Using the Kubler-Ross Model to Understand and Manage Change

Dr. Isaac Asimov, head-and-shoulders portrait,...

Isaac Asimov was an American professor of biochemistry at Boston University. But he was most well known as a one of the most prolific writers of science fiction and popular science books. He was also famous for a quote.

The only constant is change.

Yet despite our understanding that change will always be a constant in our lives in some way, shape or form, why is it do difficult for most of us to understand, manage, or embrace change?

Accepting change is not easy. It often goes through phases and take times. The K?bler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief, was first introduced by Elisabeth K?bler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Understanding this model can help one cope with change.

Readers can quickly refer to wikipedia that explains these five stages, which could be modified for any situation. The stages Kubler-Ross identified are:

  • Denial (this isn't happening to me!)
  • Anger (why is this happening to me?)
  • Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
  • Depression (I don't care anymore)
  • Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)

The giraffe video explains the steps of the Kubler-Ross model in a lighthearted manner. It's important to note that not everyone goes through every step in exactly the same order, nor always experience all of the stages.

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The Kubler-Ross model is often associated with grief, tragic loss, or illness. But many believe it could be applied to change and change management within an organization? It could obviously applied when someone loses their job but what about some other scenarios within an organization like a boss or mentor leaving or being laid off, other people around you losing their jobs, the ending of a major project, or a change in upper management?

How do you experience and manage change in your professional life?

Do you have any examples that we could learn from?

change thumbnail: David Reece


Robert S's picture

Some one also once said (I forget the author and the exact wording of the quote) - it is better to drive change than having it thrust upon you. It feels better to be in control and if you are on the leading edge you are best positioned to take full advantage of new opportunities. This probably relates most currently to careers. If you are looking for new things to learn and new career paths you can be agile and do work that is more fulfilling to you. If you become static and don't push your envelope it can be quite painful when business needs change and some one is telling you a drastic change is in order. (Or when you realize that you want to change it is much more difficult to break the inertia).

RC Ramaswamy's picture

I agree Robert. Well said. I think Steve Jobs is undergoing these phases of grief with the flaws in his new iPhone 4.0 (intially he denied anything is wrong, vented his anger on media and on duct tape comments, He is bargaining now by showing how the entire smart phone world is flawed and trying to give the customers some cheap bumper cover, Very soon he will undergo some type of depression and finally will accept the situation and provide a good alternative solution) . I have heard how some people lose their power centres/sources with changes in their mentor/upper management or reorganization and throw them into these five phases of grief/change. How quickly we realize the reality and come out of this Kubler-Ross trap is the key to success !

ehorahan's picture

Your quote is completely correct. I think many people are experiencing increased responsibilities and decreased compensation (monetary, vacation, perks) as a result of the economy and cutbacks which I believe is putting people through some of these stages as well - any major loss of the norm can throw people into a tizzy. I think companies could do a better job understanding how this effect works and how creating bitter and unhappy employees really doesn't help the bottom line as much as they think.