Hands Up! Are Your Employees Ready for the Organizational Change Roller Coaster Ride?

Posted by Paula Alsher on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 @ 11:34 AM

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), more than 300 million people ride roller coasters at U.S. amusement parks every year.  300 million!  That’s almost the entire population of the United States.  roller-coaster-701765_960_720.jpg

The funny thing is, huge numbers of people are riding roller coasters in the business world as well. All employees, in every organization, experience change at some point in their careers. The emotions felt during an organizational change can easily be compared to a monster roller coaster. There are ups, downs, curves, slow climbs, fast descents, unexpected speed changes, and head-snapping starts and stops. So, the real question is: How can we prepare employees for the ride? 

Last week’s blog looked at Challenge #1 of personal transition: remaining productive. This week, we will examine Challenge #2: maintaining professionalism during a change. In other words, what does it take to survive the emotional roller coaster?  


Positive Changes

When confronted with change, individuals need to first figure out their own perceptions of what is to come. Is this a positive change, or a negative one? Surprisingly, even positive changes create a roller coaster of emotions. Think about getting married, or receiving a long-awaited promotion. These are definitely considered positive changes, but a roller coaster of emotion often follows along with the event.

Knowing what to expect during a positive change can help any individual navigate through the emotional ups and downs. Employees should be prepared to experience five distinct phases during a positive change:

  • Un-informed Certainty
  • Informed Doubt
  • Resistance
  • Realistic Concern
  • Informed Certainty

Strategies and tactics can be applied that are helpful during a positive change. These include:

  • Understand the Change
    It is important to understand the scope, context and impact of the change.
  • Clarify Expectations
    Once the data surrounding scope, context and impact is collected, expectations need to be set and validated.
  • Expect Some Change Pain
    There will be problems both before the change and after the change. Identifying these issues and dealing with them is crucial.

Negative Changes

When a change is perceived to be negative, there is a continuum of behavior, instead of distinct phases. Negative change usually means there will be a loss, an ending, or something that will need to be given up. Phases of a negative change include:

  • Denial
    Individuals may not truly believe the change will take place. They may think, “This is not really going to happen.”
  • Anger
    Anger can provide an illusion of control to someone going through a transition. The individual may blame others, or complain that the change is not right, or not fair.
  • Bargaining
    An individual will often seek to re-define the change from his or her own Frame of Reference. This is often considered the first phase of acceptance.
  • Depression
    If many employees become depressed, the company may begin to see an increase in sick leave, and turnover, and there may be a decrease in productivity.
  • Exploration
    In this phase, the loss is identified and begins to be accepted. The future is the focus.
  • Acceptance
    Acceptance is the last phase, but should not be confused with ‘liking the change.’

Having strategies in place to deal with a negative change can help an individual survive the emotional roller coaster. Here are a few examples of tactics that can be used:

  • Obtain Support  
  • Focus on First Steps
  • Increase Communication
  • Vent Constructively
  • Test New Options

An important point to remember during any change, whether it is percevied as negative or positive, is that different people will have different reactions to the change. Understanding where an individual is in the process is the first step, but pinpointing where people around them are on the change curve is also imperative. Having tolerance and understanding toward others will help to accelerate the change process.

Think of a change going on in your organization. Is it perceived as positive or negative, or both? Where are your employees on the emotional curve? Are they ready to put their hands up, and go for the ride?

Next week we will look at the Challenge #3 of a personal transition: being proactive.

Watch the Webinar: How Do You Prepare Employees for Organizational Change?


Topics: Change Readiness