John Fisher's Change Curve

Many people cite Elisabeth Kűbler-Ross’ Grief Curve when discussing change. However, John Fisher adapted this curve based on his experience of working with organisations and observing responses to change and above is his model of stages of and reactions to change.

We can look at this through two lenses, ourselves when we face change and when we are leading others and their responses to change.

1. Shock

Often people are surprised, a change can come out of the blue, or even if it was a known change, the reality of it occurring can throw people off balance. A key aspect of this part of the change is that people will frequently chat to their trusted peers to establish views, thoughts, share knowledge (caution should be applied as this knowledge, might not always be factual). The rumour mill can start to evolve at this stage.

Helpful steps at this stage

  • Communicate

  • Allow any emotions to be experienced – be compassionate and empathetic

  • Be aware that emotions can confuse logical thinking, so it might be helpful to allow time for emotions to surface and subside

  • Be careful to check facts rather than listen to hearsay

  • Encourage self-care and signpost services to support the transition e.g. Mental Health First Aiders and Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) support

2. False Hope/Denial

After the initial ‘shock’ there is frequently a little time before the actual change happens, in this time it’s easy for people to feel like the change isn’t actually going to happen. It’s possible that the stories that people tell themselves at this stage are comforting or self-soothing, such as, ‘the organisation will come to its senses’ or ‘they probably won’t make those changes, it doesn’t make sense and nothing is happening’. Sometimes we notice a boost in productivity at this stage as people might try to prove their worth in the hope that if the change should be true, it might not affect them.

Helpful steps at this time

  • Communicate

  • Be honest about knowns and unknowns

  • Talk to people about their thoughts and emotions, allow expression of emotion and as before, ensure facts are checked against emotion

  • Remind people of changes that they have been through positive and negative and that they have coped with change before

  • Identify similarities and differences between change in the past and this experience

  • Ask what helped and hindered their experience of change before

3. Frustration

At this stage, emotions can be extremely high and these might be expressed outwardly through anger, frustration and blame or inwardly through suppressing emotions or only expressing them in front of a ‘safe’ audience. These emotions are important and are better out than in, affording a safe space to vent these frustrations is an important part of moving through this stage. Emotions can be processed in physical and mentally healthy ways such as talking, listening, thinking, writing & exercising. Less healthy ways are through escapes or coping techniques such as smoking, drinking or eating, etc. It can be a dangerous time for organisations as if the best performers become disengaged and choose to leave at this time, they can end up with a lower performing organisation as a result of changes.

Helpful steps at this time

  • Communicate

  • Creating psychologically safe spaces for colleagues to express raw and tough emotions

  • Share with them that this stage is normal, maybe share some of your own emotion (cautious to ensure you are consistent with the leader that you are within the organisation)

  • Being transparent about the stages of the change, the process and citing examples of where change has been handled fairly and consistently in the past

  • Remind people of the importance of sticking to facts and not making up or listening to stories that might be in the rumour mill

4. Letting Go

This stage is all about accepting the change is going to happen or has happened. Depending on what the change means for the individual there could be a mix of emotions from relief, that it’s over to excitement at the next stage or frustration and sadness that what has been won’t be the same again. The key part of this stage is the recognition that a different future awaits and that stepping into that future is happening regardless of what they feel. There is a turning point of acceptance to hope.

Helpful steps at this time

  • Communicate

  • What are their thoughts and feelings

  • Help them reframe any negative self-talk e.g. someone who is being made redundant might need reminding that it’s the role not the person that is made redundant

  • If appropriate, share compelling vision of the future state and how people fit in

  • Help them review their strengths and how these are likely to help them in the next steps to moving forward

  • Praise (genuine) work to date that has been helpful/successful/contributed to where the organisation/individual is to date

  • Ask about the future ideal and coach to help them identify how to move towards that future

5. Experiment

At this stage the change is underway and new ways of being, thinking and behaving start to evolve. As people start to try new ways and they are successful or unsuccessful they will review their progress and decide if it’s worth continuing to try. People may well falter back through other stages (it’s not a linear one-way system) so be prepared to support and communicate as needed.

Helpful steps at this time

  • Communicate

  • Boost their self-confidence and belief as they transition, catch them doing things well and tell them

  • Coaching is a great tool to help them see progress, as well as how to bridge any gaps

  • Empower them to try new things and embrace setbacks as part of learning

  • Create a sense of team and encourage people to identify each other’s strengths and how they can maximise these to achieve collective goals

  • Communicate how people contribute to the purpose of the team and organisation

  • Provide support as needed e.g. training, mentoring, outplacement, etc.

6. New Models

The new way of being and the new ‘norm’ start to take shape and people see themselves as belonging in the new model now the change is behind them.

Helpful steps at this time

  • Communicate

  • Ask how the new models are working and what improvements they’d suggest

  • Empower people to make changes that support the new models and ways of working; encourage innovation

  • Help people see the purpose and value in their work, remind people about their personal values and how you notice these aligning with the organisational values

7. New Behaviours

The behaviour and the way of being is becoming second nature and it’s hard to recall how default the old way of behaving was and the change that now seems like history.

Helpful steps at this time

  • Communicate

  • Help people reflect on the change and their resilience having come through it

  • Enable people to openly share their experiences and lessons learned in a shame-free way

  • Encourage learning that might be helpful to take forwards and lessons learned that might want to be let go

  • Build on the momentum if appropriate, what positive changes would they like to make next?

Consider any change, for many, the transition to hybrid is a prevalent current change, where are you on the curve? Where are your team? What’s your leadership action to support yourself and others?