Kubler-Ross – How to Deal With the Pain of Change – The Change Roller Coaster

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss physician/researcher who undertook seminal work on the grief process. Many regard her as the mother of the modern hospice movement.

The Kubler-Ross model, was first introduced in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” in which she describes five stages of emotional and psychological response to grief, tragedy and catastrophic loss.

In case you are wondering what all this has to with change management and strategies for managing change, the connection is quite simply that although it was originally used to describe the cycle of emotional changes experienced by the terminally ill, her model [though evolved within a clinical environment] was found to have a far wider application to people experiencing any bad news.

So the wider business significance of her work has been the realisation that people go through similar responses when faced with lesser – but still significant changes in their working and personal lives.

The major significance of her model – which is also known as “The Change Roller Coaster” – is that it maps the emotional responses that your staff are likely to experience if or when you announce a major step-change and especially if [as in the current climate] this is likely to contain bad news.

In summary, the 5 stages of the model are:

(1) Denial – This is usually a temporary initial response along the lines of: “I feel fine… this can’t be happening to me…”

(2) Anger – Once the realisation that that denial cannot continue then anger sets in: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; Who is to blame?”

(3) Bargaining – This stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay the inevitable… “Just give me a bit longer… just let me finish…. “

(4) Depression – During this fourth stage, the person begins to understand the certainty of what is going to happen:” What’s the point? I can’t go on?”

(5) Acceptance – This final stage comes with a measure of peace and acceptance of the inevitable. “It’s going to be okay… can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”

The importance and significance of “The change roller coaster” model is that it highlights very clearly the emotional terrain that your staff are likely to experience, and the necessity for clear yet compassionate leadership – and especially through the initial phases of the change management process.

This is where the key processes in a programme based approach to change [e.g.Stakeholder Mapping and Analysis and the Communications Strategy] are so critical to addressing this important dimension.

And this is where the properly applied change model and leadership skills are exercised to best effect when employing the holistic and wide view perspective of a programme based approach to change management.