Popular Change Management Theories

John M Fisher and John Kotter have made a significant contribution to popular change management theories. A brief description of their change management models is given below.

John M. Fisher's Change Model

Fisher's Process of Transition model explains how people respond to change. This change theory is based on earlier studies by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who identified five stages of grief. Fisher identified eight stages that people follow in succession through a change process.

Click on Fisher's Process of Transition Diagram to view these stages. They are:

1. Anxiety and Denial
2. Happiness
3. Fear
4. Threat
5. Guilt and Disillusionment
6. Depression and Hostility
7. Gradual Acceptance
8. Moving Forward

Some people move more quickly through the stages than others. Deciding factors are their temperament, life experiences, degree of control and so on. People may also  regress to an earlier stage depending on their situation.

An effective change agent is able to plot where people are on Kotter's Transition Curve - and respond appropriately.


Initial Resistance to Change

why people resist change

People generally react badly to change in the first instance. They are anxious and in shock.

They follow this by expressing a degree of happiness or relief about the situation, glad that something is happening at last.

Then fear sets in.

If there is a healthy amount of two way communication at the happiness stage, then the degree of fear may be reduced, but it always present.

People will resist change, afraid of what lies ahead and how it might affect them in a negative way. 

If you are a change agent, accept that this resistance to change is a perfectly normal reaction - and do not be deterred!

For example, there is no point focusing on the benefits of change, if people are still in the stage of fear or threat.

You have to listen to them and attempt to understand where they are at that moment.

The discussion should ideally move to an action stage when they are ready for it.

As long as you are ahead of them on the curve, you can guide them forward at the right time.


Working with People through Change

It is possible that some people are not able to move forward and "get stuck" in the stages of denial, disillusionment or hostility. You might find it difficult to accept that you cannot help everyone move through the change process, despite your best efforts.

how people respond to change

Your time might be better spent working with those who move quickly through the curve and see the change as a positive thing.

These people can act as "champions" and support others to reach the same view.

Timing is extremely important when managing change.

If you attempt to force change through before the majority of people are ready, then the change is not likely to be as effective in the long term.

For more details, contact:  John.m.fisher@blueyonder.co.uk, or read John's work:  A Time for Change, Human Resource Development International vol 8:2 (2005), pp 257 – 264, Taylor & Francis.


John Kotter's Change Model

Kotter identified eight steps that need to be taken in order to manage change successfully. These steps translate the best of change management theories into practice.

1. Establish a sense of urgency
2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
3. Create a clear vision
4. Communicate the vision
5. Empower others to act on the vision
6. Plan and create short-term wins
7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change
8. Institutionalise new approaches

These steps are based on a solid foundation of communication, empowerment and focus. Once the change has been made, it is important to embed the new approaches, so that people do not slip into old habits. Monitoring, feedback and intervention are necessary for a sufficient period after the changes has occurred.

For John Kotter's website, Click here.


managing change in the workplace

Find out about our How To Manage Change Pack

Contains a practical workbook and web video to help you :

  • Create a plan to manage your change
  • Avoid resistance to change in others
  • Turn necessary change from a threat into a success

Find Out More


You Might Also Like  . . .


Return to Top of Change Management Theories Page

Return to Managing Change in the Workplace Overview Page

Return to Home Page


Subscribe to our mailing list to get monthly concise tips and hear about upcoming webinars

* indicates required

Read our latest newsletter -  Avoid the Pain of Employee Turnover - 3 Steps to Maintaining Business Performance or view our back issues for more concise tips on practical management skills.