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Are you "pinning the tail" on your social business change curve?

Many of us grew up playing the childhood game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” We spun around and around, tried to balance ourselves while blindfolded, and then put the donkey tail someplace on the wall, only to find out when we removed the blindfold that we put the donkey’s tail on his foot or eyeball. We laughed with our friends and continued to play.

I bring up this game as it reminds me of how many organizations approach their ‘Social Business Change Curve’ — that is, in a very random way. My goal in this post is to discuss the Change Curve and offer you a way to approach change in an intentional, deliberate way to help speed your organization’s Social Business adoption and change efforts.

What is a “Change Curve?”

The concept of a “Change Curve” has been around for a very long time. It represents a pictorial way to understand people’s reactions to change over time. It is based on a combination of psychological models including Kurt Lewin’s 1952 three-phase model of social change (Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze) and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief model that explains people’s reaction to death.

Over the years, many organizational and behavioral psychologists explored, expanded, and adapted the Change Curve to reflect the emotional reactions of people to transitions and change. One of the most famous articles written on the subject is “The ‘death valley’ of change” by P. David Elrod II and Donald D. Tippett in 2002, which provides experimental verification of this change model, and how leaders can apply it to organizations in transition.

The basic concept, no matter which Change Curve you decide to use, is that people follow predictable patterns of psychological reactions to change over time. A nuance of this model is that within the Change Curve, you can have people who view any kind of change positively or negatively, depending upon the individual. However, at an aggregate, using the Change Curve as a guide in your Social Business transformation planning can help you understand people’s reactions better, uncover barriers, and recommend actions to overcome resistance faster.

How do I prepare for Change?

If you are in the planning stages of your Social Business Transformation, consider conducting a “Change Readiness Assessment,” a precursor to the Change Curve, to assess the population impacted by the change through surveys, interviews, workshops, etc. This kind of assessment provides a baseline measurement of the attitude towards change, surfaces any barriers and issues, and identifies strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s capacity for absorbing change.

The results of the assessment feed into the master organizational change management plan, which would normally include sub-plans for training on new social business tools or processes, a stakeholder analysis, communications plan to key stakeholder groups, and additional organization alignment initiatives such as reward and recognition programs, job role changes, Change Champion networks, etc.

The Change Readiness Assessment outcomes can also help you estimate what percentage of the population impacted by change may fall into each of the areas along the Change Curve. Given these estimates, you can plan more effectively how to address resistance and take advantage of those people who actively support Social Business.

What if we are in the middle of our transformation?

Let’s say that your organization is midway through its Social Business transformation, and you want to apply some of these principles. You can still use the Change Curve as a discussion document amongst your senior leadership team or as a guide for your Change Champions and first line managers to use with their teams.

Discussing people’s emotional reaction to change can help to validate the concerns of those who may be scared of change. Reassuring them that this is a normal reaction, and one that will soon pass, can put people at ease. It can also help you identify and empower people who are early adopters and bring them in as Change Champions to help spread a positive message about the change.