Change Management: How to Deliver Employees to the Promised Land of Acceptance

Once your team accepts the change, you need to celebrate their success and institutionalize the new state. 

Written by Kevin Miller
Published on Apr. 06, 2022
Change Management: How to Deliver Employees to the Promised Land of Acceptance
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Welcome back to our series on how to help employees navigate change inside your organization. Catch the previous articles here:

In this installment, we’ll take a look at the most passive form of emotional response in the curve, the depression stage. This stage can be minimized if you were fortunate to uncover a win-win scenario in the bargaining stage. The more likely situation, though, is a complete drop-off in engagement.


Note: To see Kevin teach this series on video, check out his course Managing IT: Organizational Change Management on Pluralsight.


Dealing With Depression

Those in the depression stage have accepted that the change is going to happen or is already happening, and they realize bargaining was unsuccessful. At this point, they’re not able to delay the impact or avoid the change. Their energy levels will hit rock bottom as they become disengaged from their work and their coworkers.

Why Depression Is an Especially Difficult Stage for Remote Workers

This stage can be challenging with remote workers who may not appear online when you expect, and whose body language and facial expressions are hidden from you throughout the day. You’ll need to reach out more with remote workers to keep them engaged.

Don’t be surprised if someone stops showing up to meetings or doesn’t contribute when they do. You also may see they stop replying to emails, and their overall performance may slip. Those in the depression stage will think mostly about themselves and refuse help from others.

It is easy to ignore someone’s depression stage, but this is a trap that will lead them to slip back into bargaining. Keep them engaged!

Related ReadingLeading Your Workforce Through Uncertainty and Change


Common Phrases You May Hear in the Depression Stage

  • “Why bother?”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “......” (nothing)


How to Support Someone in the Depression Stage

  • Do have someone who is already past the depression stage talk to the individual and provide a different perspective.
  • Do understand that performance will slip, but don’t allow it to drop below acceptable thresholds.
  • Don't ignore someone’s depression stage, as it will lead to more bargaining — which means starting the depression stage over.
  • Do realize the next stage starts the climb to acceptance and those in the depression stage could soon become change champions. It’s up to you to help them get there.


How to Help Someone Move on From Depression

  • Keep them engaged by reaching out more often than usual; have others who are passed the depression stage reach out as well.
  • Reduce their fear of failing by providing more details around training and lowered expectations during the transition period.
  • ​​​​​Remind them of their value to the team and this change does not lower that value.
  • Encourage them.


Here’s a Tip!

Shift the focus of your communication from the change itself to the individual. You no longer need to sell the change as a whole; you need to sell the specific benefits the change will bring to the individual (i.e. what’s in it for them). 

You also need to show your excitement for the individual’s new role or responsibilities around the change. If you can spark the person’s curiosity, they will enter the testing stage.


Putting It Into Practice

Add to your positive and negative change notes from the previous issues: 

  • When you were depressed what did you start or stop doing?
  • How did your behavior change around your coworkers, and in meetings?
  • Did your performance suffer?
  • What and who helped you overcome your depression and allowed you to start looking at the change in a more positive light?

Once an employee moves on from depression, they’ll begin to realize they are not alone, they’ll re-engage with the team and their work, and they’ll give the change a chance by trying new things and raising their desire to learn.


The Uphill Slope of Testing

When someone enters the testing stage, they are starting to turn the corner on the change. When you see this happening with individuals, you’ve arrived at a great place to be as a leader. 

You’ll notice more engagement and will receive specific questions about how the change will benefit them. This will shift over time though to a team focus — and eventually a department and enterprise focus (depending on the change being implemented).

Curiosity is the key to acceptance.


Common Phrases You May Hear in the Testing Stage

  • “What’s in it for me?”
  • “Where can I find additional information?”
  • “Can I have some time to practice the new way of working?”
  • “Okay, this might work.”
  • “I suppose the new way of working is better than the old way in this one small area.”


How to Support Someone in the Testing Stage

  • Do offer support by providing very detailed information.
  • Do lighten workloads as people start investigating the new way of working. Allow curiosity to guide them.
  • Do provide training to demonstrate your commitment to their success.
  • Don’t stifle curiosity by overloading people with too much work or too many meetings.
  • Don’t dissuade open and honest discussion.


How to Help Someone Move on to Acceptance

  • Give people time to try things on their own.
  • Don’t be critical of mistakes early in the transition.
  • ​​​​​Reward effort. This can be as small as private words of encouragement or team announcements.


Here’s a Tip!

Most people will move from the testing stage to the acceptance stage on their own over time. While leadership has helped guide individuals through the change curve up to this point, this is the stage — not acceptance, as you might think — where leadership should take a step back. 

Rather than providing a path to acceptance, allow people to explore on their own. It is not uncommon for people in the testing stage to uncover a faster or better way of doing things that was not previously considered, but only if you get out of the way. You can help spark curiosity in individuals by asking questions and allowing them to research the answers on their own.


Putting It Into Practice

Add to your positive and negative change notes from the previous issues: 

  • Were you provided training? 
  • Were you afforded time to try new things? 
  • When you made mistakes, how did your boss or customers react? 
  • Were you encouraged or discouraged throughout the process?
  • Were you rewarded for your effort to change, either individually or as a team?

Navigating the testing phase gracefully will lead you to the promised land of acceptance, which occurs when people take full responsibility for their actions and are comfortable with the new ways of working.


Arriving at Acceptance

When someone is on the fringe of acceptance, offer support by answering their questions, provide more training and listen to their ideas. Once you see (not just hear) that someone has accepted the change, you need to celebrate success to institutionalize the future state and make it the new current state. 

This includes congratulating people for making it through a long emotional roller-coaster. You should also thank them for trusting you during this process.

Acceptance is something someone shows, not says.


Common Phrases You May Hear in the Acceptance Stage

  • “It’s not so bad.”
  • “I guess it’s a little better.”
  • “I wish we would have done this sooner.”


How to Support Someone in the Acceptance Stage

  • Do reward those who make it to this stage.
  • Do reinforce behaviors conducive to the new state.
  • Do reflect on your leadership during this change and write down what you did well that you will do again — and what you will improve on during the next change.
  • It’s best not to start the next large change before most of the people involved in this change are in the acceptance stage, as the emotions involved with the new change will hinder them from completing their journey.


Here’s a Tip!

Throughout this journey, you’ve been focused on helping others. But this isn’t the final change; the next one is right around the corner. Now is the time to sharpen your saw. 

When you speak with those you’ve helped, be sure to request honest feedback on your participation in their journey throughout this change. Allow them to finish, and don’t get defensive about any of your actions. Thank them for helping you improve as a leader, and be sure to repeat what you did well and improve on what you didn’t next time.​​​​​​​

Read More From Built In's People-Management Experts‘Speedbacks’ Are the Key to Team Improvement


Putting It Into Practice

Look back on your positive and negative change notes from the previous weeks: 

  • What was the leadership theme for each?
  • Did the leaders of the positive change follow the guidance provided in this series by providing the right level of support at the right times?
  • Did the leaders of the negative change squash your anger, refuse to listen to your bargaining, ignore your depression or jump right into the next change before celebrating the last one?
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