The Four Phases of Change – A Helpful Model for Our Current Economic Times

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about making changes in my life and a dear friend recommended a book to me called “The Places That Scare You – A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times” (Author – Pema Chödrön, Shamhala Classics). I realize as I contemplate making changes, I am feeling more fear. This newsletter article talks about how we help ourselves and groups face change and deal with the difficulties that change encompasses. This reflection is dealing mainly with the 4th major international certification facilitator competency called Guide Groups to Useful Outcomes. I feel it is also particularly relevant in these changing economic times and with the election of the USA president elect, Barack Obama and his “campaign for change”.

My British colleague, Gary Austin (, created and presented an excellent change model at a recent IAF Europe conference. Both individuals and groups can reference this model to make sense of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that they experience as they go through change. When I shared this model with some colleagues recently, they confirmed a typical set of emotions and behaviors we all tend to experience when going through a deep life change.

The Model

Austin’s model speaks of four phases of change. 1) The first thing that happens when people decide to make a change and/or hear about a change that will affect them is often one of hope, excitement and anticipation. Shortly after this initial positive reaction, people tend to start to fret and worry. If we think about what many people in organizations are experiencing now in this economically challenging situation, the reactions can quickly move to disbelief, dread, and guilt (especially if you are someone who is not as negatively affected as others). 2) Next, people begin to bury or hide their feelings and they put on “positive face”. Often at this time, we or our groups resist the change. 3) In the 3rd stage of our journey through change, we become more optimistic and begin to explore options and strategies that may help us to better weather the change. 4) Finally in the 4th phase, our feelings and behaviors show a marked confidence as we begin to see “light at the end of the tunnel” and clearly choose to move directly and more confidently toward the new scenario or situations. The change curve looks like this where A is the old situation and B is the new situation a group or individual is moving toward. The four phases are noted.

As facilitators, we are usually called to help guide a group through change. It is helpful to be cognizant of the phases of change and the different moods and behaviors that will mark these phases so that we may use the most appropriate tools, techniques and stories that will honor each part of the journey. As facilitators, we can recall and reflect on our own personal experiences of “big” change to allow more empathy and skill with a group’s own journey. I share my example here so that you may think about your life and the current changes that our whole society is facing.

Personal Example

Many of you know from my last newsletter that I took a 3 month sabbatical from my business from June – September 2008. My hope was to obtain clarity on new directions I might take with my facilitation practice. When I first planned my sabbatical back in January 2008, I was extremely hopeful and excited (Phase 1 beginning). As I got closer to the sabbatical and even during the sabbatical, I was afraid of what I might have to look at by stopping the extremely busy pace that I had had for many years (Phase 1 end). And yet I was determined to reach a new way of leading my life that would allow me to make a significant contribution and yet offer me more opportunities for rest and reflection. I admit I spent most of the 3 months inviting friends and family to visit and taking on projects that did not allow me to truly find this new direction (Phase 2 – hiding from my fear). I barely admitted this to myself, let alone others. But as I entered into the next phase of change, I began to say to my friends and colleagues that I wasn’t ready to take on major arenas of work yet (Beginning Phase 3). Now I am in the late part of the 3rd phase of change where I remember my original goal of creating a balanced, yet significant life and starting to explore new options.

I am confident that I will soon enter the 4th phase of change, confidently striving towards that “new” (Point B) in my life. (It feels scary to share this with you). I think that if I can remember to connect with others and accept myself as a person who does not yet know where she will end up, that I will have a greater chance of reaching my new state more quickly. And to quote Pema Chödrön from the book, “I am in a place of not knowing that scares me”.

Applying This Model to the Economy

Now let’s think about the current economic downturn our society is going through. We are likely entering phase 2 of the cycle of change where we’re desperately trying to apply drastic tactics (e.g. bailouts, etc.), and people are predicting “doom and gloom”. I expect a number of people have gone “underground” with their feelings, especially how afraid they are. If we can remember that there is something good that will come about as a result of this change as well, then we can once again move confidently toward a new, hopefully more sustainable economy. Personally, I am imagining an economy that focuses on creating products and services that are truly useful, one that encourages leading balanced lives and one that cares about people from all walks of life.

How to Apply This Model as Facilitators

What about applying this change model to groups we facilitate? We know that when we go into organizations now, fear is likely a predominant factor. It is up to each of us to look deeply at where we are afraid also. We need to openly talk about this with friends, family and colleagues in a way that helps make it less scary. Talking about things that concern you with an attentive, trusted listener helps you have more attention and presence. This process of being listened to helps us be better listeners for others who are afraid. This allows us to be skillful leaders and facilitators who help others through this difficult cycle of change. We cannot be effective facilitators at this moment in history unless we take the time to do this work ourselves. I never said that being a facilitator was easy. It requires an extraordinary amount of courage.

Four Phases - CoverThe facilitator learning module entitled “Four Phases of Organizational Change: Acknowledging the Emotions and Easing the Transition” is available  for $14.95 on our Products Page. If you wish to explore the model further and do an exercise to help you think about your own journey through change I encourage you to take a look.

In conclusion, if we can successfully help navigate a team or organization from the old situation to a new situation, we employ the competency of guiding groups to appropriate and useful outcomes. Keeping this model of change designed by circleindigo in front of groups throughout the journey is a helpful tool.