“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus
It’s an age-old adage that is perhaps more relevant in our time that it has ever been – change is inevitable, whether it be in our industry, our career, or our team. The pace of change continues to accelerate, as human knowledge and innovation drive new technologies, industries and business models which force us to continually adapt.
While change is an inherent part of the human condition, so is resistance to change. Change increases uncertainty, threatens standing, and raises self-doubt, as we wonder whether we can meet new expectations – all things humans are naturally resistant to taking on. Additionally, personality traits such as risk-aversion and conservatism exist on a diverse and intersectional spectrum, meaning that individuals will react to change very differently. While some might enjoy the stimulation that change brings (even seek it out), others will cling tenaciously to the status quo.
As managers, how can we facilitate the change process? Every change may be different, but the process of change itself was effectively mapped by author and therapist Virginia Satir, who pioneered the Satir Model of Change. This map can help us understand what is happening during each phase of the change process, and what we are leaders can do to make that phase smoother, easier and more productive.
The Five Phases of Change
The Satir Model maps 5 phases of change, each of which have their challenges and opportunities. An effective manager will recognize what phase their team is in, and adapt their own actions to support that phase of the process.
Phase 1 – Late Status Quo. During this phase of change (or what may be called ‘pre-change’), things are ‘business as usual’. Performance is relatively stable and adequate. This is a comfortable phase for our team to be in – recall that generally speaking, humans appreciate a certain amount of safety and stability.
As a leader during the late status quo phase, we can already support change:
- Knowing as we do that change is constant, encourage your team to maintain a growth mindset and remain open to new ideas and new thinking.
- The specific changes that come may be a surprise, but the fact that change will come at some point should be considered a given.
- Keep abreast of what’s happening in your industry, your organization, your political landscape – any factors which might necessitate change for your team. Staying informed can minimize the risk of being completely surprised by a disruption.
- Encourage education, innovation and new ideas. A team that is open to change during relatively stable periods will have had a chance to hone their change management skills so they are better able to cope.
The late status quo phase is ended by a foreign element being introduced. A catalyst for change, the foreign element is a disruption such as a new competitor, regulatory requirements or restriction, or significant change in demand. The last 10 – 20 years are replete with foreign elements – the rise of the Internet, Netflix, streaming services, iPods, increased focus on the environment, rapidly changing social mores, social media, upheavals in retail … these are but a few examples of foreign elements that fundamentally changed the markets into which they inserted themselves.
Phase 2 – Resistance
When the foreign element is introduced, the initial reaction is generally resistance. Resistance can take different forms, from complete denial of the foreign element itself, to underestimation of its importance, to refusal to adapt to it. Resistance is generally born of fear, and is a dangerous place to stay stuck, as it makes adaptation impossible.
As a manager during the resistance phase:
- Encourage open communication. Give your team the opportunity to process their reaction to the foreign element and the ultimate change it will necessitate. Discuss why the foreign element may not be something requiring reaction, and why it may. This may help the team accept the reality of the situation and shift their thinking towards risk mitigation and solutions.
- Look for change-positive team members – this is their moment. As we mentioned, some individuals with more risk-tolerant and adventurous personalities (or just more experience dealing with change) may actually embrace the opportunity for newness that change brings. Seek these individuals on your team and leverage their attitude to positively influence the rest of the team.
Phase 3 – Chaos
The foreign element has hit, the status quo has been disrupted. At this point, there is no ‘normal’, and teams may be at a loss to know what to do. Reactivity can kick in, and tried and true methods may be tossed. The chaos phase can be truly disconcerting (and as the model illustrates, productivity drops). However, it can also be an invigorating and creative moment for your team. The door is open to a fresh start and a new way of doing business.
As a manager, you can make the most of the chaos phase by:
- Encouraging your team to brainstorm, discuss and test out new ideas. Generate lots of ideas; eventually one will be the transforming idea (more on this next).
- Keep an eye on the big picture, knowing that the chaos phase is temporary, and reassure team members that this is the case.
- Create as much stability and support as possible for your team.
Out of chaos comes the transforming idea. The transforming idea is the one which enables you to find your way forward in the new world. It may be a new way of doing business, a new process, a new marketing strategy. It’s the idea that transforms the change from a threat into an opportunity. The transforming idea drives the next phase: the integration phase.
Phase 4 – The Integration Phase
The integration phase is when the transforming idea is integrated into your business, so that it can become part of ‘business as usual’. This can be an invigorating phase, as the transforming idea opens up new opportunities for success, but it can also be frustrating, as the details of the new way of doing business are worked out, problems arise, and tweaks and additional changes must be made.
During the integration phase, managers need to:
- Be open to constructive criticism and willing to alter the way things are done, as the new way forward is tested and refined.
- Recognize that integration involves learning and practicing new skills, and thus mistakes and missteps should be expected, and perhaps even encouraged, so that employees feel safe in their efforts to master the new way forward.
Once changes are integrated, Phase 5, the new status quo, begins. If the change process was effectively managed, as the model shows, performance can increase, sometimes significantly, from where it was prior to the change.
During the new status quo phase, managers can maximize the positive effects of change, by:
- Continuing to encourage a growth mindset and minimize fear of intelligent mistakes.
- Celebrate your success! Chances are it’s been a bumpy road as you’ve navigated the process of change. Take time to recognize your team for what they have achieved.
- Remember that the status quo is not forever – continue to encourage innovation, improvement, and proactive change, to continue strengthening your team’s change management muscle.
Change is inevitable, but it needn’t be negative. Change represents uncertainty and risk, but also opportunity and growth. As a manager, you have a huge influence over what the experience of change looks like for your team. By proactively understanding and managing the change process, you can guide your team through beneficial change.