Emotional Intelligence Unleashed: Mastering each Stage of Change in Change Management

Change is an ever-present force that reshapes the landscape of organizations and individuals alike. In the world of change management, we find ourselves on an adventurous path—a journey that defies linearity and embraces the cyclical nature of transformation.

In the end organisations are made up of individual people and while in organisational change management we are talking about shifting behavioral processes to change at the cohort level, it makes sense to examines the stage of change people go through as it drives the change model we apply in a systematic way.

Behavioral change is non-linear, however in this article we will examine a systematic approach to behaviour change from fresh perspective that uncovers the profound impact of the human psyche on this journey.

As we explore the stages of change management, we’ll delve into the psychological and emotional aspects that underpin each step. Acknowledging these vital elements is the key to empowering individuals and organizations to navigate the stages of change, with grace and resilience.

Along the way, we’ll wield the power of emotional intelligence—a superpower that fosters understanding, trust, and social support throughout.

The Cycle of Change – Embrace the Dance of Transformation!

While Organizational change management is focused on the organization at large, an organization is in the end made of people. It is individuals – actual people – who must work through a given change to ways of working. We’re talking about behavioral change.

To understand the theoretical underpinnings of the stages change then it’s good idea examine the psychological research.

Prochaska and DiClemente are psychologists who developed the “Stages of Change” model, also known as the “Transtheoretical Model,” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their names are Dr. James O. Prochaska and Dr. Carlo C. DiClemente.

The Stages of Change model was originally developed to understand and explain the process of individual behavior change, particularly in the context of addiction. However, over time, its applications expanded to various areas problematic behavior itself, including health behavior change, organizational change, and psychotherapy.

The model proposes that individuals go through distinct stages when making behavioral changes, and it emphasizes that change is not a linear process but rather a cyclical one. The five stages in the original Stages of Change model are:

  1. Precontemplation stage: The individual is not yet aware or does not acknowledge the need for change.
  2. Contemplation stage: The individual becomes aware of the need for change but is uncertain and undecided about taking action.
  3. Preparation stage (or Determination): The individual intends to take action and starts making small steps toward change.
  4. Action stage: The individual actively modifies their behavior, environment, or situation to bring about the desired change.
  5. Maintenance stage: The individual sustains the changed behavior and works to prevent relapse into previous patterns.

Later adaptations of the model have included additional stages, such as “Relapse” or “Termination.” It’s important to note that not all individuals progress through the stages linearly, and they may move back and forth between stages, depending on their circumstances and level of motivation.

Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change model has become a fundamental framework in understanding and facilitating behavior change in various domains, including mental health, promotion, addiction recovery, and organizational change management.

Taking a systems approach and change model

Let’s now back up to the organizational level and look for how as change managers and change leaders we can structure activities to support people through stages of change.

People typically respond to change differently. Sometimes people are immediately positive and commit behavior change, other times they will respond negatively depending on the change.

A helpful exercise to understand what stage your people are at in the change process, so you can understand what action to take in each stage of change.

Typically there are four phases of change behavior a person passes through when facing change.

Stage of changeEmotional responseBehavior
PrecontemplationDENIALGenerally refusing to accept that the change is happening “This isn’t happening”
Contemplation stageRESISTANCELooking for reasons why the change won’t work, opposing the change “This will never work”. Continuing with negative behavior.
Preparation stageEXPLORATIONAsking questions, examining how the change might work “Maybe I can do this?”
Action stageCOMMITMENTAccepting change, actively contributing to the future state “This new behavior is happening and I can manage it”
Maintenance stageaCCEPTANCEThe individual sustains the changed behavior and works to prevent relapse into previous patterns.

Change management strategies for each stage of change

It is important to understand how your team members are reacting to changes and put strategies in place to help them transition towards commitment. Following are some tips coping strategies on how you might do this.

1. Precontemplation stage. Denial > Inform

Move them out denial by providing information

Characteristics Of Precontemplation stage.Change Management Strategies
Looks like
– Looking for reasons the change wont work

Feels like
– Apathy, depression, low energy

Sounds like
–  “This isn’t happening”
– Raise awareness
– Communicate the ‘why’
– Create urgency
Strategy: Ask Listen

– Restate goal and the reasons for changing.

– Be positive but not an apologist.

– What people really need is to see things as they are. Your job is to be clear about reality.

– Don’t make excuses; give honest context.

In this stage, it is not so much resistance as outright ignorance, denial and skepticism blocking your path. It’s natural to ignore the winds of change but here’s the key—acknowledging that this happens for others is the first step towards mastering change management.

2. Contemplation stage: Resistance > Ask & Listen.

The key in this stage is to ask honest and authentic questions, validating concerns but all the while bringing people back to the fact the change is happening and you want to work with them on how.

Characteristics of the Contemplation stageChange Management Strategies
Looks like
– Looking for reasons the change wont work

Feels like
– Doubt, fear, uncertainty

Sounds like
– They say, “This will never work” “Or here we go again”
Strategy: Ask Listen

– Help people get into an active mode (ask)

– Help them realise that, while you are there to help, moving on is their responsibility.

– Listen and respond. Take their concerns seriously. Tell them authentically if you are unable to do anything

Then paraphrase for understanding i.e. make sure that you understand what they are really saying and feeling; and let people know that they are heard.

Ask people what they want to do to move on:

  • help people get into an active mode.
  • help them realise that, while you are there to help, moving on is their responsibility.

Imagine standing at a crossroads, emotions swirling like a tempest inside you. Doubt, fear, and uncertainty are here to play their wild symphony, but fret not, change virtuosos! 

This is where emotional intelligence takes center stage. Tune in to your feelings and those of your team. Empathy is your secret weapon to navigate through this stage gracefully. Embrace the discomfort, listen, and offer your unwavering support—it’s how we turn the tides in our favor!

3. Preparation Stage: Exploration > Create Focus

In the preparation stage, you work to clarify issues and assist people to get their questions answered. Allow people to contribute ideas about how the future state will work.

Characteristics of the Preparation Stage Change Management Strategies
Looks like
– People might begin asking (genuine) questions

Feels like
– Self confidence

Sounds like
– The general attitude shifts to “maybe I can do this”
Strategy: Create focus

– Provide clarity on key issues and assist people to get their questions answered. 

– Allow people to contribute ideas about how the future state will work.

– Try to clarify issues and assist people to get their questions answered.

– Allow people to contribute ideas about how the future state will work.

Effective communication and trust-building are your turbo boosts here. Break down silos, energize your team, and steer them towards the change horizon. 

Watch out for change fatigue—it’s a sneaky villain lurking around. To conquer it, strategize, take breaks, and remind yourself and your team of the prize that awaits at the finish line.

4. Action Stage: Commitment > Monitor and reward

The action stage is all about well, action. Make a clear request for a clear and unambiguous actions for affected people to take.

CharacteristicsChange Management Strategies
Looks like:
– Accepting change, actively contributing to the future state 

Feels like:
– Relief
– Increased energy
– Accomplishment 

Sounds like:
– “This is happening and I can manage it”
Strategy: Move to Commitment by monitoring and rewarding

– Provide recognition for their effort.

– Discuss and document lessons learned. This is not only a chance to do just what it indicates; it’s an opportunity for people to gain a group sense of accomplishment and a sense of celebration.

– Provide recognition for their effort.

– Discuss and document lessons learned.

This is not only a chance to do just what it indicates; it’s an opportunity for people to gain a group sense of accomplishment and even a sense of celebration.

5. Maintenance Stage

Eventually, you cycle through to the maintenance stage. And this is very much. stage you want to get to. In organizational life, change fatigue is a real thing and a genuine problem. “Re-upping” again and again without some normalisation will drive burnout. 

Rest, recuperate and enjoy the new found level of success. 

Summarising the stages of change model for change management

Points to remember….

  • People don’t have to go through the stages in sequence.
  • The path isn’t necessarily linear – your people will bounce around the phases until everyone has reached a state of peace and equilibrium with the “new thing”.
  • People can go through phases over different time periods – a few minutes to months.
  • The intensity and duration of the reaction depends on how significant the loss is perceived as a result of the change.

Case Study: Microsoft’s Tale of Triumph and Transformation

To bring this to life the stage of change model for individuals and mapping to organisational change strategies, consider the case of Microsoft and their transformation when Satya Nadella took over from Steve Balmer as CEO.

Microsoft's triumph and transformation under Nadella's leadership


Nadella had to first galvonise the company that change was even needed. It’s not like Microsoft was going bankrupt. 

To this end, Nadella’s first focus was on the organizational culture, as he believes, like Peter Drucker, that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Talking to The Economist, Nadella’s said: “We need a culture that allows you to constantly renew yourself”. Transforming the bombastic competitive style of Steve Ballmer (see the YouTube clips of Ballmer running across the stage and yelling “I love this company”) to one of openness and collaboration, yet delivering real-world results.

PHASE: RESISTANCE > Ask and listen

He held long form meetings… Nadella led by example, as he described the Wall Street Journal, that while he’s not a fan of a lot of meetings, he does schedule long-form meetings with his leadership team each Friday. Sometimes lasting eight hours.

  • Openness and collaboration from secrecy and silos;

PHASE: EXPLORATION > create focus

Nadella then turned his attention to strategy

Keeping the strategy easy to understand is important. As Kotter highlights in his 8 Step Change Model, well-crafted mission and vision statements impact business results, as it guides the day-to-day behavior and decisions of everyone in the company.

The last strategy under Ballmer was unwieldy. It was“ to create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.”

Nadella redefined what Microsoft was about in a simple, uniting and clear statement. The current stated strategy is: “Build best-in-class platforms and productivity services for a mobile-first, cloud-first world.”

To carry this out he outlines three core tenants: (see 2015 annual report)

  • Reinvent productivity and business processes
  • Build the intelligent cloud platform
  • Create more personal computing

PHASE: COMMITMENT > Monitor and reward

Nadella transformed the organizational culture with a focus on collaboration to aid innovation. To do this he rewarded the behvaiours that the new ways of working needed. 

  • Value for innovation; and
  • Diversity to drive collaboration

Conclusion – Embrace Your Change Destiny!

1. Embrace the Dance of Change

The Cycle of Change is a dance to be embraced, not feared. The non-linearity of transformation offers opportunities for growth and learning. Dance with the rhythm of change, and you’ll find yourself conquering new heights.

2. Harness Your Emotional Arsenal

Never underestimate the power of emotions in change management. Emotional intelligence is your secret superpower to build bridges and foster support during the turbulent times of change.

3. Create Your Change Legacy

Remember that change is not just a process; it’s a legacy you leave behind. So, my fellow change warriors, go forth, create the change you wish to see, and leave a lasting impact on the world!

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