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“Life is Change. Growth is Optional. Choose Wisely.” – Author Unknown

February 25, 2014

Critical Steps to Managing Organizational Change

For those of you that have been in the workforce for a while you will most likely agree that change has become the new norm in today’s work culture.  For managers, this new norm has intensified the regular daily challenges of managing employees to ensure maximum performance and productivity.  Comments like ‘This will never work.’ or ‘Management doesn’t know what they are doing.’ or even ‘That was not what I signed up for.’ have become more and more common and leave managers scratching their heads and searching for ways to manage in this new norm.

All organizations go through some sort of change on a daily basis, from introducing a new product, making updates to their technology or changing organizational structures. Regardless of the extent of the change, managers need to ensure productivity doesn’t suffer and employees are embracing the change.

Many organizational studies have shown that when employees don’t readily embrace change and when managers do not coach the employees through change, there is a direct negative impact on not only the bottom line but the overall morale and engagement of employees. While coaching has always been a core competency for managers to demonstrate, the ability to manage and coach change has become even more critical.

So, how can managers develop this competency to ensure neither productivity nor performance suffers when the organization makes a critical change? Among other very important action steps, managers can pay attention to how their employees are reacting to change.

When change happens, people respond and react differently. Based on research, when organizational change happens, people can go through five specific stages of reaction which are:

    • Shock – “I can’t believe this is happening.”
    • Emotion – “I don’t like this new set up and it has me worried.”
    • Resistance – “I am not going to do it the new way. It won’t work.”
    • Concern – “I hope I can do it the new way and that I have the skills.”
    • Acceptance and Action – “This new way is great and I can’t wait to get started.”


Just from looking at the list, it should be obvious that the best stage to be is in the Acceptance stage which usually includes the employee’s commitment to take action and move forward. Managers should be focused on getting every employee into the Acceptance stage as quickly as possible.  However, the reality is that most employees pause along the way and some even get stuck in Resistance. It can be damaging to a company when employees are stuck in Resistance and managers should make it their #1 priority to move employees out of Resistance as quickly as possible.

It is not always easy though to recognize this stage and move employees forward towards Acceptance and Action.  There are clues though to the stages of change and the clues surface in behavior changes, performance shifts, absences and office conversations. Subtle or dramatic shifts are symptoms that resistance to or concern about change might be occurring and it is time for managers to step in.  A star performer who suddenly struggles to meet a deadline or a normally participative team member who is suddenly quiet and withdrawn are examples of observable behaviors that require investigation.

So, once managers realize the employee is demonstrating a reaction to change that might impact performance, they need to take action themselves and take it quickly to ensure the employee moves through the stages.  However, a very common mistake managers make at this point is to assume they know what the employee is experiencing without even speaking to the employee. With this assumption, often comes the wrong solution which can result in pushing the employee even deeper into resistance.

To move employees out of Resistance, managers need to utilize their coaching skills, and sit down and talk with the employees to gather the information they need to move forward.

The first step to addressing Resistance is to identify the root cause of the symptom being demonstrated or observed. Resistance occurs when employees:

    • Feel a loss of control or a sense of helplessness,
    • Don’t agree or want the change,
    • Are confused or unclear about the change,
    • Feel at risk,
    • Don’t have the skill or knowledge to support the change.


Once managers know what the root cause is they can work together with the employee to develop a solution that moves the employee towards acceptance and action.

It is important to note that the stages of Concern and Resistance can sometimes look similar and it is important to tell the difference between them.  Employees stuck in the Resistance stage will not be able to move forward until the root cause is identified whereas employees in the Concern stage are starting to move forward but have some concerns that need attention before fully accepting the change.

Not effectively dealing with concerns and/or resistance has short term and long term implications.  Productivity drops, efficiency suffers and managers run the risk of losing key employees whose needs were not effectively managed.

If this article has resonated with you, the next time you see an employee struggling with a change or you hear “Management doesn’t know what they are talking about” prepare yourself for a discussion to identify what is going on so you can help the employee accept the new role, process or procedure and “choose wisely” as to how to manage the change.

©Taylor Performance Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved. Content in this article is based on “Managing Change” training workshops offered by Taylor Performance Solutions.