Kübler-Ross Change Management Framework eLearning

Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief model

Since change can create grief, there’s a natural crossover between change management and the work of psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, best known for the Five Stages of Grief model. Kübler-Ross identified five emotions most people experience during loss. Change management experts have applied her framework to understand and support employees through change. 

Why Emotions Matter

Change may serve the goals of an organization, but humans are the ones who have to perform it. And navigating change is extra challenging when people are in emotional distress. Managers who understand the importance of their employees’ feelings can respond empathetically and effectively while keeping the initiative on course. 

Is Kübler-Ross a Good Fit?

The Kübler-Ross Change Management Model is wholly focused on the employee experience. That makes it an excellent framework for managers to figure out what help a team might need to get past their grief and perform the tasks at hand.

Kübler-Ross identified five core feelings that define the grief process.

  1. Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
  2. Anger: “This is their worst idea yet. I hope it fails.”
  3. Bargaining: “What if we tried this instead?”
  4. Depression: “There’s no way this will be OK. I should just give up.”
  5. Acceptance: “Like it or not, this is happening. I’ll make the best of it.”

These stages don’t necessarily occur in order, and a person may repeat them. Psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief framework originated as a model to understand the emotions of loss around death and dying. Even so, it is also an effective lens to understand normal human responses in the face of change. The framework provides tools to support employees through universal grief emotions. These tips will help with each phase:

  1. Denial. In this overwhelming and confusing phase, communicate frequently and explain why the change benefits everyone.
  2. Anger. When the world comes crashing down, create resources and support those most affected. Listen and continue to keep open lines of communication.
  3. Bargaining. When negotiations begin, stay open to valid feedback but hold firm on non-negotiables. Reconnect to the desired outcomes.
  4. Depression. Look for ways to remove pain points and make the process more fun or appealing.
  5. Acceptance. Celebrate your wins and publicly acknowledge early adopters to encourage others to follow their lead.

Using this framework allows managers to understand employees’ feelings and respond empathetically. While it requires experience and patience, the reward is improved performance and a better chance at achieving the desired change outcomes.

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