As a change agent the way to help people through change is to first acknowledge that people go through a set of emotions that affect how they respond to the change. It is also important to recognise that most won’t ‘just get on with it’ without some level of involvement or support.
A simple model often used to describe these emotions is the change curve. There are many versions of this but I’m going to use the model referenced in The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook. This notes 7 stages of change: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance and Problem Solving.
Stages of change
At each of the early stages (shock, denial, anger, bargaining) an individual may resist the change by not engaging, being defensive or blaming others or themselves. Throughout these early stages acknowledging feelings is crucial so you can work through these together. Communicate early, involve people, show empathy as you consider the impact change may actually have on them. Also think carefully not just about what may be gained but what the individuals may lose or leave behind. Many focus on the benefits and pay little attention to the losses but one loss may disrupt a change more than several gains may help it.
As people move to depression they may try to hold onto things. They’ll often cycle through denial, anger and depression recognising that things are changing around them. The role of the change agent here is to listen. This stage often requires extra support and may last longer that anticipated. People may need emotional support from specialists.
At some point, for most, acceptance is reached, although it may take time to get here. People begin to ask reaching questions addressing the future (problem solving).
Keep people engaged by involving them in helping to resolve some of the questions arising. Make them feel part of the change rather than being a receiver of the change.
At each stage there is a crucial role for those managing change to play, without which failure to change is inevitable.