The 5 stages people go through during a change and how to cope with them

Every project has a desired outcome and every change has its own resistance. Successful change management involves changing the way people think. Resistance may come from many levels: co-workers, the management and many others involved. Remarkably, it seems like every person deals with change the same way.

I found a really clear model on the internet (right here), explaining the five phases of change people go through and how to cope with those phases as a project manager. The phases are: unawareness, awareness, understanding, believing and acting.


1. Unawareness

This phase is known for a lack of knowledge of the change project. It will be the first time someone will be confronted with the change effort. They will show their initial reaction which will probably be a bit confused. Since they don’t know anything of the change, it is quite a normal reaction though. They will move on the the next stage, awareness, when they realize the change will affect the status quo.



2. Awareness

The second stage they will go through is awareness. In this stage there will be knowledge of the coming change. However, there will be completely no understanding of the scope, impact and depth of the change. There is the realization that they will be affected, but they are absolutely not sure how. They will show resistance and maybe some ignorance. Some will display optimism. They will move to the next stage, understanding, when they are able to describe the change and the impact on the business after questioning them.


3. Understanding

The third stage is the stage of understanding. It consists of a understanding of the change as well as where someone “fits in”. In this stage, you will be confronted with anger. They wil “play the game”: saying they fully understand the need of the change, but will still show resistance. Then a few others will start bargaining about the change. Trying to make the change a little less painful by playing it by their rules, instead of the rules of the change. There will also be some who will show signs of optimism or (a lot worse) deny the change at all.

They will leave this stage as soon as they speak positively about the change and participate actively in meetings to discuss it.


4. Believing

The believe stage is known for a rather positive view on the change. People affected by the change who are in this stage will show signs of buy-in for the change and demonstrate a willingness to embrace the change in some way. This is the perfect stage for people to try the new system(s) or concept(s) out. They will show sings of support for the change and display try committed action. Also, they will put time and energy in the new system or concept and see the positive implications of the change, rather than denial (as shown in the second and third stage). As soon as they are ready to make an attempt to implement the change, they will leave this stage and go to the final stage: acting.


5. Acting

Whoa-hoo! When they are in the final stage, it means that you are probably able to pull this change of. This stage is known for a full understanding of the change. They will see that the change is the new status quo and that the implementation of the change is past the point of no return. Furthermore, they show enthusiasm and high-energy involvement and they work on creating commitment for the change among co-workers (who are one or more stages earlier in the process).



How do you cope with change management in your organization? Do you recognize such a model of change or do you have a different point of view? Let me know in the comments!

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