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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Transition and Change

When managing a change project, even a small one, you should expect a broad range of reactions from your teams and colleagues. Some will be shocked, worried or angry; others may be excited or impatient; others ambivalent. To get the best commitment, performance and productivity from your teams you need to help employees accept and feel positive about the change.

Employees will respond differently  

How people/employees respond to organisational change
Early adaptors "Drivers" (10%) Middle adaptors "Riders" (80%) Late adaptors "Draggers" (10%)
  • Self motivated
  • Innovative
  • Take risks 
  • Excited 
  • Play it safe
  • Wait and see
  • Convince me 
  • Cautious 
  • Not going to happen
  • It won't affect me/us
  • It won't go ahead
  • This won't last

The Change Curve - Fisher Transition Curve

John Fisher's model of personal change - The Personal Transition Curve - is an analysis of how employees deal with change. This model is a reference for employees dealing with personal change and for managers and organisations helping employees to deal with personal change.

John Fisher Process of Transition

Copies of the above diagram can be found using the following links: 

Reference: Fisher, John, 2012, Process of Personal Transition, Available from:

Some things to think about:

  • Think about where you are on this curve.
  • Where is your team on the curve? 
  • Where is your organisation on this curve?
  • What do you, your team, and your organisation need in order to move from one part of the change curve to another.

Signs of transition  

1. Denial
  • Things were really good in the past
  • It's not really happening 
  • Numbness 
  • Everything as usual attitude 
  • Refusing to hear new information 
  • Withdrawal
3. Commitment
  • Let's do this!
  • Clear vision, focus and plan 
  • Teamwork 
  • Satisfaction 
  • Co-operation 
  • Looking for the next challenge 
2. Resistance
  • Anger and blame
  • Loss and Hurt 
  • Stubbornness 
  • Accidents & falls in productivity 
  • Complaining 
  • Sickness & loss of sleep 
  • Doubts about ability 
4. Exploration
  • What's going to happen to me
  • Seeing possibilities, but still unsure about the future
  • Confusion, chaos 
  • Energy, but no focus 
  • Clarifying goals & exploring options 
  • Learning new skills 

Strategies for each stage 

1. During Denial
  • Provide information constantly
  • Explain what to expect 
  • Suggest actions 
  • Allow time for things to sink in
  • Run sessions to talk things over 
3. During Commitment
  • Set long term goals
  • Concentrate on team building 
  • Create a mission statement 
  • Reinforce, recognize and reward positive responses to the change 
2. During Resistance
  • Listen and respond to complaints and emotional outbursts
  • Use 'I' statements 
  • Encourage employees to talk about their feelings and support them 
  • Don't tell employees to change or 'pull themselves together' 
4. During Exploration
  • Focus on priorities
  • Provide training 
  • Follow-up on current projects 
  • Set short term goals 
  • Conduct brainstorming, visioning and planning sessions 

Managing resistance to change

Employees can and do resist change. Resistance slows down the change process and affects the foundation step of creating a sense of urgency. It also introduces confusion. If the change is difficult and you are under stress, it will be tempting to ignore or enter into conflict with those who are resistant to the change. While it might be easiest to keep resistors out of the change process, you may need to try to 'win over' some resisters in order to progress your desired change - resisters can have a huge influence on how well the change does or doesn't progress.

  • Resistance often stems from feeling 'not heard' - no say, no control, no trust, no respect, no belief, no involvement.
  • Employees have 'many parts' inside and outside of work - consider the 'whole' person.
  • The change threatens jobs, power and status in an organisation as well as established patters of working relationships.
  • Poor communication about the change (purpose, scope, timetables, personnel) can lead to ambiguity and confusion and can trigger negative reactions among employees. Employees need to know what is going on, especially if their jobs are going to be affected. Informed employees tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction than uninformed employees.
  • Most resistance to change is due to the change being poorly communicated. Communication is two way - it is as much about listening! 

Some tips:      

  • Validate employees, wherever they are at (refer to the Change Curve)
  • Don't 'react' or be 'surprised' - be patient, change takes time 
  • Assess 'why' the resistance - listen, think, look around, develop strategies to address specific concerns 
  • At the end of the day - don't be afraid to intervene where there is persistent or prolonged resistance 

 Steps to managing resistance 

Steps to managing resistance
Step 1
Identify the resistance
  • Trust what you see more than what you hear
  • Listen to yourself and use your own feelings as a guide 
  • Listen for repetition or telltale phrases of resistance 
Step 2
Acknowledge and name the resistance
  • State your perception of the resistance in a neutral and non-aggressive manner, eg. 'What I think I hear you saying is..."
  • State how the resistance is making you feel 
Step 3
Be quiet, listen and let the person respond
  • Get the person talking, encourage full expression of their concerns
  • Gradually uncover any underlying resistance or issues and be aware of other forms of resistance surfacing
Step 4
Enable employees to say goodbye to the past

 When dealing with resistance DO NOT

  • Fight the resistance - it's a normal part of the change process 
  • Take it personally - instead use "I Statements' to respond 
  • Go into more data collection and get hooked into the details 
  • Avoid, or collude with, an individual 
  • Work more with your 'allies' 
  • Lose your confidence 
  • Expect to have all the answers 
  • Avoid giving 'bad news' 
  • Use aggressive language eg 'you idiot' 
  • Delay or wait one more day 
  • Expect approval, encouragement, support and/or affection 

Six approaches to addressing common forms of resistance

In their article 'Choosing strategies for change' (2008), Kotter and Schlesinger outline six approaches to addressing the common forms of resistance to change. These approaches, along with their advantages and disadvantages, are explained in the table below.

Approaches to addressing common forms of resistance
Approach Commonly used in situations where Advantages Disadvantages
Education and communication There is a lack of information or inaccurate information and analysis. Once persuaded, employees will often help with the implementation of the change. Can be very time consuming if lots of employees are involved.
Participation and involvement The initiators do not have all the information they need to design the change and others have considerable power to resist the change. Employees who participate in the change will be committed to implementing it, and any relevant information they have will be integrated into the change plan. Can be very time consuming if participants design an inappropriate change.
Facilitation and support Employees are resisting because of adjustment problems. No other approach works as well with adjustment problems. Can be time consuming, expensive and still fail.
Negotiation and agreement Someone or some group will clearly lose out in a change and that person or group has considerable power to resist the change. This can be relatively easy way to avoid major resistance. Can be too expensive in many cases if it alerts others to negotiate for compliance.
Manipulation and co-optationOther tactics will not work or are too expensive.This can offer a relatively quick and inexpensive solution to resistance problems.Can lead to future problems if employees feel manipulated.
Explicit and implicit coercionSpeed is essential and the change initiators possess considerable power.This approach is speedy and can overcome any kind of resistance.Can be risky if it leaves employees mad at the initiators.

Assisting employees through times of change

As a manager you are responsible for implementing agency priorities, managing within budgets and consulting with and supporting your employees. Significant change, even impending change, in the workplace can result in employees having a range of reactions which may vary in intensity over time.

To best manage change it is important that you:

  • Recongise that there will be an impact;
  • Keep yourself informed of what is happening;
  • Inform your employees as much as you can, as often as you can;
  • Continue good people management skills – provide guidance and feedback, be available for questions, listen, observe and empathize;
  • Monitor employees reaction to change;
  • Respect employees’ reactions and issues; and
  • Monitor your own stress reactions.

The following are tips on how best to communicate with and support your employees during times of change.

What to communicate

In communicating with your employees you should:

  • Make employees aware of why the change is being implemented, and the rationale behind decisions being made;
  • Be honest about the changes, what the future will be like, and what it means for the employees;
  • Clearly outline the processes involved in implementing the change including the redeployment processes; and
  • Be consistent in your message.

You should use different formats for communicating including meetings, written material, emails, fact sheets and personal discussions. 

It is also important that when you do communicate with employees that you remain calm, be precise and to the point, accept responsibility for the decisions that have been made and don’t try to be a counsellor.   

When you are communicating with employees you don’t have to agree with their reactions or emotions, but you do need to keep calm and respect their views. You should acknowledge what they are saying to you, and don’t dismiss their concerns.

Looking after the remaining employees

It’s important that those employees left in the workplace are not forgotten, as they may be both concerned about their own future work changes and concerned that they need to pick up the workload of any employees who have left.

To support your team you should:

  • Regularly talk with them about the changes and how it is going;
  • Don’t expect everything will run smoothly from day 1 – allow a transition period; and
  • Remind them of the support EAP support services that are available.

Looking after yourself

Managing the implementation of change can be stressful for you as you deal with the reaction of employees. It’s important that you look after yourself, and watch for your own signs of fatigue and stress. Some tips on what you can do are:

  • Keep a healthy work/life balance, eat well and exercise
  • Have someone you trust to talk things through with and who can monitor how you are coping
  • Focus on the priorities and take one step at a time implementing the change
  • Seek professional help including EAP counselling and/or coaching to help guide you through.

When to seek professional help

It’s important that you encourage employees to seek professional help if:

  • Their emotional reactions are severe or last longer than two weeks;
  • They have difficulties doing day to day tasks;
  • They are using alcohol or other substance abuse; and
  • They are thinking of self-harm.


Please use the menu below to find out more about managing change.