Making a Change: The 5 Phases

I was just talking with a VP of Engineering who wants to shift his approach to interacting with his direct reports. He’s smart, he has opinions, and he’s rarely wrong in his area of expertise. But he realizes that simply telling his people what to do isn’t nearly as useful as helping them figure out for themselves the best next course of action.

And while there may be an appropriate time and place for saying, “Do xyz,” in most conversations, drawing out others’ thinking and helping them see the next best route for themselves is a better way for this leader to develop his people. But that means he has to change his behavior, and that takes some effort and concentration – at least at first.

In my previous post I discussed the brain science of behavior change, and why understanding the neuroscience helps leaders make the change process easier. In this current post I’m talking about the phases of change — because understanding these phases also makes the process easier.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

With any change, you’ll have days when everything seems to be going great. You’ll notice that your new behaviors are progressing just the way you thought they would. And then, wham!  In an instant, nothing feels right. When that happens, you might get the feeling that you’re headed for failure. At that point the decision might be, “Should I stay with it or quit?” Don’t give up!  This is how change works. It’s a process.

It starts off with a bang and often immediately takes a dive. And that’s because when trying something new there’s a hit-and-miss phase until you master it. Keep at it through this uncomfortable time. Quickly you’ll see your progression. And before you know it, you’ll wake up and find that you’ve actually become good at what you’ve taken on.

The 5 Phases of Change

Phase 1:  Notice. This is the observation phase. It’s the stage where you may not be completely aware of the behaviors that are contributing to your not being the leader you want to be. But you do know that something isn’t quite working for you. You might have gotten some useful feedback from others indicating what you could do differently, but you haven’t yet decided what needs to change.

Tip: Take notice of when you’re experiencing success in the given area and when you’re not. Note what the situational differences might be. Keep a log. This information will be invaluable when you start on your skills development process. One warning – don’t try out anything new just yet. This is just the observation and reflection phase. Nothing more.

Phase 2: Decide. Now that you’ve gathered some data, you likely know what needs to change.  The question now is, how and when? This is the stage where you’ll likely be weighing the pros and cons of getting on the change bandwagon. Will it be worth it?  Is there another way to get what you want without having to change your behavior? Can change wait? Being in a state of thinking about change before you actually do it is a good thing. But don’t wait too long. Opportunities slip by fast.

Tip: A way to help yourself move beyond this stage is to experience how your future will go if you don’t make the change. Get a good sense of what you’ll miss out on. Will the career trajectory you have in mind for yourself not happen unless you change? Often this is just the nudge needed to get going on making change happen. But even when you know you’re ready to start, do not rush into action right away. You need a plan before you take action. And that is what you’ll design when you’re in the next phase.

Phase 3: Map It Out. Research shows that going from the thinking-about-it stage (Phase 2) immediately to action mode (Phase 4) is the quickest way to quit before you’ve made any headway. And this is exactly what we often do — we leap before we know how deep the water is that we’re jumping into. This is why Phase 3 is crucial. It is not the time for taking action, but for getting a good picture of what you’d be doing differently. Once you’ve got that vision, you then devise a plan for how you’ll achieve it.

Tip: This map-it-out phase doesn’t need to be complex or take too long. Even making just a few notes about it will be enough. Include a time frame, your first few activities, and a list of one or two potential or real barriers that might stop you. Only when you know your barriers can you do something about them. And doing something about them becomes part of your plan.  To help you out in putting your plan together, take a look at the goal grid — this is a goal-setting tool you can use that my clients find really useful.

Phase 4: Get Going. This is where your vision and plan become real. And Phase 4 is just where you’re likely to hit your own personal wall of resistance. Why? Because you’re in transition – that uncomfortable place where you’re no longer where you were, but you’re not yet where you want to be. The ups and downs of this transition process are what cause people to slow down, shrink their goals, or just give up. But if you stick with your plan and roll with the difficulties, you’ll be on the other side of the discomfort and your new behavior will begin to feel more natural.

Tip: A good piece of advice is to get yourself some support. Everyone benefits from assistance along the way. It makes the process of change much easier. Support can come from a manager, peer, mentor, coach – basically anyone who wants to see you succeed.

Phase 5: Cruise Control. This is where the new becomes the now. You’ve stepped into your vision and it’s feeling real to you. Now what? The work here is to stay long enough with what you’ve accomplished before starting out on your next big something else. Celebrate it. Revel in it. Enjoy every moment of it. You thought about the change you wanted to make, planned for it, acted on it. It’s yours now to be experienced and appreciated.

Master the Phases

Life involves constant change. There are times when the changes we make seem easy. That’s great. But change is often a lot harder than we would want it to be, especially when it involves modifying behavior or adding new skills. If you want to master change, master each of the phases. That way, when you experience the ups and downs of shifting to new behaviors, you’ll know that it’s simply part of the process. And the more you know about change and its phases, the better able you’ll be to quickly get through each one, and get to exactly where you want to be.

Question: Does knowledge of the phases of change make the process easier for you? Do you have any tips to share? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Thinglass

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *