Harvard Business School 9-491-039
Rev. July 29, 1996
Note on the Recipients of Change
It's tough for people who have done real well to feel pushed out the door. Tough for
the ego, like cutting out a big piece of yourself. Especially when you've been there for a while,
you're rooted.. It's who you were, part of who you are.
The comment above was made by someone in a company that was "downsized." But as the
statement indicates, the person himself was downsized in a way—losing a "big piece" of himself. This
image is by no means unusual; people in the throes of change often speak in terms of being
diminished. They also use words like anger, betrayal, shock—in short, they describe dramatic emotions
that rarely encompass the positive. They experience being unappreciated, anxious, at a minimum,
In contrast, much has been written about the need to embrace change with enthusiasm. We are
to "foster hardiness" and be flexible; change is a challenge to confront, an adventure; we must "thrive
on chaos." What accounts for this difference between actual reactions to change and what we are
supposed to feel? Can this gap be bridged? Not easily.
No organization can institute change if its employees will not, at the very least, accept the
change. No change will "work" if employees don't help in the effort. And, change is not possible
without people changing themselves. Any organization that believes change can take hold without
considering how people will react to it is in deep delusion. Change can be "managed" externally by
those who decide when it is needed and how it "should" be implemented. But it will be implemented
only when employees accept change—and the specific change—internally.
This note explores how people, in general, react to change, why they do so, and how they may
be able to understand their reactions better. The perspective is that of the "changee," or recipient, but
the ideas are helpful to change agents as well. By grasping more firmly the experience of being
changed, those managing the process can gain a broader understanding of the effects—intended and
unintended—of the changes they are instituting.
One point must be stressed at the outset. For some people, any interference with routine
provokes strong reaction. These folks we call "set in their ways"—or worse! At the other extreme are
those for whom the next mountain is always to be attacked with ferocity. These are the daredevils
among us. Most people fall between these two poles, and it is with them that we are concerned.
Further, the "change" we address is more than minor disruption in ways of operation; we are dealing
with the kinds of change that are experienced as transformational.
Professor Todd D. Jick prepared this note as the basis for class discussion.
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491-039 Note on the Recipients of Change
Reactions to Change
The typical employee spends at least eight hours a day at the workplace, doing, in general,
fairly regular, predictable tasks. Indeed, most companies have orientation programs that emphasize
the company "culture," which implies some stability. Employees usually have some sort of job
description, performance appraisals that are linked to that description, and job planning and reviews,
all of which tacitly indicate that there is a quid pro quo. The employee does X, and if that is done well,
on time, etc., the employee receives Y in compensation.
In addition to this external contract, is a psychological one: belonging to the organization,
fitting into the work and social patterns that exist in the company. There is a political dimension here
as well. For those seeking advancement in the organization there are written and unwritten "rules" of
the game. "The way we do things around here" is something that career-minded employees attend to.
But what happens when the rules are changed in the middle of the game, as in the following:
So this morning we get a memo addressed to "all staff." It says the policy of
year-end cash performance bonuses is discontinued. Just like that—30% of my salary!
And after all the long hours I've put in during the last months.
What would we suppose this accountant might feel? In fact, one could argue that almost any
reaction she has is normal and "justifiable." She has experienced a trauma.
But the "loss" a change implies need not be as definitive as the bonus situation above. A loss
can be imaginary, as for example, what a change in job description may entail. This may be a
perceived loss in turf, a perceived diminution in status, in identity, or self-meaning in general.
Everything that someone has built up is considered threatened: even if the change is a promotion,
people can react with anxiety; in fact, people often try to perform the new job and the old one
simultaneously so as not to experience the (imaginary) loss.
For most people, the negative reaction to change is related to control—over their influence,
their surroundings, their source of pride, how they have grown accustomed to living and working.
When these factors appear threatened, security is in jeopardy. And considerable energy is needed to
understand, absorb, and process one's reactions. Not only do I have to deal with the change per se, I
have to deal with my reactions to it! Even if the change is embraced intellectually ("things were really
going bad here"), or it represents advancement ("I finally got the promotion"), immediate acceptance is
not usually forthcoming. Instead, most feel fatigued; we need time to adapt.
The Evolution of Change Reactions
Most people, of course, do adapt to change, but not before passing through some other
psychological gates. Two "maps" (below) describe the complex psychological process of passing
through difficult, often conflicting, emotions. Each of these approaches emphasizes a progression
through stages or phases, which occurs over time and, essentially, cannot be accelerated (Exhibit 1).
To speed up the process is to risk carrying unfinished psychological "baggage" from one phase to the
One way to think about the reaction pattern relates to a theory based on risk taking.1 Change,
they assert, requires people to perform or perceive in unfamiliar ways, which implies taking risks,
1Harry Woodward and Steve Bucholz, Aftershock (New York: John Wiley, 1987).
Note on the Recipients of Change 491-039
particularly those associated with self-esteem—loss of face, appearing incompetent, seemingly unable
or unwilling to learn, etc. People move from discomfort with risks to acceptance in four stages: shock,
defensive retreat, acknowledgment, adaptation and change. This can be likened to bereavement
In the shock phase, one is threatened by anticipated change, even denying its existence: "This
isn't happening." The psychological shock resembles the physiological—people become immobilized
and "shut down" to protect themselves; yet at the same time, they deny the situation is occurring. As a
result of this conflict, productivity is understandably low, people feel unsafe, timid, and unable to take
action, much less risks.
We move from shock to defensive retreat—i.e., we get angry. We simultaneously lash out at
what has been done to us and hold on to accustomed ways of doing things. Thus, we are both keeping
a grip on the past while decrying the fact that it's changed. This conflict also precludes taking risks,
for we are uncomfortable and feel unsafe.
Eventually, we cease denying the fact of change, we acknowledge that we have lost
something, and we mourn. The psychological dynamics include both grief and liberation. Thus, one
can feel like a pawn in a game while being able to take some distance from the game, view it with
some objectivity. At this point experimenting with taking risks becomes possible; we begin exploring
the pros and cons of the new situation. Each "risk" that succeeds builds confidence, and we are ready
for the final "gate."
Ideally, most people adapt and change themselves. The change becomes internalized, we move
on and help others to do so; we see ourselves "before and after" the change and, even if it's a grudging
acknowledgment, we consider the change "all for the best." In some cases, people actively advocate
what they recently denied.
Another approach to how people come to terms with change also is based on phases, in this
case three: letting go, existing in a neutral zone, making new beginnings.2
Ending and letting go means relinquishing the old, pre-change situation, a process that involves
dramatic emotions—pain, confusion, and terror. That is, we first experience a sharp break with what
has been taken for granted; included in this pain is a loss of the identity we had invested in the old
situation. This situational "unplugging" and loss of identity leads to a sense of disenchantment—
things fail to make sense. People feel deceived, betrayed.
Such feelings lead into a second psychological phase called a neutral zone: a "wilderness that
lies between the past reality and the one that . . . is just around the corner." People feel adrift and
confused; the previous orientation no longer exists, yet the new one seems unclear. In this period of
"full of nothing," we grow increasingly unproductive and ineffective. But psychologically, the neutral
period is essentially for mustering the energy to go on. It is the time between ending something and
beginning something else. When someone is "lost enough to find oneself" and when the past becomes
put in perspective, the emotions have been experienced and dealt with and put aside—then there is
"mental room" to reorient and discover the new. The third phase is the seeking out of new
possibilities: beginning to align our actions with the change.
Organizations are often tempted to push people into the "beginning" phase, not recognizing—
or not accepting—the need to complete the psychological work (and it is work) of the two previous
phases. But jumping into a flurry of "beginning-type" activity—planning, pep rallies, firing up the
troops—only increases people's discomfort of change. Only if sufficient attention has been paid to
2William Bridges, "Managing Organizational Transitions," Organizational Dynamics, Summer 1986: 24-33.
491-039 Note on the Recipients of Change
letting go and dwelling in the neutral zone—only if the old has been properly buried—can the new
appear. People can then draw from the past and not be mired in it; they can be eager to embrace new
These basically optimistic theories about how people eventually embrace change—while
psychologically accurate—are somewhat simplistic. Most people will work through the emotional
phases they delineate; some will do so more quickly than others. But others will get stuck, often in the
first stages, which encompass the most keen and jagged emotions. The catchall word "resistance" is
used to describe these people: they are destructive (internally or even externally), and they won't
People get stuck for two basic—and obvious—reasons: "change" is not some monolithic event
that has neat and tidy beginnings and ends; and people's subjective experiences of change vary
considerably as a result of individual circumstance.
Thus, frameworks that presume periods of psychological sorting out while the change is being
digested are somewhat flimsy in helping us deal with multiple changes. How are we to be in
"defensive retreat" with one change, in the "neutral zone" with another, while adapting to a third? If
these changes are also rapid-fire—a fairly common situation in these unheaving days in the political
and economic arenas—it becomes clearer why some people "resist."
For example, changes involving significant personal redirection, like job restructuring, are
often accompanied by changes in a firm's ownership, leadership, and policies. All coming at once (or
in rapid sequence), they can severely stress or even undo chief anchor points of meaning. These affect
the previously agreed-upon ways of doing one's work, one's affiliations, skills, and self-concept.
When these anchor points come under siege, most of us are likely to be immobilized and even
obdurate. In a worst-case scenario, the individual going through this siege at the office is
simultaneously experiencing major change at home—a divorce, for example.
People do not always easily pass through the phases described above because,
notwithstanding the psychological validity of the progression of emotions, not everyone interprets
"change" in the same way; thus, experiences of "change" vary. Other personality issues must be
considered as well. People who are fragile emotionally will have much greater difficulty swimming
through feelings of loss; they may continually see themselves as victims. Such obscuring emotions will
hinder their ability to move on. Instead, they may cycle back to shock-like or defensive behavior,
never breaking out of the early phases.
As indicated, many firms attempt to accelerate employees' adaptation to change, for
understandable reasons. Employees who are preoccupied with their internal processes are less likely
to be fully productive; indeed, as the description of patterns of change reveal, people in the early
phases of reacting to change often are unable to do much at all. It thus makes good "business sense" to
help people cope, with a minimum of dysfunctional consequences.
Unfortunately, from the recipient's perspective, such good intentions are often considered as
controlling, even autocratic. If the change is hyped too much—too many pep rallies, too many "it's
really good for you and all for the best"—those of us who feel no such thing can grow increasingly
isolated and resentful. How can they say everything is rosy when I feel so miserable?
Note on the Recipients of Change 491-039
Consider the following list of typical advice presented, in one form or another, for dealing
• Keep your cool in dealing with others.
• Handle pressure smoothly and effectively.
• Respond nondefensively when others disagree with you.
• Develop creative and innovative solutions to problems.
• Be willing to take risks and try out new ideas.
• Be willing to adjust priorities to changing conditions.
• Demonstrate enthusiasm for and commitment to long-term goals.
• Be open and candid when dealing with others.
• Participate actively in the change process.
• Make clear-cut decisions as needed.
Seemingly straightforward and commonsensical, this advice is eminently rational and usually
presented in good faith. But as we now understand, such directives—for that is what they are—fail to
take into account that psychological needs must be addressed. Most people are aware of the wisdom
of taking responsibility for dealing with change themselves; they recognize the importance of the
"right attitude." Americans in particular pride themselves on pioneer spirit, challenges, adventure—
the can-do philosophy.
It appears, however, that most people do not want this shoved down their throats, especially
when they are first grappling with the magnitude, or their perception of it, of a change's effect on
them. Rather, most of us prefer some empathy, some understanding of what we are experiencing—
not just advice for getting on with it.
The next two sections of this note explore ways in which people facing change can help
themselves experience the change less painfully and some guidelines their managers can use to help
their employees (and themselves) cope with difficult parts of the change process. While these ideas
are simple, even commonplace, they look at the experience of change in its totality; they acknowledge
that "change" is not merely doing A on Monday and B on Tuesday. There is a transition between the
two, and if that is ignored—by either the recipient or those instituting the change—full adaptation to,
and embracing of, the change itself is jeopardized.
Individual Coping with Change
Given the strong emotional responses that most of us feel at the onset of a change—anger,
depression, shock—and that often these are "unacceptable" emotions either to ourselves or at the
workplace, we need to console ourselves that these are indeed natural reactions. People need to give
themselves permission to feel what they are feeling; change always implies a loss of some kind, and
that must be mourned: a job, colleagues, a role, even one's identity as it has been wrapped up in the
pre-change situation. Accepting and focusing on our negative reactions is not the same as wallowing
in them, of course.
491-039 Note on the Recipients of Change
It has already been pointed out that dealing with change takes energy. Even more energy is
required in fighting negative reactions. Thus, to accept, at the outset, that strong emotions are part
and parcel of the change process is at least to avoid wasting some energy; we are better able to reduce
the added strain of constantly keeping feelings at bay. In fact, one's strength is increased by letting
what is natural take its course.
A corollary to accepting strong reactions to change is patience—recognizing that time is
needed to come to grips with a situation and that moving through various constellations of emotions is
not done in an instant. Whereas most people experience the range of emotions described earlier, there
is no timeclock that works for everyone. The adaptation process involves an unsettled, ambiguous
period for most of us,3 and if we accept that, at the least we can function superficially—if not at our
peak—until we strengthen and begin to act more meaningfully.
A major reaction to change is a feeling of losing control; what was assumed to be the norm
now isn't, and we are in an unknown land. A valuable antidote to feeling powerless is to establish a
sense of personal control in other areas of our lives and to avoid as much as possible taking on other
efforts that sap energy. Thus, if one accepts that adapting to change will be arduous, one husbands
one's resources. This means maintaining our physical well-being and nourishing our psyches.
It is no coincidence that a new field called "managing stress" has arisen during a period of
major and pervasive organizational restructuring. And the recommendations that practitioners in this
area make, while simple, are useful: get enough sleep, pay attention to diet and exercise; take
occasional breaks at the office; relax with friends; engage in hobbies. Making such efforts is not
escapism or distracting oneself from "reality." Rather, it is a way of exerting control over one's life
during a period of uncertainty.
Accepting strong emotions and acknowledging the importance of patience in dealing with
change are vital; but so is developing a sense of objectivity about what is happening. We do have
choices in how we perceive change, and we are able to develop the capacity to see benefits, not just
losses, in new situations. Coming to accept and adapt to change is in fact a process of balancing: what
have I lost, what am I gaining? Different from the "look on the bright side" exhortations frequently
espoused by those who ignore the powerful emotions a change can evoke, inventorying personal
losses and gains is a real step toward gathering the strength to move on.
Related to such inventorying is "diversified emotional investing." The individual balances the
emotional investment in essential work-related anchor points of meaning—how work is done,
affiliations, skills, self-concept in relation to the work—with emotional investments in other areas of
like—family, friends, civic, religious activities. Thus, when one or more anchor points at the
workplace is threatened, the person can remain steadier through the transition to adaptation.
Admittedly, such inventorying and "diversified emotional investing" are difficult when in the
throes of strong emotions. Perhaps the best mechanism for coping with change, then, is anticipating it.
No one escapes the effects of change, in the workplace or elsewhere, and those who recognize that its
impact will be powerful, that the process of adaptation and change takes time, and that we all have
other sources of strength, are in much better shape than those who delude themselves into thinking "it
can never happen to me."
3Leonard Greenhalgh and Todd Jick, "Survivor Sense Making and Reactions to Organizational Decline,"
Management Communications Quarterly, 2, 3, February 1989: 305-327.
Note on the Recipients of Change 491-039
Managing the Recipients of Change
Obviously, the manager who has experienced change personally is potentially more effective
in helping others work through their adaptation processes. But beyond recalling their own
experiences, managers should consider three areas that are essential for easing their employees'
difficulties: rethinking resistance, giving "first-aid," and creating capability for change. (See Exhibit
Resistance to change, as mentioned earlier, is a catchall phrase; it describes anyone who
doesn't change as fast as we do, as well as people who seemingly refuse to budge. As such, resistance
per se is considered an obstacle, something to be overcome at all costs. Those labeled resistant are
deemed people with poor attitudes, lacking in team spirit. Not surprisingly, treating "resistance" this
way serves only to intensify real resistance, thereby thwarting or at least sidetracking possibilities of
As the discussion of patterns of change revealed, however, resistance is a part of the natural
process of adapting to change; it is a normal response of those who have a strong vested interest in
maintaining their perception of the current state and guarding themselves against loss. Why should I
give up what has successfully made meaning for me? What do I get in its place? Resistance, at the
outset of the change process, is far more complicated than "I won't." It is much more of a painful "why
When resistance is considered a natural reaction—part of a process—it can thus be seen as a
first step toward adaptation. At the very minimum, resistance denotes energy—energy that can be
worked with and redirected. The strength of resistance, moreover, indicates the degree to which
change has touched on something valuable to individuals and the organization. Discovering what that
valuable something is can be of important use in fashioning the change effort organizationally. One
theorist puts it this way:
First, they ["resistors"] are the ones most apt to perceive and point out real
threats, if such exist, to the well-being of the system which may be the unanticipated
consequences of projected changes;
Second, they are especially apt to react against any change that might reduce
the integrity of the system;
Third, they are sensitive to any indication that those seeking to produce
change fail to understand or identify with the core values of the system they seek to
Because "resistance to change" is such an amorphous phrase, many attitudes labeled resistant
are not that at all. Depending on the change involved, people may be learning new and difficult skills,
for example. Their frustration in doing so may cause them to nay-say the effort. Calling the nay-
saying resistance is a genuine error: if the effort to change is in fact being made, it should be
encouraged. Further, listening to the criticism may provide clues that the training is ineffective.
There are also entirely rational reasons for resistance. By no means are all change agendas
perfect, as the quote above indicates. The organization that assumes it can superimpose "change" on
its employees and then labels any negative reaction "resistance" is guaranteeing that change, if it
occurs at all, will hardly accomplish the purpose for which it was intended:
491-039 Note on the Recipients of Change
One of the common mistakes made by managers when they encounter
resistance is to become angry, frustrated, impatient, or exasperated. . . . The problem
with an emotional reaction is that it increases the probability that the resistance will
intensify. . . . Remember that anger directed towards others is likely to make them
afraid and angry in return.4
In sum, rethinking resistance to change means seeing it as a normal part of adaptation,
something most of us do to protect our self-integrity. It is a potential source of energy, as well as
information about the change effort and direction. Instead of assuming that all "resistance" is an
obstacle, managers should look carefully to see if real resistance is present, over time (i.e., there are
always people who won't change and who will complain all the while). In general, however, going
with the "resistance"—not condemning it but trying to understand its sources, motives, and possibly
affirmative core—can open up possibilities for realizing change. Writes one expert on the subject:
Without it [resistance] we are skeptical of real change occurring. Without real
questioning, skepticism, and even outright resistance, it is unlikely that the
organization will successfully move on to the productive stage of learning how to
make the new structure effective and useful.5
Giving "First Aid"
Many managers find that addressing straightforward, technical issues in the change effort—
such as the new department layout, who gets what training—is comparatively easy. But consciously
or not, they ignore the more complex, often unpredictable concerns of people being changed. The
rationale can be a business one: we don't have time for that, we're here to make money. Or it can be
emotional: I don't want to get involved in messy feelings; that's not my job.
For whatever reason, not allowing employees opportunities to vent feelings is overlooking a
powerfully effective coping strategy. Administering emotional first aid, particularly in the early and
most difficult stages of change, validates recipients in their terms and doesn't leave them in an
emotional pressure cooker. We have already seen that a major coping mechanism for the individual is
acknowledging that his or her reactions are natural; when this is combined with external validation,
the result is profoundly effective. Indeed, when management provides opportunity for grievances and
frustrations to be aired constructively, employee bitterness and frustration may be diminished.
As the above implies, first aid, in its most powerful form, is simply listening. Nonjudgmental
listening. The dominant attitude of the nonjudgmental listener is respect for what the individual is
experiencing; this in turn is predicated on accepting that everyone needs time to absorb change and
that complicated and even contradictory emotions belong to the early stage of the process.
First aid also means providing safety by delineating expectations and establishing informal
and formal rewards for those experiencing change. It also involves identifying and clarifying what is
not changing, and probing to uncover why. Where do people feel they will be taking the biggest risks?
It is in these areas, as we have seen, that the most powerful concerns—and resistance—lie.
Finally, first aid means providing resources to help people through their greatest difficulties—
ongoing information about the change, support and counseling where needed, particularly forums in
which employees can help each other. These resources are especially critical when someone has bid
farewell to the old but has yet to become attached to the new.
4Ken Hultman, The Path of Least Resistance (Austin, Texas: Learning Concepts, 1979).
Note on the Recipients of Change 491-039
Listening, accepting, and supporting may seem like simple, almost basic, advice for the
manager of changees. Unfortunately, all too often they are missing from the manager's toolkit for
change. Such essential human interaction tends to get lost in the maze of plans, committees, and
reports typically accompanying major change efforts. For the recipients to adapt fully to their new
circumstances requires more than the passive response of managers, however; managers need to help
changees become more capable of change.
Creating the Capability for Change
Creating the capability for change is undertaken after the "bleeding" has stopped and the need
for first aid lessens. The manager's dual task is to help people move into the current change and
encourage them to feel confident about accepting subsequent changes.
Providing safety and rewards—a part of first aid—is also essential to creating a climate in
which people will take risks. This is what good parenting is all about! In the workplace, managers
who expect their employees to change—and particularly if the change is in fact multiple changes—
need to make clear how the organization is willing to support their efforts. What differentiates this
effort from first aid is its continuance. First aid is first; it is the effort that eases the pain, but it does not
cure the disease, much less help prevent its occurrence.
Safety in creating the capability for change goes deeper into risk-taking. Perhaps a
nonevaluative period can be declared, one in which income, rank, or other aspects of job security are
put on hold as employees test the waters. Having employees evaluate themselves vis-à-vis the change
is another approach; in all cases, the more involvement people have in the changes that surround
them, the better. It is a fundamental tenet of participative management that employees are more likely
to support what they help create. Cooperation, negotiation and compromise are critical to the
implementation of any change; it is difficult to get cooperation, negotiation, and compromise from
people who are effectively ordered to change, never listened to or supported, and then faulted if they
fail to change as expected.
Rewards, in creating capabilities for change, are often implicit. Consider the popularity of
programs like Outward Bound. The "rewards" in these arenas are the pride of accomplishment and
the cheers from one's co-participants. Encouraging employees to take similarly difficult, albeit in
many cases psychological, risks means creating environments in which they can shine—not necessarily
the standard rewards of money and promotion. Creative managers who truly wish their employees to
grow, who recognize the difficulties inherent in the challenge of change, and who support efforts to
make change, are patient along the way; their reward, in turn, is the trust of their employees—and a
potentially more flexible organization.
Is Continuous Change "Good" for Us?
I hear change is coming, and it no longer sends shivers up my spine. I have to trust it
won't clobber me. There's not really anything I can do but learn to survive and help others
This note has treated "change" and its effects on employees as a first-time event: the company,
having done its thing for about 50 years, suddenly throws the cards in the air, and everyone picks up
from there. It is, of course, increasingly rare to find such situations. Most people are more or less
continually facing major changes in their work environments, from the rapid-fire of new technology
and processes, to new owners, perhaps foreign, to an increasing emphasis on change itself as essential.
The ability to change rapidly and frequently seems to be a critical mechanism for survival, many
491-039 Note on the Recipients of Change
Obviously, an organization that encourages constant change hardly has the time to do first
aid, and all the rest; everyone is moving around, and no one—neither the changee nor the manager—
has time to examine the psychological ramifications, much less get into support. Two questions need
answering in the face of such constant change: Does experience with change help people cope with it
better? What are the longer-term implications of constant change for individuals and organizations?
Some evidence exists that an "inoculation effect" takes hold after confronting continuous
change; people do react to the same situation, when it recurs, differently. Hurricane victims, for
example, exhibit a "confidence curve" as a result of repeated experiences with the phenomenon. Those
who have been through a hurricane once are most stressed; they become hyper-watchful and
overprepare upon even the faintest signal of a hurricane warning. They become gun-shy to the
prospect of another similar event. In contrast, those who have had repeated exposure to hurricanes
approach an impending storm with more equanimity.
If this analogy is transferable, then recipients—in the face of continuous change—may exhibit
a learning curve. At first, they will be hypersensitive but later will become more "matter of fact" and
psychologically more ready for change. However, we haven't enough evidence yet to be certain of
this. And some fear that the opposite effects could occur instead, whereby recipients will become
more vulnerable, more resistant, and less equipped as more and more change unfolds. Moreover, if
someone experiences constant change, has she or he ever completely dealt with the first one
Perhaps the answer revolves around expectations. In some companies today, people are
routinely moved in and out of projects and positions: it is the nature of the work requirements in that
organization. But this is understood by all from the beginning. As such, employees harbor the
expectation that there will be constant change. Indeed, some are attracted to the company because of
that. If people know at the outset that frequent change, in positions, responsibilities, and the like, is in
fact their job, we can suppose that a kind of self-selection takes place; those who wish that kind of
experience will seek out jobs in the company, and in turn, the company will hire those who can accept
that kind of mobility. With more and more companies now exhibiting continuous change, people may
come to expect it and be more inured to it.
The notion of continuous change as the ideal organizational state is fairly recent, so many of
its effects in the long term on individuals within such environments are not known precisely. But we
all—change agents and change recipients—must develop the strength and the capability to cope with
the emotions and the demands that come with this new territory. The individual and the organization
share the responsibility and obligation. When both make "good faith efforts," the results can by
Note on the Recipients of Change 491-039
Exhibit 1 Frameworks to Explain Reactions to Change
Transition Stages Change Stages (Risk-Taking
1. Ending Phase—Letting go of the previous 1. Shock—Perceived threat, immobilization, no
situation (disengagement, disidentification, risk-taking
2. Neutral Zone—Completing endings and building 2. Defensive Retreat—Anger, holding on, risk-
energy for beginnings (disorientation, taking still unsafe
3. New Beginnings—New possibilities or alignment 3. Acknowledgment—Mourning, letting go,
with a vision growing potential for risk-taking
4. Adaptation and Change—Comfort with
change, energy for risk-taking
Exhibit 2 Strategies for Coping with Change
1. Accepting Feelings as Natural 1. Rethinking Resistance
Permission to feel and mourn. As natural as self-protection.
Taking time to work through feelings. As a positive step toward change.
Tolerating ambiguity. As energy to work with.
As information critical to the change process.
As other than a roadblock
2. Managing Stress 2. Giving First-Aid
Maintaining physical well-being. Accepting emotions.
Seeking information about the change. Listening.
Limiting extraneous stressors. Providing safety.
Taking regular breaks. Marking endings.
Seeking support. Providing resources and support.
3. Exercising Responsibility 3. Creating Capability for Change
Identifying options and gains. Making organizational support of risks clear.
Learning from losses. Continuing safety net.
Participating in the change. Emphasizing continuities, gains of change.
Inventorying strengths. Helping employees explore risks, options.
Learning new skills. Suspending judgment.
Diversifying emotional investing. Involving people in decision making.
Providing opportunities for individual growth.