In addition to providing organizational change management consulting services in support of a specific change initiative, we also help clients build their own change-management capability for the long term via our “Change Management: Principles and Practices” Program. Virginia Satir, an American psychologist, or the “Mother of Family Therapy” as she is widely referred to, developed a model to describe the different phases in change process families go through during therapy.
Although the Satir’s Change Curve Model was initially developed for families, it is equally relevant for bigger systems such as organisations. The essence of the Satir Model is that systems going through changes will inevitably go through 5 distinct stages. If you have a close look at the change curve (see above), you can see that the change described in the model is positive overall: the performance of the system eventually improves compared to the initial stage – the level new status quo is higher than late status quo. This is a general phenomenon: changing the system for the better involves having to go through a rough period.
Often the “foreign element” comes in the form of a new colleague, or perhaps new management, who bring with them new ways of thinking.
It must be accepted that resistance to change doesn’t necessarily come from lack of understanding.
Questioning the authority of the instigator, the person trying to introduce the “foreign element” (“He is a nice guy, but he has no idea about the business.
If you are a manager trying to facilitate the change process, it is important to remember at all times that the root cause of resistance is typically the fear of the unknown. If you manage to address the underlying feelings by helping your colleagues to open up and talk honestly about their worries, hopes and confusion, chances are that common ground will unfold naturally instead an endless bitter argument. Have a very clear vision and communicate it early – start it well before the chaos phase reaches its peak. Whether the change is large or small, the ability to manage it is a critical component of high performance.
Rather it is something almost everybody has said, or could have said at some point during an organisational change process, irrespective of what kind of change we are talking about.


Each of these stages is characterised by different behaviours and very different levels of productivity. However, before this improvement there is a drastic drop, the Chaos phase – a period with significantly decreased performance.
The foreign element can be an event, an occurrence that doesn’t fit in to the existing paradigm, and therefore it makes people start thinking about change. Often it is not a rational answer to the change initiative but a very natural instinctive reaction to change.
If things look worse than before, how can you convince anybody, including yourself that it will be worth it in the end?
Make sure that employees know and understand why change is necessary and what positive results they can expect in the end. The chaos phase will be considerably shorter if the employees concerned have a network of colleagues they can turn to with their questions and doubts. It usually takes a so called “transforming idea”, a point when people involved in the change process discover that the transition has considerable benefits. This is definitely and advantage.” When you hear more and more remarks like these, the organisation must be on the right track. However, no matter how much the management team talk about the future benefits of the new system, people have to discover the advantages for themselves to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As they keep practicing, gain more experience with the new system, chaos gives way to integration and the level of performance starts increasing. In every organisation there are colleagues who embrace the new ways more quickly, people who will discover the advantages of the given change earlier than others.
The organisation has gone through a lot of hardship before reaching this final stage, so people involved must be acknowledged and praised.
After all, what makes an organisation successful in the long run is not a successful transition, but the ability to go through the change cycle again and again.


Whether it is a change of organisational structure, the introduction of the new SAP or a big cultural change project, the phenomenon of “nobody knows what they are doing” is always there at some point.
These stages are referred to as Late Status Quo, Resistance, Chaos, Integration, and New Status Quo. It is not necessarily the best way, but it is something we know, and therefore we are relatively comfortable with it. Yet managers often take it very personally when the organisation reacts to their change initiatives with resistance. Rationally, we might know that change is necessary if we want to stay healthy, but we still find ourselves throwing the rational argument aside and eat that piece of chocolate, just like we have done in the past. Plan additional resources, make extra time for practice, prepare for training – whatever it takes to make the chaos stage as short as possible. An environment in which people can admit to difficulties and ask questions instead pretending that they know it all. If you identify the most influential ones of them and make their voices heard, you will find that the transforming idea spreads in the organisation and the process of integration accelerates. This is a relatively stable state again, with the additional bonus of the performance being higher than in the late status quo. Instead, prepare your men for it, be present and in charge during the storm and praise the team afterwards.
These can all have the kind of eye-opening effect which results in some members of the organisation questioning the status quo and thus triggering change.



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