TJ Essentials: Change management pts 7-9

Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook give us their final three parts of their TJ Essentials guide to change management.

Part seven: Types of change

After identifying that an organisation needs to change, the next step is deciding what type of change is required. This can be fundamental to the success of the change initiative because planning for different types of change results in different methodologies, measurements, timescales and approaches. Whilst it is possible to consider many different types of change, we will focus here on the main types as:

  • transformational change
  • incremental change, which can be divided into:
    • developmental change
    • transitional change

Transformational change

Transformational change is a root and branch up-turning of many aspects of the organisation. This may include its mission and purpose, processes, systems and technologies and the skills and type of employees required.

People often loosely talk about organisational change as transformational, but in reality what is required to achieve transformational change is far greater than minor modifications or step-by-step change and requires many different approaches, techniques and plans.

Transformational change in particular requires serious consideration and detailed planning appropriate to large-scale, big scope organisational change.

Such transformational changes might include, for example, introducing significant technology-related change requiring major investment and changes throughout the organisation, such as new skills training and new recruits.

Transformational change places a big bet on the success of what is likely to be a substantial upheaval. The risks are considerable: managers can make the wrong decisions in an environment in which they are unfamiliar, employees may burn out or become demotivated, it may be hard to keep a focus on priorities and continuing business as usual.

The sheer size of the task and the details involved need preparation to avoid it being too much to handle, using outside assistance where necessary.

The process needs significant leadership, planning and direction which, if successful, will guide the organisation through rocky waters. As well as overall leadership, skilful and detailed management, teamwork and co-ordination, plus monitoring maintenance of change are required over the whole period.

Clearly, L&D is part of a significant concerted effort in transformational change.

Incremental change

Incremental change is experienced by almost every organisation that wishes to thrive and survive. The change is one of modification or improvement, not altering the core of the organisation. Incremental changes can have a big impact within the scope of that organisation and it is more controllable than transformational change.

Incremental change is made up of small but potentially significant improvements. In many ways, it has been compared favourably in terms of results with the outcomes of much bigger transformational changes. Incremental changes in one area can be followed successfully in other areas.

The philosophy of continuous improvement as a quality management tool has taken root in many organisations which encourages often small-scale changes on a regular basis.

These changes involve everybody, not just a team of specialists. For many organisations, incremental change can be motivational because it can involve employees who can see their contributions taken up and turned into visible improvements.

Incremental change can be developmental or transitional:

Developmental change

Developmental change improves on what is already there; it may not be extensive but is a way of improving efficiencies, correcting problem areas or enhancing success in particular areas. Changes are not usually hugely disruptive and therefore likely to be more readily accepted than bigger changes.

Taken over a period of time, the organisation may accumulate changes which have a significant effect on the bottom line. Therefore, developmental changes are a sign of a healthy, changing organisation which wishes to remain competitive by being receptive to ideas and suggestions from the widest of sources.

Transitional change

One step up in terms of complexity from developmental change is transitional change. These transitional changes are still within known parameters and may arise, for example, from mergers and acquisitions or replacing and introducing major new systems and processes.

Because of the significance of these types of changes, such changes can be disruptive and management must proceed more cautiously in planning for and monitoring the change.


The bigger the change, the more planning is required – and also the bigger the risk. Transformational change is more costly and often will take longer to deliver results. Incremental change is smaller in scale and more controllable. Such change can be divided into small, continuous improvements – developmental change – or larger but still incremental – transitional change.

Whatever types of change, L&D are likely to be heavily involved in supporting the change process.


Part eight: Change management models

Change management models are commonly used in organisations to help those involved recognise a structure to assist people to understand and navigate their way through change. L&D find them particularly useful to help everyone understand the emotions and feelings generated during change and what behaviours and actions are often seen at different points during change.

Here are three of those models in regular use:

  • Kurt Lewin’s unfreeze-change-freeze model;
  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross transition curve, describing the emotions and performance rollercoaster during major change;
  • John Kotter’s eight step model of managing change.

Kurt Lewin’s change model

Lewin’s model of change describes three stages: a preparation stage to recognise the need for change, breaking down people’s initial state of resistance to change; then a stage of letting go and developing new habits and behaviours; and finally a stage where new practices and behaviours becoming accepted and commonplace as the new normal. In graphic form, the model would look something like this:


When changes are proposed in organisations, powerful emotions are often generated. This can lead to people’s willingness to change becoming rigid, frozen like a block of ice.

To move on, consciously introduced policies and practices have to take place, of which L&D and team development may make an important contribution, discussing and helping people’s understanding why the change is necessary and overcoming any reservations.

Making changes

Only when people are ready will firm changes start to take place. If change is pushed faster than people have come to terms with in this transition, they may well feel their feelings are being ignored and there is a risk of push-back or reverting to old ways, so two-way communication and L&D is a vital part of this process of making changes in line with the people in the organisation.


Finally, a position is reached where changes have been made and these can now be embedded in the organisation. This can be described as refreezing, stabilising new behaviours, roles and procedures which will become custom and practice. Positive rewards and acknowledgment of individual efforts are a part of this.

When new changes are again required

When new changes are again required, this process has to go through these stages all over again.


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross transition curve

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described how individuals react to major trauma, such as someone close to them dying. They will typically follow a pattern, which has since been applied to organisations with the name transition curve, a wide U-shaped curve.

The curve describes what happens when people are confronted with a major change: it quickly leads to a numbness, then a substantial dip in performance and heightened emotions, as people feel confused and in shock.

At different points, individuals may experience a wide range of emotions – become angry, increasingly depressed, blaming oneself and others, or sometimes feeling panic, dread or helplessness. Over this initial time period, the individual will spiral down, reaching a final low point.

However, after a period of time – sometimes months for a big change – gradually a person’s performance and emotions will tend to pick up, at first by testing and experimenting with new ways and later beginning to accept the new situation and integrating into their everyday lives.

Before full acceptance, there is a stage of searching for a new meaning and purpose, then finally discovering and learning new ways. In the later stages, feelings of optimism and hope return, with renewed energy as the individual starts to move on and re-integrate new realities into everyday behaviours and patterns.

John Kotter’s eight steps for successful organisational change

John Kotter made a study of successful and unsuccessful major organisational changes. He found there was a distinct pattern to these changes, which brought out clearly how successful organisations differed from those which were unsuccessful in making change stick in their organisation. As a result of his work, he formulated an eight-step change model:

Step one: create urgency

It is important for organisations to generate urgency, for example by explaining the need to change and the consequences of not making that change within defined timescales.

Step two: form a powerful guiding coalition

Kotter found that there needs to be a small number of key powerful individuals who together form a coalition for change, will hold a vision and are willing to push change through from the basis of their power.

Step three: create a vision

A vision is a guiding and inspiring light which gives people something to aim for, a sense of direction and motivation. Without it, Kotter found a change project will often lose its way and lose the necessary impetus and force to achieve the goal.

Step four: communicate the vision

A vision has to be more than something a few people keep to themselves. It has to be communicated vigorously, not just in words but in deeds.

Step five: removing any obstacles

Any change process will have plenty of things that get in their way, but major obstacles need to be overcome if a change project is to deliver results.

Step six: create short-term wins

A change project is a bit of a marathon. Organisations need to set short-term wins and celebrate victories as they go along to spur people on, boost morale and ensure that people do not get discouraged during the long change journey.

Step seven: build on the change

One of the biggest traps that Kotter observed was declaring victory too soon, saying the battle had been won when in fact change hadn’t penetrated sufficiently deeply into the organisation to make it stick.

Step eight: root the changes within the corporate environment

New changes can sometimes fall by the wayside if they do not become embedded sufficiently deeply within the corporate culture. This means fundamental changes, not just to the institution’s processes and practices but the underlying values and behaviours which support them.


Part nine: Conflict management during change

Change is likely to bring about increasing tensions in organisations, which put increasing pressure on individuals and groups to manage conflict skilfully and not to sweep it under the carpet or allow it to get out of hand. Change and uncertainty are a breeding ground for conflict to develop, but its negative consequences are considerable and worth trying to reduce. HR and L&D have an important role to play here.

How do you react to conflict?

Most people like to believe they are flexible in dealing with conflict, though in reality we tend to prefer a dominant style. There is considerable scope to adopt new approaches to conflict, for example, looking for a solution which fully satisfies the needs of both parties. Below are some roots of conflict and how L&D can contribute to better and more skilled outcomes.

Personality and behaviour differences

Lack of interpersonal skills can contribute to conflict, so development in these areas is particularly beneficial during change, for example in:

  • negotiation skills, reaching an agreement acceptable to both parties
  • handling effective meetings
  • team working skills

Role conflict, lack of clear objectives

A lot of conflict arises because of unclear definition and understanding of roles and responsibilities and a lack of shared understanding of what they or the organisation should be doing. Change often gives rise to considerable numbers of such issues, with the real possibility of conflict. L&D can help bring these out in team sessions and assist in facilitating greater clarity.

Poor communication

Poor communication during change causes many difficulties and stepping up communication and airing differences can lead to much closer understanding. L&D can work with communication specialists to increase the quantity and quality of communication.

Lack of openness and shared values

Closed cultures bring secrecy and possible harbouring of grudges, an Us v Them approach. L&D can help team facilitation to cement commonly agreed values.

The value of diversity

Through information, discussion and exercises, discussion of the benefits of valuing diversity can help people to understand its value, whether people are from different cultures, orientation, race and gender. 

Degree of shared team understanding and values

Conflict is a common occurrence in teams, particularly those which are newly formed or where new team members join an established group. ‘Storming’ is a recognised phase of team development. 

Ignoring or trying to suppress conflict does not make it go away. To help promote teamwork, facilitated team development sessions are often used successfully. Team building needs experienced facilitation if it is not to degenerate into a false ‘happy club’ atmosphere or conversely where conflict gets out of hand. 

If it is difficult for an individual team member to address conflict in their group, teams can draw on the help of a coach or facilitator. Use this approach to help teams and individuals gain fresh insight into conflict and what to do about it. 

How can L&D assist in handling conflict effectively?

L&D can do a lot to increase participants’ knowledge and skills in managing the conflict handling process. By way of illustration, here are typical topic headings for a conflict handling workshop:

  • Sources that create conflict between individuals
  • The consequences of conflict
  • Peoples’ reaction to conflict
  • Conflict management styles, using The Thomas Kilmann model of conflict handling
  • Skills and techniques for effectively managing conflict
  • Defusing anger and aggression in other people


L&D interventions in times of change can do much to support conflict resolution and collaboration. Such approaches will give considerable help and support to all those involved in change, in particular in:

  • increasing the level of self-awareness among individuals and groups
  • building greater understanding of the value of diversity
  • developing skill levels in dealing with people
  • promoting a more open organisation which can build a greater commitment to shared values.


About the authors

Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook are development specialists and performance coaches who focus on helping leaders and organisations to achieve sustainable change. Steve can be contacted at; Sarah, at



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