In George Kohlrieser’s book “Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance” (2006) the author talks about ‘change management’ from a human aspect. Most managers are familiar with various processes for managing and executing change; and many will have also heard of the ‘SARA (Shock, Anger, Rejection and Acceptance)’ dynamic of change acceptance; but if a leader wants to ‘overcome conflict, influence others, and raise performance’ a more ‘human’ understanding of reaction to change might be appropriate. In the book there is reference to the eight stages of grief: recognize and understand these and you might be able to better manage yourself and others through significant change.
Here are the eight stages of grief followed by further considerations (“et alors”):
Change Management – Grief Management
Whilst experiencing grief already, people in this stage are ‘protecting’ themselves by suppressing emotion. For a limited time this can be beneficial; however it can be destructive to be in denial too long.
2. Protest and Anger
People protest at ‘loss’ especially if there was a strong psychological attachment. Anger can become destructive – it needs to be the right anger with the right person at the right time.
3. Sadness, Missing or Longing
The sadness is from deep inside which leads to missing or longing for what was. The act of crying is essential in completing this process; otherwise detachment and chronic loneliness can result.
4. Fear and Anxiety
Now ‘separated’, the person feels in danger; however the crisis brings the person back to the ‘essence of who they are.’ At this point and without exception, the grief needs to be expressed and shared.
5. Mental and Emotional Acceptance
The acceptance is in terms of both thoughts and feelings and this is often the most difficult part. Complete ‘detachment’ is not required as long as genuine acceptance of the change has occurred.
6. Forming New Attachments
Looking forward and focusing on the new paradigm, the new ‘attachment’ should be genuine and not just a substitute for the former paradigm (otherwise the person will remain grieving).
Here this means ‘being able to give again’ – being able to ‘give for’ others. Without forgiveness, the person might become either a ‘victim’ or a ‘persecutor.’
Here, the person realizes that they are not the ‘center of the universe’ and were not the only agent of the change. ‘Reconnected,’ the person is able to become ‘thankful’.
Not many managers will have to deal with a change in an organization as profound as the principle causes of grief: death of or separation from a loved one; however the ‘human’ impact of significant organizational changes should not be underestimated. A major change can feel like a loss and accordingly individuals will go through the grieving process described above. If you can recognize that someone is still in ‘denial’ appropriate actions can be taken – similarly, for each of the other stages. The challenge might arise for the manager in two instances: first the manager might be ‘suffering’ grief him/herself and will have to deal with this first before being able to help others; secondly emotions (and tangible manifestations such as crying) are not always considered appropriate in certain organizational cultures. Here the manager will have to adapt (according to the prevailing culture); however holding meetings at various stages of the project where grievances can be aired will certainly help: human interactions such as empathy, understanding, dialogue and support address most of the points above.