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Episode 8: The Change Curve


In this episode, host Chris Thornton interviews Daggerwing Group Principal and Chartered Organizational Psychologist Maria Dodd for a miniseries on the psychology of change. In this episode, Chris and Maria discuss the psychological implications of change in the workplace, and how to look deeper into the human and emotional responses of the brain. Using the Kubler Ross Change Curve model, they explore the importance of considering change as a journey, how leaders should prepare for challenges along the way, and how they can better understand what their employees are experiencing to get ahead of and better manage change.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;03;12 – 00;00;34;16

And. Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris, Principle here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients. We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals.

00;00;34;18 – 00;00;51;24

Joining me today is Maria Dodd, principal here at Daggerwing Group. Maria? Hi, Chris. Thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me. Listen, I know you’ve listened to every one of our podcasts, so you know that you have to prove that you’re human. Do you feel like you’re up for the challenge? And I can’t believe you’re asking me.

00;00;51;27 – 00;01;14;00

As well as being a psychologist to prove that I’m human, because those two things don’t go well together. no. no. Is that going to open up a door of, like, unending questions, maybe self analysis? I end up being the psychologist. We definitely don’t want that. So let’s just start with some pretty easy questions. Maria, what’s the best vacation you ever took and why was it the best?

00;01;14;05 – 00;01;36;03

That’s actually not an easy question because I feel lucky that I’ve been on quite a few good vacations, holidays, top, top three holidays. I don’t know. Definitely not in 2020. That’s been rainy England, but probably one. That’s the one that sticks my mind the most and I think is quite cool is when me and my best friend went to Israel.

00;01;36;05 – 00;02;05;03

My friend is half Israeli and her family are there, so it was such a great opportunity to go and just get a bit of everything. So we started having a beach holiday, but then we crossed the border into Jordan and visited Petra, which I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but is absolutely amazing. And then we did a road trip all the way up through Israel’s go through Jerusalem, stopped in the Dead Sea and then ended up in Tel Aviv with some partying.

00;02;05;03 – 00;02;39;22

And I remember our photo album was called The Dead, The Red and the Mad, which makes it sound very cool. But that was absolutely fantastic. All right. Second most favorite holiday. so it was kind of a holiday. Yeah, it was a working holiday when I was at university. And I spent three months in Maryland skipping ice cream for a living, managing to sort of live on the beach out there in Maryland and do a little bit of traveling around the East coast of the US as well.

00;02;39;22 – 00;03;06;07

So that’s probably one of my favorite that’s going back quite a few years, though. All right. So was that Ocean City? That was the city. It was Maryland. So it was a beach. So it had to be Ocean City. So are you a lefty or a righty? Because I’m told from Cheryl Ferguson, our co-founder and president, that she scooped ice cream one year and just got one arm really built up, that she would always scoop the ice cream.

00;03;06;13 – 00;03;29;15

Did you get the same thing, a lefty or righty? Strong arm? Definitely right handed. Definitely built up some muscle strength for scooping and a great memory as well, because the orders were just real off. Thousands and thousands of ice cream and we were just getting around. So, yeah, that was great. Favorite ice cream. What’s yours? Salted caramel. Caramel.

00;03;29;18 – 00;03;49;00

Are you somebody who likes mix ins where you’re going to add in like some crushed up Oreos, Heath bar or anything like that? No, just straight out. I’m quite a savory person, so if I do that, my ice cream is probably on the fatty straight side. All right, Maria, I am fully convinced that you’re human. Thank you so much for that.

00;03;49;00 – 00;04;11;15

Let’s let’s get into the change curve. We talk in in in our line of work about change, how people experience change. And can you remind us what the change curve is all about? Yeah. Yeah, I can. So the change curve is something we often use just to think through. Change is a journey, an emotional journey as well, which, which I’ll talk about a little bit as well.

00;04;11;17 – 00;04;42;00

And it was actually developed originally back in the 1960s by Elizabeth Cooper Ross to explain the grieving process of the bereavement bereavement, but it’s been used quite widely since then as a method for thinking about any change and especially significant change that people have to go through. So it starts with shock and denial, then goes through into anger, typically, then bargaining, negotiating into some depression before coming through to that acceptance.

00;04;42;03 – 00;04;59;24

And once you’ve come back to acceptance, you can then even build that a positive base. So I think the main point is expect change to be difficult if we head into change thinking that people are just going to accept it and move on quite quickly and not expect some sort of depth and we won’t be able to manage that change.

00;04;59;24 – 00;05;26;19

And the best thing to do is manage that change as well as possible so that that dip as low as possible into that depression piece, into the negative side. And we come out with the most positive outcomes as quickly as possible. While the Kubler-Ross model for that, for that change curve certainly is one that is perhaps best known by people, there are multiple change models and curves and ways that people experience it.

00;05;26;21 – 00;05;54;28

Why do you think that there are so many different models for how people experience change? I think you know how people experience change and the very fact that it’s such a human response makes it difficult. And I think, you know, the more point of views and perspectives and change models you can think about, the better. I think it’s about looking at it from different perspectives and thinking through that so that we can think about the human response as best as possible.

00;05;55;02 – 00;06;16;24

Speaking of the human response, I know that you’ve looked deeper into the typical human response, that emotional response to change, looking at what’s really going on in the brain and the emotions of what make us human during change. Can you tell us more about that? Yeah. So I’ve always been fascinated in psychology and I’ve I’ve done that all my kind of adult life, really.

00;06;16;24 – 00;06;47;28

And it kind of made my education then and been lucky enough to build a career around this as well. But really thinking and being fascinated about why do people react the way that they do, and particularly to change. So understand the change gap. I wanted to understand and think about deeper into the typical emotional responses to change and what’s really going on inside us and what typically are the emotions that we have that make us human.

00;06;48;00 – 00;07;09;02

Because I think if we can get a deeper understanding about how people are likely to respond to change, then we can get a head for how to help manage that change and think about the levers we can pull and bring people through that journey as quickly as possible at the very surface of emotions and brains. Way of assigning meaning to inputs and directing our energy flow.

00;07;09;04 – 00;07;43;19

So the typical emotions that we have to change might signal for us in a very instinct, deep way, whether we need to pay attention, whether something’s good for us or whether something’s bad for us, whether we should approach something and run towards it, or whether we need to avoid run away. So I think, you know, it’s important to know that the brain has evolved to respond in quite predictable ways to these threats in the environment, and that’s even just the same in the workplace and our environment in the workplace.

00;07;43;22 – 00;08;20;25

Our brain has evolved to look for threats and have a quite predictable response to threats that we say which change will involve. So that’s why I think it’s really interesting to just think about what’s really happening there. So how can we really affect how we help people to respond to change? And when you think about the brain assigning meaning to inputs in the in the connection between that and the emotions that we’re feeling and the energy flow, can you talk a little bit more about that?

00;08;20;28 – 00;08;56;18

I mean, you can get quite physiological about it in terms of, you know, there are three parts of human brain. So we have the part of the brain that’s just responsible for keeping us alive by survival. But then we have this centerpiece of the brain, the kind of mammalian brain really, which signifies to us about emotion. And that’s where we’ll draw on that emotion when we feel stress or if we feel reward that we should approach something.

00;08;56;20 – 00;09;18;28

The amygdala is the piece of the brain that really is attuned to identify and reinforce the behaviors that will benefit our survival and keep us safe. And then on top of that, and this is the piece that makes humans different, I guess is the the the human brain, which is the high level thinking and the rationale and the logic.

00;09;18;28 – 00;09;41;18

But what’s really interesting about that is that’s only got a really finite level of resource in any day and probably got about two or 3 hours and then you’re exhausted and you can’t use it as well as well. And when that happens, we default to the emotions and also when we’re in the threat, then the brain is just looking for a response to keep us alive, keep the survival surviving and preserve energy.

00;09;41;20 – 00;10;05;15

It will be it will default to the emotion response more so than the rational logic. So that’s why we often respond in an emotional way where logically, I think if we took that time out or were allowed to process things more, we would think about things differently. Instinct is to act with emotion. I was sitting with my wife.

00;10;05;15 – 00;10;34;10

It was about 830 at night. We were watching something on Netflix. Who knows what? Because I think we’ve watched everything on Netflix now. And she she said to me, I’m just so tired every day. And we’re both working out. We’re quarantining at home. There’s not a lot happening in our lives except everything that’s happening in the world As we record this.

00;10;34;10 – 00;11;01;24

It’s right before the US election. There’s a lot happening, it feels like in our worlds, but we’re not doing a lot. My brain feels tired. Is that normal? Is that. Is that expected? That sounds like what I’ve just described in terms of, you know, having that finite resource. Yeah, that human part of our brain, the neocortex, the prefrontal cortex that does that processing for us.

00;11;01;26 – 00;11;36;19

And it’s it’s proven that that’s only got finite resources to the point that there was a study with judges who they studied the decisions that judges made over the course of a day about whether they granted parole or not. And it was shown quite significantly and quite starkly that depending on the time of day whether the judges had recently taken a break, had lunch, etc., the decisions about whether they go on to parole varied greatly on that.

00;11;36;21 – 00;11;59;11

You could see the brain fatigue over the course of the day where, you know, the decisions that they were making were impacted by just this brain becoming exhausted, as you say. So it’s and that’s where, you know, the default is to default to the emotional peaks, because all logic is just run out. It’s not about intelligence or anything.

00;11;59;11 – 00;12;35;10

It’s just it’s just pure fatigue. So taking your very helpful insight for for me into what I am experience in my wife is experiencing at night and knowing that we’ve got these finite resources. We work with clients every day who are dealing with both the change that’s happening in the world and the repercussions of it. And then they’re usually trying to have other change happen within within their environment, within their enterprise.

00;12;35;13 – 00;12;55;07

It could be a new system, it could be a new strategy, it could be a pivot from it could be a pivot to growth. And they’re saying, how do I get my employees excited about this? How do I energize them? How do I know that we’ve got this incredible future coming? They don’t understand it and I’m so excited about it.

00;12;55;07 – 00;13;17;20

I want them to feel this excitement because I need them to be part of the journey. What’s your counsel to them? We get that a lot, don’t we? So one of the things that clients often come to us around and know situations, and including the ones you just mentioned is I want to turn our employee’s feelings from fear into excitement.

00;13;17;21 – 00;13;54;25

Yeah. And the first thing that I would suggest with that and what we do is, is let’s take a step back for a moment. And the change curve is really useful here because often we can look across and actually interrogate the client in terms of is it really fair that we’re going from. And it might be, you know, often there’s a lot of calls of fear and analysis in the workplace, but there are lots of examples where we can actually just refine that problem statement a bit better by looking into is it what’s the real emotion that employs a feeling now and then?

00;13;54;25 – 00;14;32;13

Often, yes, clients want to get to excitement, so how can we bring them through? So if it is fear to excitement, then that really helps us to think through, Well, let’s go on a journey here. We can’t just go from fear and turn into excitement. We need to bring them through the journey. Let them go through that change curve, Let them have a little bit of denial, a little bit of anger, but give them the means and the channels that they can process those emotions, give them time and the space that they need so that we can we can use that energy in the brain that is quite finite in day to day basis.

00;14;32;13 – 00;15;06;08

Let’s not overwhelm them, but let’s equip them with the tools to bring them through that journey. And then, you know, once we’ve got them through that initial phase, they’ll be more much more ready and accepting and open to new information, to ideas. And then at that point, that’s when we can really start building up the excitement by, you know, first starting by feeding that curiosity, giving them options and opportunities to explore, ask questions.

00;15;06;10 – 00;15;35;15

And, you know, it’s okay to address these honest emotions. And once we’ve got them there and they’re ready, then yes, we can really build on the excitement. So it’s like it’s a case of, I think looking at the situation, the real emotions that are really happening in the organization and saying, working with our clients. Yes, we want to get everyone to excitement and pride and a sense of belonging, but let’s go on a journey to get there and let’s go on the journey.

00;15;35;18 – 00;15;59;19

We can move through it as quickly as possible and it doesn’t always need to be a long journey, but let’s allow time for that acceptance of all of these emotions that are happening. And that’s really important. That’s and that goes back to Kubler-Ross and where the change camp was born is in allowing that to happen. But bringing it through so that we can get to a positive outcome as quickly as possible.

00;15;59;25 – 00;16;47;07

So I think that’s so interesting because we often are working with leaders who have spent months sometimes a year or more, figuring out a new strategy, assessing the situation, understanding it deeply, some root causes, and have put together strategy, these that are incredibly thoughtful, often requiring incredible funding as well. If it’s if it’s a major transformation and they often expect everybody to be very excited, if not within a day of hearing about the change, but give them a week, they’ll understand it, they’ll get it, and I’m sure they’ll be as excited as I’ve been in my journey over the last year, year and a half, figuring out exactly what we’re going to do and in

00;16;47;07 – 00;17;29;21

the time compression that people expect on business emotions and business mindset as opposed to human emotion and human mindset is often fascinating. Just how much they underestimate that. I know that you’ve you’ve looked into and researched some of the different reactions that that employees can experience when they’re hearing about a change and and some of the different stages that that we should expect people to be going through, especially in the enterprise when they hear about a change, are there a couple that stand out from you that are a little bit different than the Kubler-Ross change model?

00;17;29;22 – 00;17;56;12

Yeah, I think so. And just come back to what you just mentioned. It just always fascinates me as well. Like in our personal lives, we totally get this and we totally understand that people are human and that people need time. And we’re highly empathetic. And I think it is difficult in enterprises and in the work place to bring that empathy through into understanding that and then actually applying it to the business world, the business world.

00;17;56;15 – 00;18;16;21

It just is set up to be efficient and commercial and let’s get on with it. And isn’t this great? We just got to get it, get behind it. So it does always fascinate me that we can draw so many more parallels from a personalized into our workplace lives. And actually more and more especially with 2020, the two of the same.

00;18;16;24 – 00;18;40;01

Yeah. So you imagine coming back to your question around the ones that stand out. I mean, you know, I think the one that I find most fascinating is probably the first one of shock and surprise at the very beginning when people hear some news and their initial reaction is to be overwhelmed, taken aback, and they just did not see this coming.

00;18;40;01 – 00;19;04;24

I don’t believe it. This can’t be. And that is probably the strongest human emotion in an entertainer. I think we can all understand that if it’s a bad change. Right. I worked at an organization that was shutting down, huge organizations. Shutting down was no longer going to be in business. And that, I think we can all understand that.

00;19;04;27 – 00;19;25;07

Shock. What about in the good times? Should we think about like good change? Should we also anticipate shock? Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, just a little bit about what’s happening in the brain when we’re shocked or surprise is that our brains are sending strong, you know, neuro alerts that tell us that something important is happening and we need to pay attention.

00;19;25;09 – 00;20;11;03

So depending on that context, it could be something really uncomfortable. It could be something really exciting and surprises, even positive ones, that cause humans to physically freeze. Apparently the science isn’t like the 1/25 of a second we physically freeze really needs time to process that new information. So I think positive and negative. The typical behavioral responses is some element of immobilization needing time to just absorb the information, seek out the information that need that we need, and process it without responding to it, which I think with positive news and surprises is a fantastic moment just to allow as well.

00;20;11;05 – 00;20;42;25

You know, that moment where people are just riding high and they need to process information, especially, I would guess, especially sorry, I’m processing right. I would assume, especially if you want them to hear what’s next or where you need their help or how you’re going to involve them in the change. Let’s not jam it all together into one message and a11 run on sentence, giving people space and time to hear it, feel it processing, and then be ready to hear what’s next.

00;20;42;25 – 00;21;04;15

Is that is that a good way to approach it? Yeah, we’ve all been there when we’ve had fantastic news and we we don’t really remember the detail of that moment doing. We’re kind of taken aback. We’re enjoying that moment. We’re slightly shocked, slightly immobilized. So yes, if we try and cram all the information in that moment, we’re probably going to lose our audience.

00;21;04;16 – 00;21;28;11

Yeah, but at the same time, you know, we’ve got momentum there and the brain is telling us we need to pay attention. So I think timing is important to to jump on that momentum. But yeah, allow people to enjoy the moment and to process news. What are some other levels to pull to manage, help people manage the emotional response, being able to work through it.

00;21;28;13 – 00;21;59;02

When you’re thinking about introducing change, one is to give that moment right for them to process anything else that you would advise people to take into account. I mean, it depends on the context that’s important to share the vision. You know, we don’t need to go into details yet, but let’s use this moment to share the vision, provide clarity on where we’re going and get people on board so they can they can see and they can visualize and they can feel and get excited about the end state.

00;21;59;05 – 00;22;30;19

If there’s more negative news, lots of reassurance. So allowing that time so that for people to absorb the information, but also provide that reassurance that it’s needed. And this is where leaders play a really important role. You know, they need to be accessible, they need to be showing empathy and even if not having audiences just committing to when when the further information or the further detail will be will be available.

00;22;30;19 – 00;22;56;17

And then creatively, you know, if we think about how we devising any creative campaigns or messaging that we want to really bring to life, I think it’s important to think that through as well in terms of how do we really show that emotion, that empathy and all of our creative whilst keeping it simple and again, not overwhelming people are really relating to the audience I think is important as well.

00;22;56;19 – 00;23;21;22

Yeah, I think so. Often we see clients want, they think they know all the important information and they often want to share it all, all at the same time for reassurance, to say know it really is going to be okay, or we’ve thought it through, we’ve got a plan. Here’s everything you need to know. And it truly is overwhelming for people to take it all in.

00;23;21;25 – 00;23;49;17

And I love your advice about thinking about what they need to hear now, giving that to them, giving them time to process and letting them know when else they’re going to hear more love out. I like to think of it as is like two levers that you can pull in the most simple terms. And going back to that piece about the brain and the piece about the part of the brain that focuses and draws on emotion and the part of the brain that relies on logic but gets exhausted.

00;23;49;19 – 00;24;13;16

We can think of this through as an emotional lever and a logical lever and just think about as people digest the change. When do we want to dial logic? And this is the time to provide that the facts, the logic, the rationale, and then other times when do we want to dial up emotion to get people intrigued, get them interested, to reassure them, to get them excited.

00;24;13;16 – 00;24;32;26

So in the most simple terms, I would say think of it as having a logic lever and emotionally and to all those up and down, they don’t need to be totally opposed to each other. But when do we dial one up and the other one down? Interesting. Can I pull them both at the same time? Yes, you can.

00;24;32;28 – 00;24;50;14

Okay. Thank you. I can see where you need both. I need the information and the emotion. But I love that. Being conscious of which one you’re pulling and why, which one you’re emphasizing and why, to help people move through the process. Let’s say we’ve got you know, we have a lot of change professionals who listen to this podcast.

00;24;50;14 – 00;25;18;04

We also have some business leaders who are in charge of leading change and say, what’s the practical advice to that CEO that the HRO right now they’ve got something big because it truly feels like every company has something really big that they’re dealing with right now, especially now. What’s your one piece of advice to them as a non change expert?

00;25;18;04 – 00;25;53;24

What should they be thinking about now to make sure that they’re there being conscious of people’s emotional response to change? My answer, I think you just said, is is think about people’s emotional response. I think often you know, it’s about let’s get to a strategy and a well thought through strategy that leads to tactics. But taking that time to really think through the emotional response and really question, really challenge, you know, where is our employee base in terms of their emotional sentiment?

00;25;53;26 – 00;28;00;04

It will vary by individuals, but, you know, think through what is our emotional temperature at the moment and.

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.
Maria is a Principal at Daggerwing Group. She has twelve years of change management and engagement programs experience, across a range of sectors including pharmaceutical, technological, automotive, aerospace and financial services. Maria is passionate about psychology and applying human insights to help clients to inspire and enable their people in achieving the organization’s goals. Maria has an MSC in Organizational Psychology and is a Chartered Organizational Psychologist. In 2020, Marie picked up the piano again and got in her daily 10,000 steps in the English countryside.