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Scott and Jaffe: The Change Grid and How we Respond to Change

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Last week’s Pocket Correspondence Course module was about the three phases of creating change – or ‘transitions’, in Bridges’ language. This week, we need to address the question of how people respond to organisational change.

Have you ever noticed how people’s response to organisational change is sometimes out of proportion to the objective scale of the change itself? Organisational changes are hardly a matter of life and death, yet people often get scared, angry, upset or frustrated. These are powerful emotions that managers rarely feel ready to deal with.

While many managers see organisational change as someone else’s specialism – the HR team, or the consultants, for example – it is your team. A general overview will help you understand some of the dynamics you encounter. One of the most useful and compelling models is that developed by Cynthia Scott & Dennis Jaffe.

Grief: The work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

The Scott-Jaffe model owes much to the work of Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She researched the way people deal with tragedy, bereavement and grief, that led her to the development of a widely used description of grief as following five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – often remembered with the acronym DABDA.

Kubler-Ross Grief Model

The responses that Dr Kübler-Ross described served your ancient ancestors well. They did not emerge in an environment of shifting organisational structures and operational processes: the changes they encountered were often life threatening.

In modern times, we must use the same underlying physiology and brain chemistry to cope with both emotional trauma and an office move. It seems unsurprising, therefore, that when Scott and Jaffe researched responses to organisational change, they found a similar pattern.

Scott and Jaffe’s Four Stage Response to Change

Scott & Jaffe Change Grid

Scott and Jaffe’s model suggests that we move through four stages as we respond to organisational change. Clearly, if we quickly perceive the change as beneficial, we will jump from the first to the fourth.

Denial

Initially, the meaning of the change fails to sink in: we are happy enough (or at least comfortable) with the status quo, so our minds reject the reality of change. We act as if nothing has happened and Scott and Jaffe called this stage Denial.

Resistance

Once we start to recognise the reality of change, we start to Resist it. This arises from our aversion to loss – we focus on the elements of the status quo we will need to give up and our brains assign that a far greater weight of attention and value than any potential gains.

We do this first at the emotional level, showing anger, anxiety, bitterness or fear, for example, and later by opposing the change actively, engaging our critical faculties to find reasons to resist. Organisations see increases in absence, complaints and losses, and drops in efficiency, morale and quality.

Exploration

When managers like you face up to the resistance and engage with it in a respectful and positive way, people can start to focus on the future again. They will Explore the implications of the change for them and for their part in your organisation. They will look for ways to move forward. This can be a chaotic time, but also an exhilarating one – particularly when the benefits of the change are significant.

Commitment

Eventually people start to turn their attention outward as they Commit to the new future.

Other Models of Change

Scott and Jaffe are not the only researchers to articulate a model of organisational change. There are other, similar, models. Perhaps the best known of the three-phase models is Kurt Lewin’s ‘Freeze Phases that we covered in the previous Management Pocketblog: Unfreezing – Changing – Refreezing. We also saw William Bridges’ three-phase ‘Transitions’ model: Letting go – Neutral zone – New beginnings.

These are all powerful as predictive models of change and, like all models, none is true. Yet each offers up valuable insights which can help you predict, understand and mange change.

Further Reading

  1. The Managing Change Pocketbook
  2. The Handling Resistance Pocketbook
  3. Survive and Thrive in Times of Change,
    Training and Development Journal, April 1988,
    Dr Cynthia D Scott and Dr Dennis T Jaffe
    This article is not available freely on the web.
  4. On Death and Dying,
    Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969
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Lewin, Bridges and the Phases of Change

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Change is a never-ending part of organisational life, and managing it effectively is one of the principal challenges for managers. So you need to understand the process, so you can support effective change in the people who make up your organisation.

This was a topic addressed by one of the twentieth century’s leading thinkers in workplace psychology (and a regular feature of the Management Pocketblog – see below); Kurt Lewin. Among his many contributions to our understanding of organisational life is a three-part model of change.

Forces for Change

Lewin regarded us as subject to a range of forces within our environment, which he divided into:

  • Driving Forces, which promote change, and
  • Restraining Forces, which hinder it, consisting of our inner resistance to change and our desire to conform to what we perceive to be the established social norms.

Three Phases of Change

Kurt Lewin - Freeze Phases

1. Unfreezing

Lewin identified the first phase of change as unfreezing established patterns of behaviour and group structures. We do this by challenging existing attitudes, beliefs and values, and then offering alternatives. This allows people to start to relax from their restraining forces; preparing them for change.

2. Changing

The second phase is changing, in which we lead people through the transition to a new state. This is a time of uncertainty and confusion, as people struggle to build a clear understanding of the new thinking and practices that will replace the old. The range of different responses you will encounter means that good leadership is essential. Without it, people will follow whatever weak leadership they can find. A great danger is people’s susceptibility to gossip and rumour during times of change.

3. Freezing

Eventually, a new understanding emerges. Lewin’s third phase is freezing (sometimes refreezing) these new ways of being into place, to establish a new prevailing mind-set. During this phase, people adapt to the changed reality and look for ways to capitalise on the new opportunities it offers. Alternatively, they might instead make a decision to opt-out from the change and move on.

Subsequent Interpretations

When Lewin described this model, he was clear that the phases represent parts of a continuous journey; not discrete processes. However, not everyone understood this – or even took the time to read Lewin’s own writing. The model became neglected largely because his use of the term phases’ led to false interpretations that he was referring to static stages.

However, we might equally argue that his thinking is in rude health. In his excellent 1980 book, ‘Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change’, William Bridges put forward a similar three stage model of changes, or transitions:

  1. Letting go
  2. Neutral zone
  3. New beginning

Bridges’ books are best sellers that give readers much practical advice on how to support people through each of the three stages of their transition.

Whether in the original form proposed by Lewin, or in the more modern form presented by Bridges, the three phases model is immensely valuable. It focuses us on how to move people through change. As both the first systematic work on organisational change and as a starting point for designing a change process, an understanding of this model is vital for any manager who is working in the arena of change.


Next week, we will look at a complementary model of how people respond to imposed change, developed by Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffe.

Further Reading 

  1. The Managing Change Pocketbook
  2. The Handling Resistance Pocketbook
  3. Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change, Kurt Lewin, in Human Relations (1947).
  4. Managing Transitions,
    William Bridges, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, Rev Ed 2003

Three Management Pocketblogs about Kurt Lewin

  1. The World belongs to Unreasonable People
    The CECA Loop
  2. Elastic Management
    Kurt Lewin’s Force-field Analysis
  3. Predicting Behaviour
    Lewin’s equation for predicting behaviour
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