Assessing the Kubler-Ross Model: A Critical Review of Organisational Change Management

Written by Blessing N. Ikiseh | August 28, 2018

OCM Image
Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is a huge topic of discussion by change initiators and has been successively linked to a range of problems facing organisations. Organisations need to limit the barriers that cause the outcome of change management failures. Organisational Change Management (OCM) has been researched over the last 50+ years; Google Scholar has referenced over 2,700,000 the concept of ‘change management’ and/or ‘managing change’ (Rosenbaum, More & Steane, 2018); and much scientific research has constantly discussed how OCM fail (Burnes & Jackson, 2011; Gondo et al., 2013; Whittle and Stevens, 2013).

For a more effective organisational change management, it is imperative for organisations/leaders/managers to manage and sustain the emotional trauma employees face in organisations change programs and proffer ways to assist employees through this transition from one scenario to the other (Oreg et al., 2013). Change is a necessary process for organisational survival. And in today’s dynamic global business context, change is constantly becoming a norm for organizations to sustain their identity/existence and to thrive (Al-Haddad and Kotnour, 2015). Change, therefore, can be defined as a transitive – to make something into something different. And transition is the process of change from one form of state, style or place to the other. There are a growing number of instruments and/or models/frameworks assumed to help in the support of staff and managers/stakeholders through organisational change management. Some has been more managerial and while others are adapted from other fields (Leybourne, 2016). Many scholars have implied that assisting workers to cope with managing transition from one state to the other because of OCM can drastically improve employee transition and better produce effective change management (Leybourne, 2007; Stensaker et al., 2002), and the emotional support given by organizations to employees will produce a massive benefit for the changing organizations (Cunnigham, 2006; Soulsby & Clark, 2013).

One model that can assist employees to cope with change is the Kubler-Ross Change Curve.

Kubler Ross Change CurveKUbler-Ross

The Kubler-Ross Change Curve is often known as the five (5) stages of grief or the grief model composed of the distinct procedures of emotions experienced by a person soon to approach death or that is a survivor of death (Leybourne, 2016). The model was found by and is named after the author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in a book entitled “Death and Dying”. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve stems from the author’s analysis of the five phases of loss/grief people emotionally react to, providing an insight into the inevitable organizational responses (Kubler-Ross, 1969). The Kubler-Ross Model presumes that persons especially workers who are faced with change and/or the loss of their job will fall into a distressing five stages of Shock and Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.

Denial and shock may arise when the person refuses to come to terms with change and an employee will be uncertain about the outcome of the change and may fear to lose their job at this stage. Anger which is a strong feeling of displeasure with oneself, the world or others. Bargaining is the third stage where the person starts to see the situation in a new light or on how to improve the current situation. Depression being the fourth stage is a situation where the person has finally accepted their fate and the last stage is the stage of acceptance, where the person is willing to push through the situation, pursuing and seeing new opportunity resulting from the change.
The first reaction to an unexpected or unwanted scenario in the face of change results in that of shock and denial. The second is that of fear and anger which is celebrated by employee resistance and protesting/complaint (Elving, 2005).
The rationale for using the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is that the model will assist/transform/transition employees to get past their different stages of grief/shock and gradually accept their new reality. Furthermore, the model will remind organisations/businesses about the importance of communication and how communicating this change process on time to employees can impact effectively on the organisational change process. In communicating this, employees will be better positioned and ready to know and accept beforehand, what change is taking place and how they can be ready both psychological/mentally/emotionally about this huge change taking place in the organisation.

Recommendations and Practical Implications of Organisational Change Management

Communication as one of the strategies to effective management change, according to change research is an important ingredient to the effective and successful implementation of OCM (DiFonzo & Bordia, 1998; Lewis & Seibold, 1998) and communication is the bedrock of all organisations communicative strategies, because effective communication within an organisation is the first step to achieving successful organisational change. In a current literature (Odine, 2015; Omilion-Hodges & Baker, 2014) described Internal Communication as a significant tool of organizations effectiveness.

Organizational change leads to individual reactive and emotional experience of change (Kyle, 1993; Leybourne, 2016). A poorly managed change will result in organizational grapevine and resistance to change brought about by an exaggerated and a negative perspective of the change (DiFonzo et al., 1994; Smelzer & Zener, 1992). A range of factors contributes to why change fail, some of the barriers are in the levels of the organizational structure, the quality of the change and the communication structure (Armenakis and Harris, 2002; McClellan, 2011). The transitioning into a cultural context that is supportive and concerning of employees would be more effective and successful (Söderlund, 2010).

The second recommendation is the strategy of learning. Several authors (Britt, 2018; Espejo et al., 1997, p. 146; Perez-Bustamante, 1999) have stressed the imperative role of learning or the learning organization plays in the strategic transformative OCM. Leybourne (2016) posits that the concept of the learning organization applies and involves a new way of thinking; for organisations to have an effective change, it is vital to asses and define what this effective change means. As organizations increase their learning process to accommodate the new ways and process of doing things, employees must unlearn the existing method of doing things as a part of the learning process (Leybourne, 2016). This is where organisational training needs to take cognizance to help employees’ transition and overcome their resistance to change behaviours. Employees learning about the OCM is a critical venture towards ensuring that workers will be a more productive member of the organization (Heathfield, 2011; Igbaekemen, 2014). Igbaekemen (2014) purported that training and development can take a distinct approach (such as counselling/coaching) employees on how to grasp this change process. In a nutshell, in the literature (Jerotich & Bartocho, 2016; Karatepe, 2013; Zhang, 2012) recommended counselling and training as a strategy for assisting employees to transform from one stage of the learning change process to the other. Butterfield et al. (2010) agreed/supported this as the scholar captioned it to be the counselling aspect of OCM. Britt (2018) implies that an organization who show a poor learning culture breeds inactivity. And one critical element that has been suggested to assist employees to cope with the stress involved in change is empowering employees to cope with change initiatives (Riley & Park, 2014). Organizations learning today is both a response to the environmental stimulus from the changing development in other to accomplish an added advantage through a knowledge-based work (Grieves, 2000, p. 64).

The final strategy recommended for organisations/businesses in their OCM programs is the change in their leadership style – the practical implication of this, if not insistently changed, will constantly bring about employee turnover, demotivation and absenteeism.

Leadership style has been linked to one of the reasons why change initiatives fail (Leybourne, 2016). Bad leadership style in an organization reviews that an organization is very much lagging in communication style (Voinea et al., 2015). In (Tkalac & Poloski, 2017) literature, the researchers contend that employees who are experiencing communication dissatisfaction display signs of low motivation, organizational reduced turnover, employee absents and low work attitude. To successfully manage change, resistance is a major problem change initiators are challenged by and debatably, effectively managing this issue is a huge criterion of the change process (O’ Connor, 1993). Management pays much attention to the technical aspect of the change and failed to focus on the human side of the change which is essentially crucial in the successful implementation of the OCM (Arendt et al., 1995; Huston, 1992; Levine, 1997). In Bharadwaj (2014) strategy on OCM, the scholar recommends that employees engage in the change will create an avenue for information exchange, and a more employee changes satisfaction. Jiang & Linjuan (2017) work suggests that transparent/transformational leaders will be open to different feedbacks and support employees to share in the decision-making process of the changing organization. To summarize, bad leadership decision/style, poor communication and an idea of not welcoming/entertaining staff feedbacks are the major causes while the many organisational change management processes fail.

In summary, effective communication, transformative learning, and open/transparent leadership style are inherent in ensuring a better OCM in organisations. For organisations/businesses to better lead a successful Organisational Change Management, it is significant to balance both their technical and the human aspect of the change. Effectively communicated organisational change management programs within the workplace, will, in turn, lead to the successful implementation of organisational change that can bring about a happy and more productive workforce.



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