Managing change

The Reflective Practice Guide: An interdisciplinary approach to critical reflection - Barbara Bassot 2015

Managing change

’The only thing that is constant is change.’



In this chapter we will explore the nature of change and how it can be managed. Some seminal theories of change will be examined, which can help us to devise effective strategies for managing change. It is worth noting that these models can also be used very effectively with clients as well as in our own reflective development. The chapter will conclude with a model for action.

Why having an understanding of change is important for professional practitioners

Change is a particularly relevant topic for many people who are working, not only those who are in roles where they are supporting people. Many practitioners say that they experience a lot of regular and ongoing change in their work. As a result, they have to learn how to manage change and continuously adapt their ways of working to suit new requirements. Many areas of professional practice are governed by policy, and a change of government can spark wide-ranging change in certain sectors (for example, in education). Having an understanding of change theories can help us to identify why we can experience certain things when we are faced with change. This understanding also helps us to see what might happen next and enables us to plan more effectively for what we could face in the future; many aspects of change are unpredictable, so the words ’might’ and ’could’ are particularly pertinent here.

Constant change and its effects

Many people agree that there are few things in life that stay the same. For many, the pace and amount of change that they experience in their lives is great and, at times, fast and furious; it can even be overwhelming. If you work, or hope to work in any professional area supporting people, you can expect your own practice to be subject to change on a regular basis. In addition, you may well find yourself working with clients who are experiencing significant change in their lives. Understanding the effects of change and the ways that change manifests itself in the people you are seeking to support is vital for effective professional practice.

Change is often difficult, because inevitably it involves loss. Most of us are ’creatures of habit’ and feel safe and secure when we know what we are doing and thereby know what to expect. By contrast, when we experience change we can feel insecure and anxious. If we see a particular change as positive, we might overall find the process of change easier, but even then we can long for things to be familiar. Conversely, even when we perceive a situation as being very negative, we can still prefer the security of knowing the current situation to the uncertainty of not knowing what the future might bring. As a result, change and stress often go ’hand in hand’. The topic of stress is examined in some detail in the next chapter where the subject of ’mindfulness’ is explored. However, we will inevitably touch on issues of stress in this chapter too as it is often (but not always) a manifestation of people’s experiences of change.

It is important to understand what causes change in professional practice and here are some of the main reasons:

• People change — in all areas of professional practice, people change as they learn and develop. Good people have a habit of moving on (and sometimes up too), so if you currently work with an excellent practitioner or manager, you may find that before too long they move on. This is likely to be both disappointing and challenging at one and the same time.

• Circumstances change — a wide range of things can affect our circumstances and we may suddenly find that we have challenging things to deal with in our personal and professional lives. The Holmes and Rahe (1967) Social Readjustment Rating Scale ranks the changes in our lives that cause us most stress with bereavement and divorce being the highest on the scale and holidays and Christmas being surprisingly high!

• Work changes — over a number of years we have seen fundamental changes in the labour market that have had a marked effect on people’s experiences of work. The impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been profound in many areas of working life, and many of us are expected to be ’self servicing’ in areas like administration when this might not be our particular strength. ICT also means that work can no longer only be done in our place of work, and remote desktop working from home or from ’hot desks’ has become commonplace for many professionals. Whilst this can have many positive aspects, it also means that the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred, which can lead to a struggle regarding work/life balance. In addition, the advent of compulsory competitive tendering in the public sector in the early 1980s meant that many services were outsourced. Jobs that had once been seen as secure became subject to things like short-term employment contracts, consultancy activity and regular contract renewals, the latter often involving individuals having to ’apply for their own jobs’.

• Professions change — particularly when professions are led, or at least heavily influenced by government policy, change can be rapid and extensive. For example, the latest statistics on achievement in schools can affect education policy as governments strive to be seen to do better than their predecessors. The latest child protection case to ’hit’ the media can force governments and local authorities to act swiftly and decisively, putting practitioners under immense pressure to get things ’right’.

Having an understanding of theories of change can help us to gain insights into what we see, think and feel when we experience change.

Adams, Hayes and Hopson’s model

There are a number of theories that seek to describe and explain the process of change and one of these is Adams, Hayes and Hopson’s (1976) transition model. Adams et al. (1976: 7) define transition as a ’discontinuity in a person’s life space’, which can be either expected or unexpected. Their transition curve offers a clear explanation of what happens to people when they experience change and is used in a variety of settings, including bereavement counselling. The curve is depicted as a wave — viewed from left to right, it is drawn as a line that rises initially, falls steeply and then rises again on the right.

As we experience transition it is common to experience a range of different feelings as we progress through this process. In their seminal work, Adams, et al. (1976) describe the following seven stages or phases of the transition process:

Stage 1 — Immobilisation (the curve rises). As the process starts and we begin to get used to the idea of change, we can have feelings of being overwhelmed by the enormity of what is happening. This can mean that we ’freeze’ and become unable to take any action. We might not know which way to turn as we try to take in the whole idea of change.

Stage 2 — Reaction. As we begin to realise that change is happening, we can react to it in two different ways. If we see the transition as being positive, we can feel elated and even excited. If we feel negative about the change we can have a sense of despair. Either way, we then begin a process of minimisation (a form of denial) where we consider that the change may not be as big an issue as we initially thought. For example, if we feel elated because we have been offered a job, we come back down to earth when we begin to see that we will now have to do the work. If we feel disappointed because we haven’t been offered a job, we question how much we really wanted it anyway.

Stage 3 — Self-doubt (the curve starts to dip). As the transition becomes more real, our thoughts turn to self-doubt and as our feelings continue to dip, we start to ask ourselves questions such as ’Can I really do this?’ and ’Do I really want this?’ The challenges presented by the change and the implications of it become ever more apparent and we can experience feelings of anger or apathy.

Stage 4 — Acceptance and letting go (the base of the curve is reached). Much of the focus of the process so far has been on looking back. As we reach the base of the curve and begin to accept that the change is happening, our thoughts begin to turn to the future and we start to let go of the past. However, the future is still very uncertain and we can feel as if we are stepping into the unknown. This can sometimes feel like a steep climb out of the base of the curve.

Stage 5 — Testing (the curve begins to move upwards again). As we begin to get used to the new situation, we try out new ways of doing things. This is all part of a process of finding coping strategies for managing the new situation and we probably feel more energised.

Stage 6 — Search for meaning. This is a period when we spend some time reflecting on what has happened in order to explore what the change means for us. It also helps us to think about how we managed the transition, and from this we learn how we might manage the next one that comes along.

Stage 7 — Integration (the end of the curve is reached). In this stage the transition is internalised and change is accepted fully into our everyday lives.

Over the years this model has also been critiqued, raising questions such as whether the stages can be identified as specifically as claimed and whether individuals make specific plans for change as suggested. However, it is clear that this model shows us that we often go through highs and lows over a period of time as we experience change. It is important to understand that people will often experience the stages on the curve more than once, going backwards and forwards several times re-visiting certain stages. Some people will not complete the curve, but will remain in self-doubt at the base of the curve and fail to accept the change or let go of the past. Others will continue to test out new strategies or search for meaning and not everyone will reach the stage of integration. This particular model is very helpful in describing the transition process and can be used very effectively with clients to help them to understand this process too. Showing clients the transition curve and discussing their experiences of change in relation to it can help them to see where they are in relation to the stages and what they might expect in the future.

Reflective activity 10.1

Now think about a transition you have been through recently. Can you identify the stages of this model in relation to what you experienced? Now think about someone you are working with who is experiencing change. Can you identify aspects of their feelings and behaviours that show the different stages of the model?

Case study 10.1

Igor is a social worker who works with families who are hoping to adopt children. He can see the prospective parents he is working with going through the various stages of the transition curve and he finds it helpful to explain this to them so that they know what they might expect in the future. Igor himself is currently experiencing transition as his service is being re-organised in the light of recent announcements about public sector cuts. Igor feels that his future is uncertain, but is also keen to look at his options for the future. Over the next few weeks Igor makes some notes in his journal under the headings of the transition curve to try and clarify what is happening in his life.

Stage 1 — Immobilisation. I suppose I felt a bit numb when the cuts were announced today. My life is on hold again. Better not book that holiday after all.

Stage 2 — Reaction. Well, I got through it last time, so I guess I can do it again. It can’t be that bad really.

Stage 3 — Self-doubt. So now they’ve announced how many posts there will be and it’s scary. I haven’t been here that long, so it’s easy and cheap to get rid of me. I’m not sure I can cope with this again. How can they do this to us? It’s so unfair. We do a good job and how can they expect us to do more than we are doing already? We have so many needy children who need good homes.

Stage 4 — Acceptance and letting go. So the posts have been advertised and I now need to apply. I’ve started looking for other jobs too — better to be safe than sorry. I do enjoy my work and I’ve decided I do want to continue if I can. It’s all really quite scary.

Stage 5 — Testing. They’ve offered us some support with job applications and interviews, so I’ve booked myself onto a course. My friend who works in HR in another authority has also offered to help me. We are going to have a mock interview together. Hopefully things are looking up.

Stage 6 — Search for meaning. So I went for interview and have just heard that I was successful. Thank goodness I went for that help with my applications. Several people I know have not been appointed and some of them are good workers. They didn’t seem to take the process very seriously though. This is a real lesson for when (and I mean when) this happens again.

Stage 7 — Integration. My new post starts in a few weeks time. I’ll be in a different team with a new manager and it will take me a while to get used to it. But it feels like I’m coming out on the other side. Time to book that holiday!


A simpler, but no less useful model of transition is a three-stage model put forward by Bridges (2004). Bridges argues that all transitions start with endings and end with beginnings, and in his model all three stages overlap. Stage one, ’endings’, implies that we experience loss at the beginning of the process as we let go of what is behind us. This is followed by stage two, ’the neutral zone’, which can be an uncomfortable place where we can feel anxious and uncertain about what lies ahead. Bridges argues that we need to spend time here so that we can discover what we should do next. Often we will feel as if we are in some kind of ’limbo’. The final stage is ’new beginnings’ as we move forward into the next phase of our lives.

The work of Kurt Lewin

Taking an analytical approach to change can help us to understand more about it and how we might cope with it. As a result of his work on organisational development, Lewin developed two very useful theories that serve as analytical tools to help us to understand how change can be managed.

The first of these is Lewin’s (1951) field theory, often referred to as force field analysis where he used a scientific approach and applied it to social situations (see Figure 10.1). In all situations he identified that there are forces at work that promote change (he called these driving forces) and those that resist it and even work against it (restraining forces). Each of these two forces pulls against the other in opposite directions. A situation or circumstance is then held in balance in the present (the status quo) by the tension caused by the interaction between the two forces. Lewin calls this balance ’quasi stationary equilibrium’, which is constantly in a state of flux.


Figure 10.1 Lewin’s field theory

Movement towards what Lewin calls the ’desired state’ involves change and this can happen in one of two ways. Either the driving forces need to be maximised or the restraining forces need to be minimised to prompt change. When both happen together the amount of change achieved is greatest.

Reflective activity 10.2

Now think of a situation you have experienced recently where you have needed to make a change in your professional practice. Using Lewin’s field theory, what were the driving forces and where were the restraining forces? Which were strongest and what was the result?

Viewed alongside these ideas of a force field, Lewin (1951) also developed his three-step model to describe organisational and other types of change. The three steps are as follows:

Step 1 — Unfreezing, here the ’quasi stationary equilibrium’ needs to be de-stabilised before old behaviours can be discarded. This is a difficult process and can involve us becoming aware of such things as complacency and habit. Lewin saw change as a profound psychological and dynamic process and in this first step we can expect the restraining forces to be at work as they try to prevent us from engaging with change.

Step 2 — Moving, or encouraging the development of new ideas. This is often achieved through an iterative process of action research where current scenarios are analysed in order to identify how change can be promoted and best achieved. Focusing on maximising the driving forces and minimising the restraining forces is important at this point in order to achieve change.

Step 3 — Re-freezing, this involves stabilising the changes into the new state of ’quasi stationary equilibrium’. Lewin recognised that change could be short-lived if it was not reinforced, and unless this happens it is easy to slip back into old practices.

Reflective activity 10.3

Consider again the situation you identified in Reflective Activity 2 and examine it in relation to Lewin’s three-step model. Can you identify the three steps?

Case study 10.2

Steven is a primary school teacher who has been working for the past three years with children in Year 1. He enjoys his work very much and feels settled in his current role. Steven knows that the Head Teacher has a policy of moving staff round the different year groups to enhance their professional development. He also knows that several teachers are leaving this year and that the school will be short of teachers in Year 6. When the Head asks Steven to teach a Year 6 class next year he feels very unhappy and annoyed. He makes it clear that he would like to stay where he is, but the Head says that this needs to happen and assures him that it will be good for his overall career development. Steven is still unhappy when he says goodbye to the children on the final day of term, and over the summer he begins to dread the start of the next term. Going back to school is difficult, but Steven finds that working in a team with teachers in Key Stage 2 is different, particularly as each of them has a specialism. This gives Steven more time to spend teaching PE, which he enjoys. By Christmas Steven is feeling more settled and is enjoying interacting with older children and having conversations with them about transferring to secondary school.

Lewin’s models remain very helpful tools for analysing our own responses to change, but also those of colleagues and clients. Lewin’s theories, particularly his three-step model, have been critiqued in relation to their currency — whether they can be applied in their entirety today is questionable. For example, the concept of re-freezing could suggest the kind of stability that our fast paced and ever changing world never seems to have and is unlikely to have in the future. However, many argue that Lewin’s theories have become seminal in the field of organisational behaviour and that aspects of them remain useful in today’s world. Lewin’s concept of the ’felt need for change’ is also worthy of consideration and is closely linked with the next theory of change that we will now move on to examine.

Readiness for change

Being ready for change has a big impact on whether or not we engage with it as a process. Lewin identified that when there is a ’felt need for change’, change is much more likely to happen. In many respects this is what makes enforced change particularly difficult to deal with, as when this happens we simply might not be ready for it.

In the same vein, Prochaska and DiClemente’s (1983) work on change also identifies a number of stages in the change process, and includes stages when change is unlikely to happen; these are particularly worth noting. Their work has become prominent in relation to health and well being (for example in the area of addiction) and is frequently referred to as a transtheoretical model because it draws on a number of different theories of psychotherapy. The model has the following stages:

1 Pre-contemplation — here, the individual is not considering change in the near future and may be unaware of the need for it. They might be happy with their current situation or unhappy with it. Either way, they are not prepared or ready for change at the moment. In this stage the advantages of change are often minimised as the individual focuses their attention on all the disadvantages, thereby making change seem just too difficult to even think about. Often, this stage is characterised by the well-known phrase ’ignorance is bliss’.

2 Contemplation — now the individual is beginning to get ready for change. The balance between the pros and cons for change has become much more even, causing a degree of ambivalence as they try to make a decision for or against change. This ambivalence can cause procrastination, and here the individual can put off making a start in the change process.

3 Preparation — here, the person is ready for change and will start to take action soon. They begin by taking some small helpful steps forward like telling family and friends of their intentions but they also commonly experience a fear of possible failure.

4 Action — the individual is now fully engaged in the process of change and is working hard to continue their new behaviours. They are learning how to strengthen their commitment to change and identifying ways of resisting the urge to fall back into old habits.

5 Maintenance — the change in behaviour is now becoming embedded, but the person is still learning about those situations that can tempt them back into their old habits.

6 Termination — the change process is now complete. The individual is secure in their acceptance of change and their new behaviour has become somewhat automatic. They feel sure that they will not return to their old ways of doing things.

Whilst presented as a sequence, individuals are often seen travelling back and forth through the stages above. Often, this is as a result of ’slipping back’ into old habits or ways of doing things. It is also clear that not everyone reaches the Termination stage, but can experience a sixth stage called Relapse as they resume their former ways.

Reflective activity 10.4

Now think of an example from your practice where Prochaska and DiClemente’s model might offer a good description of your experiences. Describe it and identify each of the stages. Did you reach Termination? If so, what helped you? If not, what got in the way?

Case Study 10.3

Stephanie is starting the final year of her nursing degree and doesn’t want it to end. She has made so many good friends and feels that she will lose touch with many of them as they all go their separate ways. As her friends start to apply for jobs, Stephanie feels ambivalent about looking for a job and prefers to wait until later in the year. But as the year progresses, people start to receive job offers and Stephanie begins to feel a bit left behind. She starts to look for vacancies on relevant websites but feels anxious about what the future holds. Following a few applications and three interviews, she is offered a job in a hospital; she is pleased about this as she knows one of her friends will be working there too. She hopes they might be able to share a flat together and begins to look forward to feeling settled in her new surroundings.

Having examined some theoretical models of change, it is clear that they each have similarities but also that they have their differences. Table 10.1 compares the models of Adams et al., Lewin and Prochaska and DiClemente to highlight these.

Table 10.1 Theoretical models of change



Strategies for managing change

If change is inevitable, it is very important to have a number of strategies for managing it as effectively as possible. This is not meant to imply that change is something that we can all approach purely clinically or logically; very often our emotions will be involved in the process and a rational approach will only be helpful to a certain extent. Recognising change as it is happening can help us to cope with it better and, in addition, we can take some practical steps that might help too. Here are some suggestions:

• Remember that change always involves loss, so do not be surprised by a sense of sadness, even when you see the particular change as a positive one.

• Try to find out as much information as possible about the change in question. The famous phrase ’forewarned is forearmed’ reminds us that knowledge is useful and can reduce our anxiety levels.

• If possible, find out the reasons for change. Understanding why things are happening can help us to cope with them better.

• Seek out support from other people, for example colleagues, friends and family.

• Where possible, try to become involved in the process of change. Having change ’done to you’ can make you feel vulnerable and as if things are out of control. Taking an active part can help you to feel more in control.

Tschudi’s (1977) ABC model can be a very effective tool for helping us to be clear about how we feel about change and the meaning we apply to it. It involves drawing a table with two columns; on the left hand side is the current scenario and on the right the preferred or future scenario. The table then asks us to identify the respective advantages and disadvantages of the proposed change. Table 10.2 illustrates how it can be used and the change in question is a change of job or work role.

Table 10.2 Tschudi’s ABC model


Reflective activity 10.5

Now use the ABC model to analyse a change that you have experienced. Make notes in each of the columns. What does this show you about how you manage change?

Back to assumptions

In Chapter 7 we examined the whole area of assumptions and, when considering change, this too is something that we can often make assumptions about. In the field of education and from a management perspective, Fullan’s (2001) work on managing change has been particularly influential and his ten assumptions about change are worthy of note. They are as follows:

1 Do not assume that your version of what the change should be is what could or should happen.

2 Assume that change involves a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty; this can be, and often is, unsettling. People need to work out their own meaning, which will come about in a process of clarification through reflective practice.

3 Assume that conflict and disagreement are inevitable and, indeed, fundamental. If these are not evident, it is likely that little is changing.

4 Assume that people need pressure to change; most people are happier with the status quo simply because it is familiar.

5 Assume that effective change takes time. Successful change requires a high level of commitment.

6 Do not assume that a lack of change implementation means that the change itself has been rejected. There may be other reasons like inadequate resources or that insufficient time has elapsed for the change to become embedded into practice.

7 Do not assume that everyone will change or expect them to do so.

8 Assume that you will need a good plan for change to happen effectively.

9 Assume that you will never know everything, or even enough, to make a decision regarding what action you should take.

10 Assume that changing the culture of an organisation is at the heart of the change process, not just implementing particular innovations.

Reflective activity 10.6

Which of Fullan’s ten assumptions do you find the most applicable to your situation and why?


In this chapter we have explored the area of managing change. Having examined a number of theoretical approaches can help us to recognise various aspects of change and to understand more about our responses to it. In the next chapter we will move on to explore reflective practice as a way of being, including the area of mindfulness in professional practice.


Adams, J., Hayes, J. and Hopson, B. (1976) Transition: Understanding and Managing Personal Change, London: Martin Robertson.

Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Fullan, M. (2001) The New Meaning of Educational Change, 3rd edn, London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Holmes, T.H. and Rahe, R.H. (1967) ’The social readjustment rating scale’, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2): 213—18.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers, New York: Harper and Row.

Prochaska, J.O. and DiClemente, C.C. (1983) ’Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: toward an integrative model of change’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(3): 390—5.

Tschudi, F. (1977) ’Loaded and honest questions: a construct theory view of symptoms and therapy’, in D. Bannister (ed.) New Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory, London: Academic Press.