One of the most powerful skills you can develop in your employees is change agility. Helping workers adapt to change sets them up for “lifelong employability.” But for many people, change can make us feel stressed and anxious, especially in the workplace. The good news is that change agility is a skill both leaders and employees can develop with practice. This blog post introduces four change management frameworks as resources to help you, your team, and your organization become more comfortable with change. 

1. Take an analytical approach with PDCA 

William Deming developed the PDCA (plan – do – check – act) model in the 1950s. It’s based on a scientific problem-solving method and is sometimes called “the Deming wheel” or “the Deming cycle.” One of the most important things to know about the PDCA model is that it functions as an ongoing loop rather than a process with a finite start and finish. As you go through each step, you learn, observe, and then apply what you’ve learned to future iterations. 

Here’s a look at the first two steps of the PDCA model — plan and do:

PDCA step 1: Plan

In this first step, you’ll define the organizational problem or opportunity. This should include hypothesizing some ways you’ll reach your goal and how to define success. A few questions to ask during the planning stage include: What is the core problem we need to solve? Is this the right problem to work on? And what resources do we need?

PDCA step 2: Do 

The next step, do, moves from theorizing and planning to concrete action. This is when you’ll want to test the hypothesis created in the plan step. Whenever possible, execute your plan in a small or controlled environment. For example, consider trying a new process on a single team, rather than a large department. This approach minimizes larger disruption and allows you to iterate faster on your hypothesis.

To learn more about the final steps in the PDCA model — check and act — and how to apply this change management cycle in your company, check out PDCA: A Proven Model for Continuous Business Improvement.  

2. Create a clear plan of action with Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model 

Dr. John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Leading Change, developed an eight-step change model after observing numerous leaders and businesses throughout the process of executing significant changes. The first four of Kotter’s eight-step change model include:

  1. Create a sense of urgency: Leaders must communicate to their teams the importance of acting immediately.
  2. Build a guiding coalition: Have other team members visibly unite behind your vision to send a strong message and help spread support across the company.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives: Make your vision clear and understandable. Identify the core values you want to embody and create a strategy to execute according to those values.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army: You need many people to rally around this new opportunity and you can do this by inspiring urgency around a change.

Explore the remaining steps of the Kotter change model by reading Lead Through Transformation With Kotter’s Ground-Breaking 8-Step Change Model

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3. Put feelings first with the Kübler-Ross Change Curve 

The Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is well known for her work on death and dying, but her five-stage change model is also used in the working world to describe the emotions employees might go through when facing major change. The first three of these change stages focus on shock, denial, and frustration:

Stage 1: Shock

In this initial stage, employees may experience shock and perhaps won’t be able to process the fact that they will have to undergo a change and adapt to something new. 

Stage 2: Denial

A common, temporary defense, denial occurs when people pretend something is not happening, hoping it’ll just go away on its own.

Stage 3: Frustration

During this stage, employees may look for someone within the company to pin their frustrations on — their boss, themselves, or greater economic forces. 

Further explore the emotional side of change and how it can evolve beyond these first stages to become a positive moment for your employees in Kubler-Ross Change Curve: A People-First Approach to Change Management

4. Keep it simple with Lewin’s change management model 

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin was a leader in change management and a pioneer in the research of group dynamics and organizational development. Based on his research, Lewin introduced a three-step change management model in 1947 that allows organizations to prepare employees for change, execute on the change, and integrate the change into an organizational structure. 

The first two steps of Lewin’s change management model focus on unfreezing from a current process, then implementing the change. In stage one, a team or organization must unfreeze its current process to prepare for the upcoming change. Leaders should schedule meetings with employees to get their opinions on the current process and measure their reactions to your proposed new process. 

Stage two involves implementing the new solution or change. Lewin recognized that this stage is the most difficult to complete since employees often view it as creating uncertainty in their otherwise familiar worlds. The third and final stage of Lewin’s model is refreeze, which you can explore in-depth in Lewin’s Change Management Model: 3 Steps for Understanding Change at Work.  

Help your organization face change with confidence

While we can never eliminate the possibility of change in the workplace, leaders can take specific steps to help employees feel more confident in facing any change that comes their way. Learning and development professionals have the opportunity to support the development of both situational awareness, where employees can anticipate change that’s coming, and self-awareness, so that employees can understand their own reactions and feelings to change. 

In addition to familiarizing yourself and your people leaders with the frameworks outlined in this post, there are other tactics you can use to boost change agility in your workforce. Download The 5 Principles of Change Agility: How to Prepare For Anything for more tips on how to help yourself and your employees adapt to change.