Business Sense | Understanding the phases of change – Eureka Times-Standard

The workplace is a challenging space to navigate. Understanding the transitional phases of change and the ways behavioral psychology impacts how we experience change, will better equip leaders to support their teams. The Scott & Jaffe’s Resistance Cycle model demonstrates four phases that employees go through when undergoing organizational change.

Denial: This phase begins when employees go from “business as usual” to first learning about a change. Be watchful for employees appearing unconcerned, downplaying, avoiding, or ignoring the change, and exhibiting special interest in revisiting the past. This is when employees generally feel very stressed. As productivity declines, morale suffers. Communicate why the change is happening and share the negative implications of it not occurring. Seek out and listen to feedback on alternatives and inquire about how the change is making employees feel. Manage expectations by helping employees to understand what is really true, versus what they wish were true.

Resistance: As employees settle with the reality of impending change, they tend to struggle and show frustration or anger. This often manifests as feeling overwhelmed, complaining, placing blame on others, being highly critical or passive, and hyper-focusing on the change. This is a good time to ask employees how they think things will look differently as a result of the change and what they are most excited about in the future. Encourage employees to talk optimistically about the change with their peers and steer them through the urge to place blame. When change happens in haste or is forced, your organization can get stuck here, so be intentional and take good care during this phase.

Exploration: When employees accept that change is happening regardless of resistance, they become very sensitive and, simultaneously, develop curiosity around exploring what the change means for them as individuals, to the team, and for the organization as a whole. Critical thinking skills activate, and employees begin to consider and integrate information at a deeper level. Signs of this phase include experimentation, idea sharing, visioning and goal setting, eagerness to identify role clarity, and early efforts to take initiative and get work done. This is the time to engage employees in trying new things, exploring various perspectives, contemplating ways to contribute, and identifying the outcomes they would like to get from the change.

Acceptance: As employees apply their ideas and try things out, they will also begin noticing opportunities that the change offers. The team begins to relax as they develop a sense of control and start showing appreciation for their journey with a more proactive and future-focused outlook. When employees feel a sense of accomplishment for having persevered, it is time to focus energy where they can make the most impact. Get curious about how your employees see themselves being successful with the change and help them identify rewards for themselves when the change happens. This is also a good time to discuss any long-term opportunities that may be available as a result of their experience participating in the change process.

Change is never easy but understanding how it impacts organizations psychologically enables leaders to show compassion for the feelings and experiences of employees while also helping them to stabilize and make sense of their circumstances. Remember to invest in communication and be purposeful in the change that you pursue!

Jolene Thrash is the owner of JMT Consulting and provides professional consulting for organization development, human resources, and people development. She is a certified human resources professional with a master of professional studies in organization development and change. She can be contacted at or visit her website,