Change is something we have come to live with on a daily basis. New regulations, new requirements, new teams, new processes, new systems, new anything - change is nothing unususal. Yet, when a company needs to adapt to its environment and change its strategy or even transform into a new enterprise, perhaps by merging with or acquiring another company, the necessary changes require more than a quick adaptation. In some cases change even requires a company to re-invent itself. Companies that outlived their market (such as the polaroid industry, the VHS systems or small photo cameras) have to find a new market, new products and new customers. This change or transformation often creates fear and uncertainty, while at the same time demanding a very high level of flexibility and diligence.

Leading a company through such a transformation is a challenge for leadership on all levels. Not all leaders are prepared for such a task, especially not, when they were grown out of the ranks based on functional expertise, knowledge and standing. Leading through a transformation is not just a matter of reorganisation, but more often a quest to move people´s minds towards a new direction, align their energy and enthusiam behind a new strategy and help them re-focus on completely new goals. Enabling performance in an environment of uncertainty and realignment becomes the primary objective for leadership.


How do you know that Change is coming

Some of the most common examples when change management is necessary to successfully implement changes within organizations include:

  • Implementation of a new technology.
  • Mergers & acquisitions.
  • Change in leadership.
  • Change in organizational culture.
  • Times of a crisis.


While we go through a transformation, our performance takes the shape of a J over time. Think about the depth and the length of the drop in the J as the pain of change. Eventually, we will improve and achieve our new desired status quo. This is what we call the J curve effect. Along this J curve are the four phases that describe the ups and downs, or the pains and gains, during the transformation.

The four phases of CHANGE

Change typically means that the organization goes from a state of stability to a state of instability of chaos and back to stability. When change is first introduced at work, the people affected will typically go through four stages. These can be visualised on the change curve. The stages are:


Stage 1 is when the organization leaves the stable position and moves towards instability. People’s initial reaction to the change will likely be resistance or anger as they refuse to accept that change is happening. Once the reality sinks in and people accept the change is happening, they tend to react negatively. They may feel pressured or fearful, and actively resist or protest against the changes. This is perfectly understandable, as that person may have been an expert in the way things used to be done and their expertise has resulted in respect. The coming change undermines this position. If people continue to resist change and remain at stage 2, the change will never work, at least for the people who react in this way. So you need to help them move out of this stressful and unpleasant stage, into the more positive, acceptance stage.



At stage 2, people stop focusing on what they’ve lost and start to let go and accept the change. People will begin to test and explore what the changes mean to them. Yet, still the times are difficult, because change is still happening and nothing is stable enough to go back to comfort zone. There are still many unknowns and questions to be asked. During this time, a great deal of alignment can be achieved through focussed discussions, subject matter exchanges and hands-on experimenting. People need to not only hear words, but get to see, feel, hear, smell and taste what the future will be like. The big picture of what the future will be like needs to form itself through impressions that can be obtained and various channels and through all different senses. Because human beings are different in their way of processing inputs, any smart change program incorporates communications that address these different channels and senses.



The one thing that lets people go from chaos to stability is the experience of a success. Stage 3 is essential in going back to "normal", because it is the bridge that brings everyone, even the sceptics, from a place of insurity to a place of trust, from a place of instablility  to a place of stability and from a place of resistance to a place of supporting and commitment. This bridge is in fact a learning curve that everyone has to go through. When people learn how its done, experience how its done and also develop the skills, abilities and knowledge to teach others how its done, that is the momentum that great change managers see as the tipping point, when all the waves of resistance break down and one by one, little success form a big one. The only thing left to do is, to anchor these successes everywhere in the organization.



When people reach the last stage, comfort & control, they not only accept the changes, but embrace them. They then start to restructure their ways of working and become more productive and positive. As a by-product of the change effort, teams and individuals will gain a certain feeling of belonging, because they, together or as one, have overcome something that remains remembered as a challenge, but is now something that has been achieved.


A Sense of Urgency

Many renown experts outline their approach to "Leading Change & Transformation". In my work I like to follow John Kotter, Professor at Harvard University, who focuses on the following eight steps.

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition
  3. Developing a Vision and Strategy
  4. Communicating the Change Vision
  5. Empowering Employees for Broad-Based Action
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins
  7. Leverage consoldiated gains to implement more change
  8. Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture