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Understanding Change in Change Management

Written by Dr. Farhan Shahzad and Sarah Davies-Robertson

Change is a natural part of life. We all grow and we all change. Who we are at 55 is not who we are at 25. We are malleable, and as such, change does not just affect our physical appearance, but also our internal “appearance.”

How does change happen? There are multiple theories postulated by sociologists, philosophers, and psychologists, and some of these theories are complex. However, they do give us insight into how individuals, groups, and societies change with the times.

The Stages of Change

In their book, Changing for Good, Prochaska and DiClemente describe the six stages of change an individual goes through:

Stage One: Pre-Contemplation

In this stage, individuals may be aware of what is hindering them in life (be it an addiction, their relationship, or their job). However, they do not think about changing their lifestyle. This awareness is often superficial and potentially fleeting.

Stage Two: Contemplation

At this stage, people become aware of their problems and think about possibly making changes to their lifestyle. They may remain ambivalent about change still as they may lack the confidence to make these changes. During this time, they may say things like “when I have X amount of money, then I will make this change” or perhaps set a time for making changes in the future. At some point in this contemplation stage, the individual will make a decision to change.

Stage Three: Preparation

At this stage, people may begin to accept responsibility and ownership for the need to change. They may set goals, develop a plan and set the intention to change sooner, rather than later.

Stage Four: Action

Individuals engage in behavioural change efforts and develop new skills in this stage. They may seek help from a coach or therapist during this stage to help them form a strategy to achieve their goals and make the changes they need to. We can say they are gaining momentum with their goals.

Stage Five: Maintenance

Individuals have now formed a new habit. The new changes now require minimal effort. New neural pathways in the brain have been forged meaning that this habit is becoming second-nature. Clients need to be aware of any potential pitfalls here and put in strategies to prevent backsliding behaviour.

Stage Six: Termination

The new habit is firmly adopted. The individual will no longer be tempted by situations and they will embrace a new-found confidence, relishing in their new lifestyle. Relapsing to their former lifestyle becomes unthinkable as they enjoy their new life,

Decreasing resistance to change

Change is a scary prospect for some people. Individuals need help to manage their thinking and work through the change cycle. They may be contemplating change and still in that indecisive mode, so working through this with them, and encouraging movement and growth is key. Challenging mindsets is important. For instance, if a person expects problems, they most likely will get them because of self-fulfilling prophecy. Challenging the individual to make changes, but starting small, with smaller risks before moving on to the bigger challenges, can be really helpful.


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