The Four Stages of ‘Change Curve’ Small Business Owners Should Know

The ‘Change Curve’ is a helpful tool for small businesses to understand the stages of personal transition each employee undergoes. Kubler Ross developed this model to explain the grieving process (Shock and Denial, Anger and Fear, Acceptance and Commitment).

This model helps small business owners predict how employees will react to a change, and advises how to help and support the employees through their personal transitions.

An organization does not change just because of new systems or processes. It changes because people within the organization adapt and change. Only when people within the organization make their own personal transitions can the organization benefit from the change.

The Change Curve model

The ‘Change Curve’ model helps small business owners understand the stages of personal transition and organization change. This model comprises four stages that employees go through as they adjust to a change.

Stage – 1: Shock and denial

Stage – 2: Anger and fear

Stage – 3: Acceptance

Stage – 4: Commitment

Stage – 1: Shock and denial

This is the first reaction that small business owners notice in their employees – they react to the challenges to the status quo. This reaction is seen more in experienced and established employees because these employees are indifferent to new systems and procedures. They feel uncomfortable because of the fear of the unknown, fear of doing something wrong and lack of information. They feel threatened and fear failure. Under these circumstances, they normally take it as a friction rather than an opportunity.

What do the employees need here?

Employees may experience this stage multiple times. To get over it, employees need information, need to understand what is happening in the organization and need to know how to get help from the organization.

Note: This stage affects particularly those employees who have not experienced any major change before.

What should the organization do?

At this stage, it is the responsibility of the owners to communicate with their employees and educate them about the benefits that they will gain by adapting to new systems – personally and professionally. Remember not to overwhelm your employees by flooding them with loads of information at a time, or they may even be more confused.

Stage – 2: Anger and fear

This is the second stage that is seen in the employees. As employees react to a change, they start expressing their anger, concern, resentment or fear. They may resist the change actively or passively. This stage could be dangerous and if the organization does not manage it carefully, it might result in chaos.

What should the organization do?

At this stage, the small business owner should handle employees’ objections carefully. Since reaction to change is personal and emotional, it’s impossible to prevent it from happening. Therefore, the organization should try to address the employees’ experience and iron out the issues as early as possible.

Note: As long as employees remain at Stage – 2 of the Change Curve by escaping progress, the change will be unsuccessful.

Stage – 3: Acceptance

This is a turning point for employees as well as the organization because the employees have stopped focusing on what they have lost and have started accepting changes. They begin exploring changes, and get a real idea of what’s good and what’s not and how to adjust themselves accordingly.

What should the organization do?

This stage is critical – it takes time for employees to learn and accept things. Therefore, don’t expect your employees to be 100% productive during this stage. Give them time so that they learn and explore without much pressure.

Stage – 4: Commitment

At this stage, there will be a commitment from the employees in analyzing and embracing the change. They start rebuilding the way they work and this is the stage at which the organization starts to see the benefits of the change.

Benefits of the change

At this stage the organization will see the benefits of putting in effort for the welfare of their employees when they were in a grieving stage. The positive effects of the Change Curve are now more evident through its productivity and profit.

The Change Curve is an effective model for small business owners while managing employees. Locating an employee on the change curve will help the business owner decide on how to effectively communicate information to employees and to know what kind of support they require. This helps them take necessary measures and protect both the business and the employees.