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A Four Step Process for Navigating Change

Written by: Dr. Jeff Sargent

Leaders of organizations cannot control how their employees respond to organizational change; However, leaders can influence the change if they understand the process. Yes, change is process.

What is the process of change for an individual?

  1. Knowledge/Understanding

  2. Acceptance

  3. Integration

  4. Application/Practice

Knowledge: Does the person who you want to change have the knowledge of the change that is to take place?

Knowledge is more than just the gathering and dispensing facts and information. It requires the recipient’s own comprehension, which is influenced and contingent on that person’s experience. In other words, it is not enough to just inform someone about “the change”, they need to mentally grasp the change that is expected. Personal knowledge of the proposed change equips and prepares the individual to change.

Acceptance: Does the person accept the proposed change?

The second step in the change process is Acceptance. Acceptance includes one’s consent to undertake the change, an agreement and belief in it. Acceptance involves one’s attitude, which contributes to one’s willingness to tolerate discomfort associated with the change.

When a work environment is changed, it often requires individuals working in that environment to reorganize how they understand themselves and their work. Their roles and responsibilities are often altered, which impact how they perceive themselves and the environment.

Humans prefer and even seek predictability in their environments. When we live in a relatively stable environment, we feel comfort and security. Any change in our environment can reduce our sense of comfort and can threaten our sense of security. This is not always a bad outcome, in fact, good leaders may institute change just to break the shell of complacency in their associates’ work environments. This can work as long as the change fits into the range of change acceptability for their associates. However, too much discomfort can be menacing. Why? Because change is associated with uncertainty and uncertainty is threatening. When we feel threatened, we attempt to reduce the threat by attempting to return to what we perceive to be normal, comfortable, and predictable. In other words, we feel compelled to return to our status before the change.

Individuals who are equipped with the knowledge of the proposed change, are more likely to have the willingness to tolerate any discomfort and perceived threat to their security. By having the necessary knowledge and understanding of the proposed change, one is equipped to accept it.

Integration: Has the person integrated the change into a personal understanding?

The third step in the process of change is integration. An individual who understands and accepts the change is not able to change until she/he integrates this information into their own understanding. We all have our unique perspectives on everything. If you don’t believe it, just scroll through your favorite social media application. There are as many ways to see idea as their humans with perspectives.

When we are attempting to motivate change in our organizations, we teach and assess the knowledge (comprehension) and acceptance (attitude), but we often overlook a more important variable: integration. Any employee can learn to recite knowledge of the proposed change that they have acquired through memorization, and they can display the “right” attitude about it if the appropriate incentives are in place. However, for that employee to really know it, they must integrate the new knowledge into their own personal understanding. To experience sustained change, the goal must be for employees to integrate the change into their individual mindsets.

You may be thinking, so what’s the difference between reciting knowledge and the integration of that knowledge? You may recall that when you were a student you knew how to study for quizzes by memorizing the terms and definitions. This approach was sufficient for a short-term memory experience (e.g., a quiz), but it was not something that you could recall readily after that experience.

Application: Can the person apply the change?

The fourth and final step in the process of individual change is the Application of the change by the persons who we want to accept the change. Application is putting the change into operation. It is taking the concept or process and using it to perform the desired change accurately. The obvious reason that this important is because this is the ultimate outcome of any workplace change program. The change should be observable and measurable. But that is not the only reason why the application is important. It is equally important to the person who is applying the change to demonstrate to her/himself that she/he can perform the new actions.

We all seek the approval of others, especially those who are in authority. But our audience of observers is not limited to just our superiors and other people. We are members of our own audience, and it is just as important, if not more important, how we perceive ourselves. When we observe ourselves completing a task successfully, especially if it is a new task, it can be more rewarding than any praise that we receive from others.

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