Change Management Models – Realise Your Vision, Safeguard Your Team

Making Business People-Focused

Change management models play a key role in helping businesses design, plan and implement change and make their vision reality. Bosses’ duty of care for employees can get overlooked when their attention’s focused elsewhere. Based on psychological insights, change management models help safeguard your staff’s wellbeing in these challenging times.

This article explores some popular change management models people find helpful. We start with the McKinsey 7-S framework, analysing how different aspects of a business fit together. From there we consider the employees’ psychological journey, with Bridges’ Transition, Scotter and Jaffe, Lewin’s Unfreeze-Refreeze, AKDAR, and more. Finally, we look at some models to help you plan, communicate and monitor the progress of change.

Change Management Models Help Leaders and Managers Lead Their People Through Different Types of Change

The discipline of change management considers the whole business and what needs to change. It also takes into account how people and teams are likely to be affected by their business transition. This is the common factor in the models we’ll explore.

Businesses go through three kinds of change:

  • Development: They improve on what they’re currently doing, but remain recognisably the same.
  • Transition: They move gradually from an existing approach to a new way of doing things.
  • Transformation: They pivot, and morph in new directions. ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ But what they achieve, and how quickly, will depend on how much their people believe in, and support, the vision.

When businesses change, the people they employ go through a transition, too.

In the change management models we’re considering, change is the external event or situation that happens in the business. Transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalise and come to terms with it.

Change management models are approaches used to prepare, support and help individuals, teams and businesses to make the necessary change. But it’s essential for leaders and managers to remember they are dealing with human beings because their decisions impact people’s lives.

Empathetic leaders recognise that changes don’t just change the business, they can put people in crisis. Forbes quotes a sobering statistic: 62% of employees don’t like leaving their comfort zone. So you need to bring them with you. Therefore, the key is helping them leave the old situation behind and move on.

Don’t Make Your Employees Your Last Priority!

Determine your priorities quote on felt board

Firstly, the McKinsey 7-S framework is a strategic tool that shows how the different aspects of a business interlink in corporate planning. Significantly for this consideration of what makes for good practice in change management, the staff members come last on the list:

  • Strategy.
  • Corporate hierarchy: the management configuration and workers’ responsibilities.
  • Systems: procedures, workflow and decisions.
  • Shared values: The culture and accepted behaviour in the workplace.
  • Skills: The talents and capabilities of the leadership, management and team.
  • Style: How the management leads the business and how it affects performance, productivity and corporate culture.
  • Staff: Who the people are, their motivation and their ability to do carry out the task.

Clearly, if the employees are the last priority for the leadership, there are serious implications, which need to be addressed.

Let’s Look at Some Change Management Models Which Put People First, Based on Psychological Insights

Model #1:  Bridges’ Transition

Developed by William Bridges, an American transition management expert, this model focuses on the psychological transition people go through as they internalise change and come to terms with it. The Bridges model has three stages:

  • Endings: People identify what they are losing, and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep.
  • The neutral zone: The old way of working is gone, but the new one isn’t fully operational yet. This is when the psychological realignments and re-patterning happen. Because people are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. Therefore they are in flux and may feel confusion and distress.
  • New beginnings: This stage is marked by a burst of energy, going in a new direction. Employees feel a new sense of identity. Well managed transitions allow people to establish new roles, with an understanding of their purpose. They know the part they play and how to contribute and participate effectively. And as a result, they feel reoriented and renewed.

Model #2:  Scotter and Jaffe’s Change Model

Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffe explained the psychology of change in their article “Survive and Thrive In Times Of Change.” They took their inspiration from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who highlighted the ways people cope with tragedies, grief or sorrow.

Psychologist helping men cope with grief in office

These ways are: anger, denial, depression, bargaining and acceptance. It might sound melodramatic, but Scott and Jaffe describe the psychological process of change in a similar way:

  • Denial: The feeling of change doesn’t sink in easily, and we try to ignore it.
  • Resistance: We understand the change has happened, but we don’t accept it. We feel strong emotions and sometimes oppose them vocally. In a business, productivity suffers and the business loses stability.
  • Exploration: We build up our coping or adaptive mechanisms and we try out new processes.
  • Commitment: We feel re-empowered and happy to accept the new situation. It’s important that our commitment is recognised.

Change happens over time, moving from focusing on the past to focusing on the future. As time passes, people move from focusing on the outside world to becoming introspective and from there, refocusing on the outside world. Therefore, they go from feeling disempowered to feeling empowered once again.

This model offers insights into how to manage change by minimising resistance to it.

Model #3:  David Rock’s SCARF Model

Your work is changing. How does that make you feel?! We are evolved mammals, programmed to seek security and attachment. Neuroscience shows that our brains classify everything with a “reward” or “threat” feeling in our bodies. We know how to move away from perceived threats and towards rewards. So in a change, our brains want to know, is this good for us, or bad for us?

In their communication about change, leaders and managers need to be mindful of areas where they can trigger their people. As defined by psychologist David Rock, the SCARF model helps people recognise their triggers in times of change. Rock identified five areas of human social experience:

  • Status: Where we are in relation to others around us.
  • Certainty: Being able to predict the future.
  • Autonomy: Having control over events.
  • Relatedness: A sense of safety with others, of a friend rather than foe.
  • Fairness: A perception of impartial and just exchanges with people.

People can react very differently to stressful situations. In the reward state, we have more cognitive resources available. We think better and have more insights and ideas. We make fewer mistakes. In the threat state, we don’t think so well. We err on the safe side and become more defensive.

You can use the SCARF model and understand your team and how they tick, therefore avoiding future conflict.

Model #4:  Lewin’s ‘Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze’

Freeze written on a wooden background with frosts

Next, we have Dr Kurt Lewin who was a German-American psychologist, one of the great pioneers of social, organisational and applied psychology. He is best known for identifying three leadership styles, democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire. But he also came up with this model of leadership and employee involvement in organisational change:

  • Unfreeze: Because many people will naturally resist change, the goal here is to create awareness of how the old ways are hindering progress. From there you show them how the proposed change is necessary. Because the more we know about a change and how necessary it is to accept it, the more motivated we become.
  • Change: Now people are ‘unfrozen,’ they can begin to move. The changing step, also known as transitioning or moving, is marked by the implementation of the change. This is when the change becomes real. It’s also when people struggle with the new reality. This period is marked by uncertainty and fear, making it the hardest stage to get through. People begin to learn new behaviours, processes and ways of thinking. And the more prepared they are, the easier it is to go through with it. This is why training, communication, support and time are critical, as employees become familiar with the change.
  • Refreeze: The change becomes reinforced, stabilised and set in place. The changes you make to processes, goals, structure and so on are accepted and re-frozen as the new status quo.

Some critics argue that Lewin’s model isn’t detailed, and doesn’t reflect today’s reality because businesses go on changing and evolving. But the clarity of the unfreeze-refreeze image means remains a memorable way to visualise the change process.

Model #5:  Jeff Hiatt’s AKDAR

Step models and acronyms are always helpful when we need to get to grips with new learning.  Jeff Hiatt, founder of the change management specialists Prosci, developed AKDAR after studying over 700 businesses’ change patterns. It’s a powerful tool for helping individuals cope and plan for the change process.

‘AKDAR’ is an acronym for the five outcomes an individual needs to achieve, for a change to be successful. These are:

  • Awareness of the need to change.
  • Desire to support the change.
  • Knowledge on how to make the change.
  • Ability to demonstrate the skills and behaviours necessary to achieve the change.
  • Reinforcement to make the change stick.

Ownership and commitment: Change can be difficult for leaders and managers too.

So far, we’ve talked about the psychology of involving employees in a change. Change may well be difficult for leaders and managers too, in terms of getting other people in the business to go along with it.

Your McKinsey 7-S framework analysis may have led you to come up with a plan for a change. And the plan may make brilliant strategic sense. And the boss you did it for, who is championing it, may be a board director. But your joint work won’t get very far if the rest of the leadership doesn’t own the change and commit to supporting it!

Here are some more change management models you may find useful in presenting your plans for change to leaders, managers and employees.

Model #6: Von Thun’s Communication Square

Square drawn with white chalk on blackboard

How you tell people about a proposed change, and how they take it in, can create serious misunderstandings. Friedemann Schulz von Thun identified four levels of response that happen simultaneously when we hear something that affects us:

  • Factual level: We can’t help challenging supporting statements, like data and facts from external sources. Is what I’m being told true, relevant or complete?
  • Self-revealing level: What am I hearing, and why am I being told this? Listeners think about what the person leading the change wants them to receive, as well as the information they DON’T want them to receive.
  • Relationship level: How the person presenting the change gets along with the people hearing about it. impacts how they receive it.
  • Appeal level: How do you feel about what the sender wants you to do in the change? Do you want to go along with it? Will you benefit? Do you feel you’re being manipulated or coerced?

Remember the Forbes statistic we quoted earlier? 62 per cent of employees don’t like leaving their comfort zone. Bear in mind von Thun’s different levels as you talk to team members and discuss proposals for change.

Model #7: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

People need to feel fulfilled in their work. Going back to Scotter and Jaffe, they definitely don’t want to feel threatened! How people welcome a change depends on how the new situation impacts their different levels of need, as identified in Maslow’s Hierarchy:

  • Physiological: How will it alter my day to day situation – my daily routine, journey to work and working environment?
  • Safety: Will it affect my job security and regular income?
  • Social: What will my new colleagues be like? Will I connect to people and feel I belong? How will it affect my outside social life?
  • Individual: Will I still have freedom to do my work, or will I be under more scrutiny? Going back to David Rock’s SCARF model, micromanaging definitely triggers a threat response.
  • Self-actualisation: Am I going to feel more fulfilled in my work as a result?
MBM graphic of Maslow's hierarchy
Maslow’s hierarchy

As the change beds in, bosses need to check in with individual team members, to assess how things are progressing.

Model #8: The Team Lifecycle

Finally, humans have a strong need for connection and social bonding, and nowhere more so than at work. Bruce Tuchman created this model in 1965, to describe the process in which colleagues come together in a new team:

  • Forming: Individual team members start to come together, but go on working alone.
  • Storming: Conflicts arise, but members begin to recognise themselves as a team.
  • Norming: The team set up rules to manage conflicts, and relationships form.
  • Performing: The team is established and they all work together.

If your change means forming a new team, you can use this model to track where they have got to in their journey.

And Finally: Use These Change Management Models to Safeguard Your Wellbeing

In conclusion, all these models are widely published, and you can download pdfs and learned papers. It’s tempting for employees to think of leaders and managers as the baddies in business change. But changes in work are stressful, whatever your pay grade! So hopefully the models outlined in this article will help you safeguard yourself when your life takes an unexpected turn.

This is pretty serious stuff. But on a lighter note, you can also use these models to monitor your progress with self-improvement. For example, dieting, exercise, cutting down on drinking and the rest. Your good health!

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