Why we mismanage change and what to do about it?


At one level we all know change is constant so you’d expect us all to be well equipped by now.

But mostly for all our experiences of constant change, we at personal and organisational levels mismanage change and just as frequently don’t know what to do about it. Proven now by the many studies that show the majority of change initiatives fail to meet their objectives.

Why we mismanage change (personally and organisationally)

There are 2 main components to successful change

  1. The physical. The systems, processes, and outcomes (managing the doing)
  2. The emotional impact (managing the being)

Change fails because of over attention to the physical and a misunderstanding and misapplication of the emotional.

It’s easy to see why this happens. Because in relative terms the physical ‘stuff’ is much easier to understand, plan, anticipate and execute. Not so the emotional.

Senior leaders are good at embracing what they know and are good at and underplay by comparison the ‘dark’ stuff – The unpredictability inherent in human emotion and behaviour.

Equipping both our people in the physical and emotional sides of change leads them to deal with change effectively because both significantly develops the resilience of the individual, the team and the organisation.

Why The Change Curve ‘Fails’?

Most leaders have seen or use a model known as The Change Curve. That depicts the emotional stages every human being can go through at the onset of change, however big or small that change may be.

The models work as guidance but often fails because leaders either under appreciate the emotional impact people have to go through and/or don’t have the skills required to work through the emotional impact.

John M. Fisher is the Chartered Psychologist who researched and developed the Personal Transition through Change Curve. Probably the best model out there. The model (below) explains how people respond to change through defined phases that are followed in succession until they accept the change.

His change theory is based on earlier studies by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who identified various stages of grief in her specialist work on bereavement – Probably the most impactful change there is.

Fisher’s model is more focused on business but like Kübler-Ross also recognises

  • Most of the transitions we make through change are subconscious
  • Some people move more quickly through the phases than others
  • Everyone will need different things depending on which phase they are in
  • What they need personally depends upon things like personality/behavioural style, life experiences, perceived degree of control, emotional awareness etc

Leaders tend to misunderstand Fisher’s map isn’t sequential. The model won’t be completed in precise order and people will regress to an earlier stage, dependent upon the situation and because going through change continuously activates our Fight, Flight and Freeze response.

While some will surge ahead through the difficulties of change others will stay stuck or regress and fight, others will stay stuck and freeze and others will run (flight) into other emotional and behavioural reactions.

This is when many leaders become stuck because to work through these reactions takes many well defined skills one of which is non-judgment, others include empathy and coaching and just plain and simple, not looking at their watch pushing people through the change to meet deadline.

The Non-Judgmental Leader

The non-judgmental leader has a better chance of allowing his or her staff to react individually and support them. To do so we will have to become comfortable supporting people through these very different emotional states.

  1. Anxiety – You don’t really know what’s going to happen next, and you aren’t sure what any change will really look like at this point.
  2. Happiness – You are feeling really good about the change as this will be the chance to get rid of things, systems and processes which you know don’t work.
  3. Threat – You are unsure about how the change is going to affect you.
  4. Fear – You are fearful of the way the change will force you into a new way of thinking, working and behaving.
  5. Anger – Some anger and frustration is directed at others, especially those who you believe are responsible for forcing the change.
  6. Guilt – You feel angry with yourself for not having coped as well as you believe you could have.
  7. Despair – You may feel confused and apathetic and really start to wonder who you are.
  8. Hostility – You show aggression towards yourself and others and the change, in general.
  9. Acceptance – You become more emotionally detached from the situation and begin to make sense of your environment and the change.
  10. Moving Forward – You start exerting more control and make more things happen in a positive sense.

Other pathways off the curve are:

  1. Denial – where you deny that any change is occurring at all
  2. Disillusionment – where you decide that the change does not fit with your value system and you decide to have nothing more to do with it.

Where the physical meets the emotional?

To become non-judgmentally supportive through all twelve leaders will need to

  • Hold coaching discussions
  • Listen more than they hear
  • Listen through their own potential discomfort to other people’s anxieties and fears
  • Not unconsciously dismiss other peoples important emotions
  • Embody genuine openness
  • Embody empathy
  • Put aside their time based agenda and fears they won’t complete the change on time
  • Break down emotional challenges and problems into bite-size pieces
  • Engage other people in developing a shared vision of a realistic, optimistic future
  • Celebrate small victories
  • Determine what isn’t changing
  • Acknowledge what will change and be lost
  • Understand the reasons for the changes or challenges and why it is happening
  • Shift negativity towards creativity, improvisation and problem-solving
  • Coach people to create a personal (well being) strategy to change in preparation for the next change that probably isn’t far away

The trouble is that when many leaders look at a lists like those above and look at their watch many believe they haven’t the appetite, time or ability to invest.

Which is a shame because when we embrace the emotional side to change human beings meet and exceed their potential.

Fancy a chat about change, teams and leadership? glenn@futurevisiontraining.co.uk



  • Quote-background

    "It's easy to see why change programmes fail. The physical ‘stuff’ is much easier to understand, plan, anticipate and execute. Not so the emotional".

    Glenn Bracey,
    Future Vision Training Ltd,
    9th January 2017


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