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Evolution of Change Management Models

We can separate the various change management models into roughly 2 categories

We can separate the various change management models into roughly 2 categories (though there is some overlap between the two): 

  • Academic models- Frameworks and concepts that came from other disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry, or business that found applicability in managing organizational change.
  • Consultant models- Integrated systems which are formulated by consultant groups and specialized change management practitioners.

For the first installment of this 2-part series of articles, we will take a look at some of the most well-proven academic change models. Many of these frameworks were created before change management even entered the business vernacular, and formed a base of knowledge for the more sophisticated, multi-disciplinary consultant models. 

If you would like to go directly to part 2, read here.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

One of the earliest models of change management that is still referenced quite prominently today was formulated by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s. This was one of the first frameworks to humanize the change management process. In his model, Lewin suggested a 3-step change process to facilitate successful organizational change:

  1. Unfreeze - In this stage, organizations focus on communicating a strategic vision and creating a sense of urgency to prepare its stakeholders for the upcoming changes.
  2. Change - This stage deals with the implementation of change. A flexible approach that encourages employees to engage with the changes proactively and takes their feedback into account is emphasized so as to ensure a smooth transition.
  3. Refreeze - After the transition phase, organizations focus on stabilizing the changes and reinforcing it into the culture. 

Kübler-Ross Change Curve

This framework, formulated by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, was originally intended to help social workers support their terminally ill patients. You may already be familiar with this model’s application when it comes to describing an individual’s experience of grief; however, it can also be used to understand the emotional reactions that employees face during a change initiative. The Change Curve describes 5 stages of emotional responses that employees undergo when dealing with change:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The model has proven effective because it operates on the premise that disruptions in the workplace are always met with emotional reactions as opposed to solely rational concerns. Companies use this model to understand the emotional journey that their employees undergo and to choose the most appropriate responses that will guide each individual towards acceptance of the upcoming changes.

Satir Change Model

Developed by family therapist Virginia Satir, this transformation model helps improve people’s lives by transforming the way they see and express themselves. Similar to the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, it can also be applied to organizational change. It describes employees’ emotional progression through 5 stages:

  1. Late Status Quo
  2. Resistance
  3. Chaos
  4. Integration
  5. New Status Quo

This model anticipates the negative reactions of people when faced with sweeping changes, and helps change practitioners avoid the issues that arise when changes are abandoned due to resistance and lack of communication. This model works best when paired with other change management models; although it helps change practitioners prepare for changes, it does not necessarily help determine what specific changes need to be made.

Nudge Theory

Nudge Theory is a concept developed by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in their 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. It involves employing an approach to change that ‘nudges’ employees toward wanting the change on their own as opposed to issuing requests from the top-down and expecting people to change accordingly. Rooted in the study of heuristics, Nudge Theory involves designing choices for your employees which encourage positive, helpful decisions that benefit the people as well as the organization as a whole. One advantage of this concept is that it minimizes resistance and confrontation (which could stem from a more forceful, autocratic approach) through indirect encouragement and enablement.

To know more about Change Management Models, visit the second part of this article here.

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