most cases the first stage and is usually short-lived. He or she may not be able to digest the fact that he/she has to undergo change and adapt to something new.

Some might put on an invisible protective barrier around them denying the need for the change itself. Employees might even act as if the change has not even happened and work in their old ways. While this is expected to be short-lived, some people might linger in this phase for too long, fail to accept reality and refuse to budge beyond this stage.

Stage 2(Resistance):

When finally the gravity of the situation settles in, and reality becomes clear, employees or workers have a sense of fear kicking in about what lies ahead. What starts with fear transforms into anger and resentment while oscillating back and forth.

They have been in a comfort zone for so long and knowing that they need to learn, change and adapt may make them angry. They now are no longer in denial. The reality of the change has sunk in and they are hating all the changes it is forcing them to undergo.

This is the most dangerous phase which leaders need to handle carefully. If this is mismanaged, it can lead to complete chaos and disruption of the team which might be hard to recover from.

Stage 3(Exploration):

When employees finally understand the change and realize how they must adapt to new situations and circumstances, they may try to find the best possible scenario for them to fit in and adapt to. They may try to bargain with the management so that not a lot is compromised. This is the turning point where people are considered to be on the right side of the curve. The anger and resentment seem to diffuse away and people are trying to explore various ways to work with the change both for themselves and the team.

A word of caution here: a person may slip back to stage 2 even after stepping into stage 3. Just because someone showed signs of being in stage 3 does not mean that the person would only move forward.

Stage 4(Commitment):

Congratulations! This stage is the one you have been waiting for! This is where the changes start to become second nature, and people embrace the improvements to the way they work. As someone managing the change, you’ll finally start to see the benefits you worked so hard for. Your team or organization starts to become productive and efficient, and the positive effects of change become apparent. Very rarely do people move from this phase back to the left side of the curve.

How do we deal with the change curve as leaders? One of the first steps that can be taken is before the change is even rolled out. If your employees can be involved in the overall change and their inputs are taken into consideration, the change is accepted better. However, not in every case can the employees be involved in the decision and in most cases even if it is possible, it is only a small subset of the total.

Whenever possible, involve key people in the discussion about the change. Any change which comes as a surprise is far more disruptive.

In situations where change is necessary but inputs of people cannot be considered, try giving people a sense of the change that is coming in bits and parts. When people are involved in the decisions and the process around the change, the change is not resented as much. The people involved in the change also propagate this to their hierarchy and surroundings making things smoother for the overall team.

Let us assume that the change was announced as a surprise to everybody. Here is how you identify and take the corresponding action based on which stage the particular employee is in. This is also necessary even if you had people involved in the change beforehand.

Stage 1 (Shock or Denial):

Identification: Look out for people using terms like

  • The change does not affect me
  • The whole thing will blow up soon
  • I won’t worry about this change

Action:

  • Know that denial is normal and expected
  • Provide people time
  • Don’t try to move people to commit directly, you will make it worse

Stage 2(Resistance):

Identification: Look out for people using terms like

  • We already tried that, didn’t work
  • We’re too busy
  • We’re waiting for input
  • When I tried X on the new system, it crashed(Pointing failures of the change)

Action:

  • Allow team members to themselves feel resistance
  • Talk as a team about the resistance
  • Focus on what lies ahead, not the past
  • Don’t try to talk people out of resistance with logic because people will not understand
  • Just listen to people and their concerns

Stage 3(Exploration):

Identification: Look out for people using terms like

  • Let me see what I can do about this
  • I have some ideas about this
  • Maybe there is a way to do this
  • We can make it work if we work together

Actions:

  • Wait it out. Not everyone will enter the exploration phase at the same time
  • People move up and down between resistance and exploration. So keep an eye if people are swinging between the left and right side of the curve.
  • Everyone needs their own planning in exploration, so always offer to help when possible without forcing it.

Stage 4(Commitment):

Identification: Look out for people using terms like

  • I have come a long way with this change
  • I won’t go back to the way things were before
  • I have learned many things in this change

Actions:

  • Celebrate
  • Do something fun
  • Prepare people for the next change
  • Be aware that change will not end there

It is important to realize the impact of handling a change and the difference that it makes.

A well handled change leads to innovation and a stronger team, while the same change when handled poorly can lead to complete chaos.

The leader plays the most important role on how a team or an organization reacts to change. Next time you plan to roll a change out to your team, do not forget to handle the change curve well.

If only Joe had been a little more prudent and taken the required steps to incorporate the change, the team would have utilized the tool and productivity and results would have been growing by now.

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