Blue Beyond Consulting

Change Leadership: Recognizing the 3 Phases of How Employees Process Change

As a leader, it’s your job to help employees navigate times of uncertainty and change. While changes are often external events — such as mergers, re-orgs, and culture transformations — changes spark an internal process for employees that is both emotional and psychological. As a leader, you can’t control how your team will react to the change, but you can learn to recognize how your employees are feeling about the transition — and how you can best support them through it.

Employees experience different emotions as they move through this transition process. Employees will transition from feeling a sense of loss, to feeling some confusion, but with your support as a leader, can come to a feeling of acceptance and commitment.

Emotional Process of Change

Change is a process. Although the change event itself may happen in an instant, the transition happens over time. Adjusting to change starts with a mindset shift, then a behavior shift, and finally, a system and routine shift.

Mindset Shift: When employees first hear about the change and begin to wrap their heads around what they might have to give up and what their “new normal”

Behavior Shift: When employees begin to take steps toward the “new normal” and make a conscious effort to develop behaviors that will support this

System and Routine Shift: When new operating models and systems, ways of working, and processes are all formalized and employees begin to operate in the “new normal”

How to Identify Which Phase of the Change Your Employee Is In

Not every employee or team will move through these phases at the same pace. Some may have already reached a feeling of commitment or acceptance, while others may still be wrestling with the feeling of loss and are working through the mindset shift.

Your role as a leader is to identify what stage of the transition your employees are in, alter your leadership style to fit their needs, identify the behaviors that need to change, reinforce these behavior changes as you see them, and communicate openly with your team as the transition takes place.

So, how can you identify which phase of the change your employee is in? Listen carefully to what they are saying. While it will vary based on the change your organization is undergoing, here are some examples of language that can reveal what phase of the change your employee is currently in:

Mindset Shift / “Loss””

  • I want to keep doing what I was doing before
  • I liked the other people I was working with before
  • The way things have always been done is fine
  • I have to learn new things now
  • I wasn’t done yet
  • My time and energy has been wasted
  • I need to change my entire process and approach
  • This is a bad idea
  • This won’t work

Behavior Shift / “Confusion”

  • What’s going to happen to the old stuff?
  • What else will change?
  • Will I be replaced?
  • How is this new stuff going to work?
  • How will this happen?
  • Do we have the skills and resources to do this?
  • This is hard to figure out
  • I don’t know how to navigate this

System and Routine Shift / “Acceptance and Commitment”

  • These new ways have potential
  • I’m ready to learn and try something new
  • There are new opportunities now
  • I get to build new relationships
  • I can see how this will be better for the future

As a leader, it’s important to be aware of how your employees are truly feeling during times of transition in order to effectively support them and lead them through the change.

(Based on the Willam Bridges Transition Model)