The 3 Basic Stages of Change

butterflyIn Lewin’s Change Management Model, Lewin describes the three phases as unfreeze, change and freeze but here’s a different way of looking at it…

Stage 1. Contemplation – where we think about why we want to change something, what we hope to achieve through that change and how we would go about it.

Stage 2. Decision – having thought through the options, the issues, the risks and the desired outcomes at the contemplation stage it’s now time to decide – do or do not (there is no try!).

Stage 3. Action – We’ve decided, now we act. Our action will be successful, not successful or perhaps partially successful in achieving our desired outcomes. Depending on the outcome of the action it may be necessary to loop back to stage 1 – contemplation.

Easy and logical right? We probably go through this process instinctively hundreds of times each day for the basic stuff. For example, I’m thirsty and I want to enact a change so that I’m no longer thirsty. But do I want coffee, tea or water (contemplation); I want tea (decision); I go and make a cup of tea and I drink the tea (action) and I’m no longer thirsty! If I was still thirsty I’d loop back around to contemplation – do I want another cuppa or will water do a better job this time around?

But what about when it’s not just about you or a cup of tea? What about when it’s a major complex change involving a team, a department or even the whole organisation? The stages are the same but things just got a lot harder…..

“But you can’t expect everyone to contemplate or decide surely?” No? Think national referendums or general elections – it is possible to put in place mechanisms to contemplate and decide on a large scale. I’m not advocating that the workplace should be a democracy but recognise this – the more people that have to act that feel involved in the contemplation and the decision process then the greater the chance of the change being a success.

So where it is practical consult as widely as possible. Harness the brain power of your team, your department, your organisation at the contemplation stage and you may be surprised at the golden nuggets you’ll discover.

Of course the ultimate decision (unless you do hold a referendum!) is still likely to be made by an individual or a small group of individuals. The Chair, the CEO, the department head, the team leader – no matter how wide you consult, you remain accountable for the decision. Not fair…tough…suck it up…it’s what we get paid for!

So now the decision has been made how do we get people, lots of people to act? There needs to be a plan, the detail of the plan will depend on the scale of the change but it should never be vague and it needs to clearly identify who is doing what and when and what dependancies there are across the plan or external to the plan.

It is essential where major transformational change is desired, even before we get into the detail of who is doing what and when, to get as much buy-in as possible from those who you need to act. A great way to do this is through the construction of stories or blueprints.

A story or blueprint is a high-level vision of the future state that is desired after the change has taken place. The clearer the vision, the more descriptive of what things will be like or how we will do things, the more understanding we will attain. Understanding doesn’t equal buy-in so try to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly those who are involved in the ‘Act’ stage have a stake in reaching that future state.

A great companion of the story is the alternative story or blueprint. The alternative story describes what things will be like if we do not make the change. Usually it describes an outcome that is not desired (otherwise why do the change!). The alternative story can sometimes be a stronger motivator than the story!

So who’d like a cuppa? (Let the contemplation begin!).

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