Monthly Archives: September 2010

Change is not Death… So Long D-A-B-D-A

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Many say that when people experience change, they experience it like they experience a death.  But what if what people have said for years about how we experience a death was no longer accepted to be true?  The “stages of grief” originally born in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying might actually not be as clear cut as some people believe. 

Most consultants and many business people can recite the originally postulated stages… Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance (DABDA).   I can’t even count the number of people talking about organizational change who have thrown out these stages as a way to get the ball rolling. 

Sadly, most of that conversation is misguided.  There are questions about the findings of the original research, there are questions about whether “stages” actually exist, and there are certainly questions about whether a change at work is equal to a death. 

What we know for sure is that people experience a broad range of emotions when faced with change in their workplace.  Some are excited, some are angry, some are sad, some are happy, some are anxious, some are combative, and the list goes on and on.  Most of the time, there is really no way of knowing who will react in what way.

So much of how an individual actually feels about a change is based on things that a manager at work is oblivious to.  How are things going in the employee’s marriage?  How is their child doing at school?  Did they experience something like this in a former job that went horribly or wonderfully?  Have they always wanted to move on to another opportunity that this change might afford them?  Did they hope that this might happen so that they could move up/out/around? 

When we work with organizations who are implementing change, we know that people in the organization will react emotionally as well as rationally.  They do that because they are human.  And that is perfectly fine.  But those emotions are not neatly packaged into stages that we can watch pass before our eyes.  As Forrest Gump would say – it’s like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna’ get.

To Inform or Change Behavior?

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Communication is a powerful tool in organizations both to inform and to change behavior. 

Our client is moving thousands of employees in different divisions to a common set of HR policies and systems.  There is a lot that will be different for a lot of people.  One of our first challenges was to figure out, of all of the things that are going to be changing, what will require people to change their behavior versus what is just something they need to know about? 

For example, the fact that people will need to report their time on a new system in a new way will require that people change their behavior… they need to know about the change, they need to have the skills to use the new system, they need be motivated to pay attention and actually use the system correctly, etc…  For this kind of change, communication is an important part of a broader change management plan that includes skill building, leadership activities, organizational infrastructure adjustments, and more.

On the other hand, the fact that their paychecks will now look different is not going to require them to do anything different… it is just something they need to be aware of so that they don’t freak out when they see their stub.  For this kind of change, a well planned and executed communication plan can get the job done. 

Getting the best results starts with knowing whether we need to change behavior or just inform.

Purpose during Change

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I recieved this email today….

Subject:  Dallas Business Journal article 9/3 

Dear Kate ,

Your piece about leaders needing support in uncertainty is right on target.  I especially enjoyed the sentence, “Those who define themselves as spouses, parents … do a much better job a maintaining their sense of purpose …”  My leadership confidence comes from my God and family, not the work place.  I would add that people who see  work as a blessing and a means to provide for their family manage change better than others who cannot seem to separate their identity from their behavior, i.e., who they are versus what they do. 

All the best,  

Cole Whitney


The article was about people’s need to maintain thier sense of purpose during times of change.  Cole brought to light a source of purpose outside of work that I had not mentioned in the article.  It was a really terrific catch.  I had left it out… but it certainly is a biggie for many many people.  Whatever your beliefs or your passions, look for ways to define yourself and your value beyond just want you do.  It will build resiliency during times of change (and will probably make you a more fulfilled person overall!)