Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Change Curve

“Change Curve is a concept often misunderstood and mis-applied frequently, even by major players in change arena.”

The Change Curve is an adaptation of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s - five-stage theory that seeks to explain how people deal with catastrophic personal loss (e.g. loss of a job, freedom, finances, status, identity) or grief (loss of a loved one). The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

It has also been observed that personal change can be somewhat like personal loss and, therefore, the model has been applied to change. Indeed, I have seen it stated, more or less as fact, that when people change they need to be helped along this curve. I’ve also seen it reduced to four (that way it fits nicely in a matrix) and three stages. But wait a minute. Let’s not let the facts get in the way of a nice model that has had little empirical testing in its own right, and particularly in relation to organizational change.

1. Kübler-Ross "stated that people do not necessarily go through all of the stages, and if they do, it can be in any order". Indeed, people can experience a whole range of emotions at different times during grief.

2. Change is not always experienced as loss. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s a break with the old way of doing things.
It’s liberating. Some people love it, and some just want it to stay far far away, over there and affect somewhere else. Hence the reason why change is considered synonymous with grief?

The five-stage model is useful, but it is not the be and end all. Truth be told, you still need to truly understand how people really experience change.

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