How to Manage Your Team During Unprecedented Change

The Reactive Change Curve is based on a model that was developed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who used it to explain the grieving process that a terminally ill patient would go through when they were given their prognosis. After developing the model, she said it could be applied to any life-altering situation, and in the ’80s, it became popular in management circles to help people understand more about reactions to dramatic change.

Coronavirus: A life-altering change

The current coronavirus outbreak could definitely be classed as a dramatic change. We’re facing restrictions on our everyday lives, we’re having to adapt to working from home (if we’re lucky enough to still be working), and for some of us, we’re dealing with anxiety, fear, and uncomfortable feelings around our mortality.

Trying to carry on with business as usual

If you’re a manager, you’re probably used to managing change, but this is change on an unprecedented scale. As well as managing your own workload, feelings, and emotions, you have to manage your team remotely, keep them productive, and look out for their welfare. The change curve is a useful tool that you can use to not only help and support your team through this difficult period but to know when it’s the right time to offer help and support.

The curve change explained

The change curve is very useful to explain the stages that people may go through when a dramatic change occurs but remember that it is a generalised model and not everyone will react the same, go through every stage, or spend as long in each stage. It’s also possible to swing between stages for a while.

The first stage

The change happens then the curve dips as people react to it. The initial reactions are usually negative and people will react with:

  • Shock: Usually at the seriousness and scale of what is happening.
  • Denial: There can be a refusal to accept what’s happening and how serious it is, for example, “Coronavirus is not that serious, it’s been blown out of proportion.”
  • Paralysis: This is usually caused by fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. When we are facing a threat, we are programmed to fight, flight, or freeze. Paralysis is the ‘freeze.’ People retreat and do nothing because they are so overwhelmed.
  • Anger: People want someone to blame in this type of situation. It could be the government, other people, or it could even be you!
  • Hurt: People can demonstrate hostility during this stage. They might blame you for not doing enough to help them, accuse you of withholding information, or just looking out for yourself, for example.

All of this can cause huge disruption, disharmony, and it can fracture workplace relationships and productivity, even permanently if no action is taken.

What you as a manager can do during this stage

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Try to give your team as much information as possible. Be honest; now is not the time to hold anything back. This damages trust and fuels doubt and fear. Communicate with your team regularly, encourage them to share their concerns and ask questions, and signpost them to further information and guidance if needed.

The second stage

This is when the change curve starts to turn upward. Regular communication and focusing on giving employees the tools and resources to adapt to the ‘new normal’ has hopefully allayed some fears and helped people accept the situation. Once people feel they are supported through difficulties and this period of transition, the initial shock begins to heal and they see that actually, they can cope.

Not only that, you may find your team actually gains some benefits from being able to work remotely and differently, and it might set a welcome precedent for the future in terms of opportunities for flexible working, for example.

Trust, productivity, and confidence should improve, and employees may find that they want to gain more experience in a particular area or set new goals. There is nothing like a dramatic life-changing event for focusing the mind on where you actually want to go in your career and your life.

What you can do during this stage

At this stage, you have to be the encourager, supporting your team to keep the momentum going during this tough time. Arrange 1:1 meetings and appraisals to keep people on track, offer plenty of feedback just as you would if you were in the office, and be sure to say thank you to your team for their hard work. All of these will lift morale, confidence, and performance so they’ll hit the ground running once things do return to normal.


The current situation is actually an opportunity for managers and teams to find out how they can do things better.

Do you need help to carry on with managing your team as normal when things definitely don’t feel normal?  Or are you an HR Manager wanting some support in developing your Managers?

I can help.

Just because we can’t physically travel or meet at the moment, it doesn’t mean that your pressing team issues should be left unresolved.

I can do virtual 1-2-1s with you to help resolve team issues and keep things moving forward so that you have a more supportive, resilient, and productive workplace when this is all over.

Get in touch today to find out more.



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