It's Just a Phase

Understanding phases of change
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Phases of Organizational Change

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Change is tough. Sometimes organizations willingly change to stay ahead of customer trends, while other changes may be imposed by unexpected forces. Understanding and identifying key phases of change within your organization will keep your team prepared for the inevitable shifts.

Understanding the Phases

Most organizations continuously experience change. The challenge for leaders and high performing teams is to keep systems moving at levels of excellence during change. As we become more aware of the phases of change, we can predict when setbacks might occur and proactively remove barriers. There are 4 key phases of organizational change:

Phase 1: The Honeymoon

During this phase, there is a sense of excitement and hope. Leaders have the to-do list ready, quick fixes are implemented, and the right teams are in place. Overall, there is enthusiasm for the new approach. It is important to note that there will still be skeptics during the beginning, including those with a Why are we doing this? and This won’t stick mentality.

Phase 2: Reality Sets In

This phase is when reality begins to set in – the necessary changes are harder than everyone imagined. The we/they phenomenon occurs during this time, as people who are not adjusting well start to search for someone they can “blame” for the change.

Phase 3: The Uncomfortable Gap

Performance gaps become evident at this stage of deliberate change. It is an uncomfortable time for leadership, as they can see the discomfort of employees as they either adjust or overtly struggle. Leaders may feel a natural reaction to back off the changes, but this is the crucial point where moving forward is the only way to push thorough the barrier into the next phase.

Phase 4: Consistency

Finally – your organizational breaks through the barrier. Everyone understands the strategies for success. Results start rolling in around this time. The team is proactively engaged, from leadership to employees. Sustaining these results is the new challenge. The new goal is to validate the consistency and quality of execution.

Forbes contributor, Carsten Tams, defines this stage as a time to build continuous adaptability “…the role of change managers is less to push through discrete change projects, but rather to design the organization in a way that enables continuous adaptation to an ever evolving environment.” Champions of change must not only validate execution constantly but must also ensure it reflects the current market.

Each phase of change requires actionable steps for leadership at all levels. Both leaders and non-leadership team members should understand what is necessary during each phase to achieve successful outcomes as an organization.

Navigating change

Phase 1 Actions

During the initial stage of change, certain actions must be taken to get the ball rolling. As mentioned in the phase description, it is a time of excitement, quick fixes and possible skepticism. The actions necessary to advance to the next phase of change are:

  • Layout the vision so your organization can become united with a common mission.
  • Specify the desired outcomes.
  • Reinforce or create organizational standards.
  • Establish the necessary processes.
  • Implement a culture of measurement.
  • Connect to Purpose.

Phase 2 Actions

Entering phase 2 is necessary, but a challenge. Leaders intentionally persist onwards. It is the time to:

  • Continue measuring the important things.
  • Continue training and development.
  • Re-solidify senior leadership and make changes to this team, if necessary.
  • Remember to keep connecting your team to the why behind the needed changes.

Phase 3 Actions

By this phase, the performance gaps become evident. Simultaneously, your process improvement increases.

  • Training and feedback must become more specific and individualized.
  • Ensure low tolerance for processes, tools, and techniques not being followed.
  • Keep connecting your team to the why behind the needed changes.

Phase 4 Actions

Reaching consistency in new processes is the goal. At the final stage of change, high performing organizations don’t stop striving for better. They continue to improve, while maintaining a level of consistency on the now established understanding of what it takes to move to excellence.

  • Objective goal setting is a way of life.
  • The culture is people-driven.
  • Re-examine standards.
  • Avoid declaring a final victory. The goal is continuous improvement.
  • Keep your people connected to the why.



What phase of change is your organization currently experiencing?

How can you support movement to the next phase with action?

Remember why you started.

Don’t forget why you started on the path of continuous improvement. Regularly remind yourself and your team why changes are occurring, particularly during the tougher phases.

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