Lessons learned leading people through change

Andre Muscat
6 min readNov 12, 2023

Change is unavoidable, “expected” and happens for a variety of reasons:

  • Personal challenges of life — some small, some massive, some we want to speak about, and others we may feel better not to speak about.
  • Experiments to assess new opportunities
  • Current way of operating is unsustainable
  • Strategic re-organisations
  • Mergers and acquisitions

Change forces us to re-evaluate our priorities and how we can continue having the most impact and relevance in our world — potentially extending it to the economy, technology, society and the environment.

Dealing with change comes with a lot of uncertainty, generally fueled by a personal sense of:

  • Guilt
  • Fear of success
  • Fear of others’ judgement
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of new unknowns
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of loneliness
  • Self-doubt
  • Fear of loss (of responsibility, freedom, control, or power)

In times of change, it is critical for you to be able to be continually aware of how this impacts yourself and your team.

Only equipped with this awareness will you be able to navigate such change with serenity, confidence and competence.

NOTE: This need for awareness, applies both whether:

  • You are the leader of the team
  • You are a member of the team.

In either case:

  • Your leader may need help and support
  • Your team members may need help and support beyond that that the leader may provide

However, it would not be me if we did not assess the situation based on a formula. One of the most applicable is known as the “Kubler-Ross” change curve.

Introduction to the Kubler-Ross” change curve.

The Kubler-Ross change curve is a model that describes the emotional stages that individuals experience when dealing with change and transition. The model comprises of key stages: denial, frustration, depression, experiment, decision and integration.

Let’s explore how

  • How you can use this model to understand, predict, and link the reactions of your teams. Use this to support better and manage their emotional reactions to change.
  • How you as an individual can better communicate and collaborate with your leader based on what you are experiencing.

Use this model to eliminate unnecessary friction in communication and facilitate everyone to focus on what matters the most to stakeholders to enable change to happen in a way that is supported and promoted by those same stakeholders.

Remember!

Be mindful of factors that tend to affect the length and depth of the personal change curve and the probability of emerging successfully on the upside, including:

  • How much control or influence people feel they have over the change. Involving people in the decision of change as early as possible and as deeply as possible significantly improves the prospects for successful change
  • The level of emotional and technical support that may be demanded of you or the environment.
  • The personal confidence and resilience of the individual.
  • How deeply an individual is affected by the change. It is critical to be able to understand and engage in the details of how this change impacts others
  • The scale of the change you are representing to their sense of normality.

Share this model with your teams

We are all human, and we deal with emotional aspects every day of our lives. We may not realise changes in our self-emotional state. Share this model with your team, and enable meaningful, better and deeper conversations.

Examples

Here are several scenarios where this model can be used to engage and navigate difficult situations:

Scenario 1: New technology systems

You are implementing a new software system that will replace the old one in the organisation. Use the change curve to anticipate and address people’s emotional reactions. For example, you can communicate the benefits and rationale of the new system, listen to their concerns and feedback, involve them in the testing and training process, provide support and recognition, and celebrate the successful adoption of the new system.

Scenario 2: New M&A activities

Scenario 2: You are leading a team through a merger or acquisition that will result in organisational restructuring and layoffs. Some employees may feel anxious and uncertain about their future. Use the change curve to empathise and support their emotional needs. For example, you can share honest and timely information, acknowledge their feelings and fears, offer career counselling or coaching, recognise their contributions and achievements, help them adjust to the new culture and environment, or even support them in finding a new workplace.

Scenario 3: Personal Crises

Scenario 3: A person in your team faces a personal crisis that affects their performance and well-being. Your team may notice a change in their behaviour and attitude. Use the change curve to manage their own emotions and maintain trust and credibility with them and the team. Suppose you are the one going through the change. In that case, you can admit to your own vulnerability, seek professional help or guidance, delegate tasks or responsibilities, express gratitude and appreciation, and focus on positive outcomes and opportunities.

Scenario 4: Cancellation of Projects

Scenario 4: A team member is informed that their project will be cancelled due to budget cuts, and they will be assigned to a different project. They themselves can use the change curve to recognise and manage their own feelings and enable better communication with you. For example, they can seek clarification and information about the reasons for the cancellation, express their frustration and disappointment, explore other options or opportunities, seek support from their colleagues or manager, and embrace the new project with a positive attitude.

Scenario 5: Learning New Mechanisms

Scenario 5: A team member is required to learn a new software system that will replace the old one. They can use the change curve to identify their state changes, overcome their resistance, and adapt. For example, they can acknowledge the benefits and challenges of the new system, voice their concerns and feedback, participate in the testing and training process, ask for better help or guidance, and practice and improve their skills.

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Andre Muscat

Exploring the world of business technology to work out what what’s really happening, what actually matters, and what it means. | www.andremuscat.com