Change Management Part 1: Open Communication and The Change Curve

Change Management Part 1: Open Communication and The Change Curve

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Last updated on May 27, 2022 at 02:40 pm

Kara Sundar: What can go wrong here is sometimes expectations are too high. You oversell the idea before you’re even ready to talk to them about how this actually impacts them. 

Host: On this episode of ICTV, we’re talking about a topic that impacts all organizations, whether you’re rolling out new technology or going through a merger: Change Management. Mastering change management comes down to a few things, open communication and understanding the change curve. So today, we’re talking with Change Management Consultant Kara Sundar to learn more.

What is the Change Curve? 

Kara: The change curve is something we’re all familiar with in our personal lives. Some of our favorite stories have someone who gets information; they might be excited or overwhelmed. Then they go through a valley of despair where they’re fighting against the obstacles and coming out on the other side victorious. And so, the mistake we make when communicating through a change is we think of it as a linear path. We feed people information, they accept it, it gets to the next phase, and you’re done. But what we don’t realize is there is a real opportunity for communications consultants and experts out there to take advantage of that change curve, to realize where individuals might be along that path. 

What are the stages of the Change Curve?


So, when we talk about the change curve, a very common methodology that we change managers use is the Prosci ADKAR methodology. And the first stage of ADKAR is awareness. This is when a new change is initiated and people are hearing about it for the first time. So be careful about that, and make sure that you’re laying the foundation, getting people excited and positive and motivated to learn more, getting them ready to hear more, and being able to adapt, but not overselling.

You may also be tasked with communicating a change that isn’t necessarily positive. Keep in mind that if you communicate nothing, or you keep it all positive, then perhaps you will lead to people being paralyzed and not being ready to take action. When you’re asking people to change and not just buy something flashy, you really need to help them understand we see you and we understand that this is going to be somewhat uncomfortable, but please don’t go paralyzed. Here’s where you go for more information. Here’s who you ask if you have more questions.


The next phase is desire. And this phase is the number one barrier. Resistance is going to happen. The first recommendation I have is to work very closely with your managers and supervisors. This is the phase where people want to hear from their direct boss, ‘how am I going to be impacted?’ And recognize that they oftentimes are also the recipients of that change. So, first treat them as individual employees. If you need to go and meet individually with those managers, create a space that’s just for managers to collaborate and ask their questions. That’s incredibly important during the desire phase.

The second part of that is then equipping them to talk to the people who report to them about what change is coming. You need to recognize that no matter what you do, people are going to be talking about this change, whether it’s at the water cooler, or it’s in a forum where you can actually learn from their questions. So, I recommend if you do have a portal that you can utilize, start the conversation, put information out there, and welcome people’s questions. Because even if the answer is ‘you don’t know yet, but thank you for putting this on our radar,’ people will feel heard, and they won’t start creating rumors. It’s that personal touch that’s going to be really important in the desire phase.


So, the next phase of the ADKAR model is knowledge. Do people have the skills that they need to do their job in the new world? It’s hard learning a new skill. They don’t want to hear the rah-rah while they’re going, ‘What does this mean? Am I going to be able to make it through it?’ Really leverage your subject matter experts here. Make sure you have a lot of training materials publicly available. You may also leverage some champions. So people who may have been early adopters, helping them get out in the community, whether they’re wearing a t-shirt of a certain color, or having a tagline on their email signature. Something that says ask me if you have questions. 

Also, take advantage of system messagings. So, particularly if this is a technical solution that you’re implementing, oftentimes there are opportunities to use the technology itself to prompt people to the next step or deliver important messages. And finally, make sure you’re utilizing your trainers to spot resistance. They will be able to understand the difference between a true question based on knowledge, or a simple ‘I don’t understand this,’ which becomes very vague and almost an excuse to not move through the knowledge path.


And next comes ability. If you’re on a project team, you might be thinking, ‘we’ve gone live, this is fantastic, we’re done.’ But for the end user, this is the very first step into using this tool, and so you’re going to really want to tactically help them. Go way low on inspirational here. Work directly with the managers. You’re going to want to be having regular touchpoints with them. If people are able to use the tool or accept the change, you’re really going to capitalize on the return on investment that you promised in your business case. There’s a reason your leader spent money on this, and the time, and the resources, and the effort it took to get it across the finish line. And this is where your work becomes very important.

If you fail to plan adequately for the ability phase, you will certainly find yourself revisiting this in months to come. So, make sure that the project team and your sponsors understand that when you enter into ability you really need to do it thoughtfully and close it out thoughtfully. And measure it. And that will lead us to our next phase.


The final phase in ADKAR is reinforcement. So, this is when it’s not shiny and exciting anymore. But this is where you can really get that return on investment. So tracking usage, working with managers to continue to understand ‘are there barriers?’ This will be an ongoing process for years, so make sure that someone is designated to do that role. Have your sponsor come back, talk about all the great things you wanted to accomplish and be able to prove that you accomplished them. That’s a huge story. This is really where you’re going to see efficiencies come in, innovation come in. People may be using the system or the new initiative in a way you never expected. Celebrate that, and get the ideas out there.

This is how you use the ADKAR model in communications for really setting yourself apart as a communications professional. Using some of these change techniques to get initiatives up and running more quickly. It’s about seeing those organizational benefits that you promised in your business case.

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