Sunday 07th June 12:08

Change Management: The Kubler-Ross Model

change_175The Kubler-Ross change model is a model of change named after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss doctor who devoted her life to studying people with terminal illnesses. She identified 5 emotional states that people go through when they learn that they are dying. Her model has become the basis for the process that other people experience when they are given bad news or are required in some way to make major change.

The typical steps are:
0. The Status Quo: ""life's OK as it is""
1. Anger, shock and freeze: ""I don't believe it""
2. Denial: ""It's just not true""
3. Self-awareness: ""I'm not really coping well with this""
4. Acceptance: ""Well, it looks like it's going to happen""
5. Experiment: ""Let's see if I can't do something to fit in""
6. Integration: ""I think it could work out OK""

Change and the Dead Car Battery

The following story illustrates how we can go through the Kubler-Ross stages in something as mundane as a dead car battery.

It's a cold, dark winter's morning. You're going to be late for work so you rush out to your car, place the key in the ignition and turn it on. You hear nothing; the battery is dead. You then experience the following:

Denial: What's the first thing you do? You try to start it again! And again and then...again.

Anger: !$%&*@~$! car!, I should have junked you years ago. You may hit the car with the nearest tree.

Bargaining: (realizing that you're going to be late for work)..., Oh please car, if you will just start one more time I promise I'll look after you properly from now on.

Depression: Oh God, what am I going to do. I'm going to be late for work. My job is at risk. What's the use.

Acceptance: OK. It's dead. Guess I had better call the breakdown service or find another way to work. Time to get on with things; I'll deal with this later.

How to Take People Through Change with the Kubler-Ross Model

The Kubler-Ross change model is a valuable way to understand what happens to others when they undergo changes at work. Here are some of the ways you can help them.

i. focus on what people are gaining, not losing
ii. don't use the word "change"; talk instead about the new behaviours needed.
iii. empathise with people's fears and offer practical help
iv. show them that there is more security in the new than in the old
v. communicate, communicate, communicate.

Other Resources on the Kubler-Ross Model

Read this excellent explanation of the Kubler-Ross change cycle at

For a different take on the Kubler-Ross model, take a look at this video from the Computer Clan, called, "Inside Out Theory - Stages of Grief", here.

Finally, a great compilation of all the ideas in this model from Martin Luenendonk at Cleverism here. Go read it and, while you're there, take a look at his cool website for getting your dream job.