Change Is Not Easy: Learn to Manage Change with Ease

🕑 7 minutes read | Jun 19 2023 | By Craig Gerdes, TTA Learning Consultant

Change is everywhere. In today’s world, we face rapid change in society and the workplace. For example, technology is constantly evolving, corporate hierarchies are frequently being reshaped, and job processes and procedures are always shifting. For survival, individuals and organizations must continuously adapt and look for ways to manage change.

In this article, we will explore the change cycle and key factors individuals and organizations can use to manage change successfully.

What is Change?

Change is any new situation such as a new job, a new manager, a new process/procedure or on a personal level, moving to a new home, getting married, or having a new baby.

Change is about doing things differently, seeing things in a new way, adjusting to surprises, and adapting to new ideas.

It is human nature to resist change and want to protect what is familiar.

Key points about change include:

  • The impact of change varies for everyone; there is no universal “normal.”
  • Change is an integral part of the world and should be embraced.
  • Our attitude plays a crucial role in adapting to change.
  • It is important to acknowledge and mourn what we are leaving behind.
  • Change presents an opportunity for self-motivation and innovation.
  • We can develop strategies to accept and implement the changes we face.

Once we understand why we find change so threatening, we can begin to accept and manage change for ourselves and for others. Managers and leaders can have a powerful effect on how employees react to the threat of change, either positively or negatively. How we approach change can have a ripple effect that reverberates for months or even years.

Transitions in the Change Cycle

When preparing to adapt to change, it is helpful to analyze the change cycle. This process details three transitions or stages that each of us goes through when adjusting to change and coming to terms with the new situation that has come about because of the change. The transitions are not optional; we must all go through those three stages if we want to make the change stick.

change management cycle

Endings: There is an Endings stage, where we let go of something known and dependable. Not acknowledging an ending makes it difficult to move forward. People may not want to acknowledge endings, but they usually agree on the stress and confusion that they often feel during this time.

Intellectually, we may know we have to accept a change, but emotionally, we may still resist it. Change can sometimes be perceived as exciting, stimulating, and motivating by some people. But for most people, change is seen as a loss because we are letting go of a cherished thing just to grasp on to another and it can produce fear and anxiety in many people.

Neutral: There is a Neutral zone, where we hang in mid-air, without any orientation to the past or the future. Here you will want to find anchors, arrange temporary structures, and explore the other side of change, particularly its positive aspects. People in this stage may have a strong need for support from others. Major transitions can unleash powerful conflicting forces in people.

It is crucial to not avoid the neutral zone experience. The neutral zone is often treated like a busy street to be crossed as quickly as possible. However, it is important to take the time to complete endings and integrate new patterns. Most organizations (and many people) skip transitions and jump right into new beginnings.

Beginnings: Finally, there is the Beginnings phase, where we plunge headlong into something unknown – our own future. This stage is to be filled with renewed enthusiasm and a new direction.

Organizations think about beginnings long before people do and there is often conflict between organizational motivation and adoption and the critical mass to actually make it happen. At this stage, people need inspiring leadership (vision and purpose) rather than pushing management (goals and plans).

Reactions to Change

People react differently to change as described in the following categories:

  • Innovators are people who want to try new ways of doing things or who have responsibility for continuous improvement. They will be pushing for change.
  • Early Adopters on the team will be the first to embrace the changes. They may even rush in before they fully understand the change and why it is necessary. They welcome change either because they immediately see the benefits or perhaps because they prefer variety to routine.
  • The Early Majority are those who are influenced by Innovators and Early Adopters and who prefer to be ahead of the wave rather than swamped by it.
  • The Late Majority are more cautious. They hold back until they are sure they know what they are doing and until they believe the new change has a fair chance of working. Only then do they come on board.
  • Late Adopters are the last to come on board and they may not come willingly. They are not easily convinced of the value of the change, but they can be moved to accept the change once they see the benefits or feel that they will be left behind.
  • Diehards resist the change. They do not come on board at all. If their resistance is absolute, they may be moved to a back position in the organization, where their resistance interferes with operations less, or even terminated. They can become angry and bitter about the way things are going.

Changes are adopted at different rates in organizations. The Innovators try things first, followed by the Early Adopters. These are the people you need to get on board first. Focus your efforts on them, not the Diehards. Some people are never able to change, and you cannot spend valuable time on them.

When 5% of the people in a group adopt a change, the change is embedded. When 20% adopt it, the change is unstoppable. So, get the Innovators and Early Adopters on board and the success of your change is assured.

Key Factors in Successfully Managing Change

If you find yourself in the middle of a situation that involves significant change for you and others, and you are responsible for shepherding others through this change, the following factors are important to consider for a smooth transition.

  • Empathy: A practical definition of empathy is, “putting yourself in the shoes of the other person.”In managing change, the first key is to know to what extent the change will be resented and rejected or accepted and welcomed. If everyone is enthusiastic about it, it is probably OK to proceed immediately. But if it will be resisted, it is probably wise to reconsider or go slowly. To be the most accurate in analyzing the degree of resistance or acceptance, it is necessary to consider each person individually. The better a manager knows the individuals who will be affected by the change, the more accurate will be his or her analysis of their reactions.
  • Participation: The second key, participation, requires a manager to get involvement from those concerned with and affected by the change. Participation is an especially crucial factor in the successful management of change. It begins with a philosophy among all levels of management beginning at the top. They must believe that participation can benefit both the organization and the employees. It then requires implementation. In most cases, a formal approach is best, such as structure and training. In some cases, an informal approach can be successful. Not only can participation contribute to the quality of the change, but it can also be significant in increasing the acceptance of those who must implement the change. A good decision based on all the available facts can fail because of a lack of acceptance, resulting in resistance and even sabotage. Participation is the key that can contribute to both quality and acceptance and results in a win/win/win solution for organizations, managers, and employees.
  • Communication: Communication, the third key, requires the manager to maintain continuous, complete, and clear communication with all people affected by the change. Let us look at the following aspects of communication that are frequently misunderstood or often ignored.
    • Definition: Communication means creating understanding and not merely sending information. If people do not understand, the manager has not communicated.
    • Who: The criteria for deciding whom to communicate with should include those who want to know as well as those who need to know.
    • When: Care should be taken regarding the timing of the communication. First, managers should be told before nonmanagers get the information. Secondly, those who will be affected should be told as far in advance as practical.
    • How: Managers should give thought to the method of communicating before doing it. It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of oral and written communication. In most cases, both methods may be necessary to achieve understanding as well as to gain acceptance. In a few cases, well-written communication alone may do the job.
Reflection/Action Plan

On a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent), how would you rate your willingness and ability to manage change for yourself? For others? If your score is lower than a 7, what can you do differently to become more effective?


Change is not easy. Many people do not cope with it naturally, but we can learn techniques to help us cope better. If we practice being positive, focused, flexible, organized, and proactive we learn to be more resilient, and change becomes easier to manage and accept.

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