Issue # 3 - The Change Monster

by Randi Brenowitz

Issue # 3

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Issue # 3 - The Change Monster

For a long time I have resisted the urge to read more about change management. It seemed to me that everything useful had already been said. I was starting to believe that change could not be managed at all, and the concept of change management was merely an illusion. Recently, however, colleagues I trust have been suggesting that I read Jeanie Daniel Duck's The Change Monster (Crown Business, 2001). As much as I hate to admit it, they were right. It's quite good.

The book focuses on the central issue that undermines so many change efforts -- the human interactions and emotional dynamics of the people involved. Other books that have attempted this tend to become prescriptions for making everyone feel good, while forgetting about the business issues of the enterprise. Duck gives us a tough-minded but compassionate book about the many facets of change, which will be helpful for any team that is going through a corporate transformation or other change. Duck believes that there are 3 essentials of working though change: strategy, execution, and sensitivity to emotional and behavioral issues. Although she concentrates on the third element, she clearly recognizes the other two.

Duck introduces the following five-stage framework -- called the "change curve" -- for understanding and managing the human element of the change process:

1. Stagnation
2. Preparation
3. Implementation
4. Determination (a phase generally missing from other change models)
5. Fruition

Any phase may awaken the "Change Monster" -- the emotions and fears of those faced with change. Both team members and leaders need to tame this monster.


Stage 1 – Stagnation

Stagnation can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as poor strategy, lack of leadership, shifts in the market, product failure, lack of new products or services, limited resources, outdated technology, or poor execution. The team becomes depressed or demoralized, with the same symptoms as a depressed person: general slowness, difficulty or inability to make decisions, and lack of energy and motivation.

The best diagnosis to determine if your team is in stagnation analyzes 3 types of information: external and internal qualitative (or emotional) data and quantitative data. When planning a way out of stagnation, we must ask: What outdated beliefs and behaviors are prevalent in our team that will prevent us from conceiving and executing a winning strategy?


Stage 2 – Preparation

Operational issues are addressed during this stage: a new structure is designed; new roles and responsibilities are defined; the critical products or tasks of the team are determined. During this step it is important to assess how the team members feel about the change. One technique is called the Ready, Willing, & Able Assessment (RWA). It focuses on three aspects of preparedness: Readiness to change, Willingness to Change, and Ability to Change. (see pp. 124-132 for more details).

Because it is an in-between stage filled with anxiety and uncertainty, many action-oriented teams tend to skip this phase and just "get on with it!" only to come back to it later. If team members do not sufficiently believe in the need for change, or if they do not understand or endorse the change plan, the change effort is likely to falter during the implementation phase.

Stage 3 – Implementation

During the implementation phase, you should expect the rule of thirds – one third will embrace the changes with varying degrees of enthusiasm, one third will see them as irrelevant to themselves, and one third will disagree and resist either openly or in secret. Duck suggests that we reinforce the first group, educate the second, and attempt to convert the third by addressing any legitimate questions or concerns they have. If their fears and concerns are not addressed, they frequently infect the other two groups, which can sabotage the change effort entirely.

Communication takes on new importance during implementation. It is absolutely necessary to keep the change effort on track and to ensure that each team member knows what the others are doing. Avoid the trap of glossing over or ignoring parts of your change plan that fail. Team members know when something has flopped, and when you don't talk about a failure, the credibility of the entire effort becomes suspect. Try focusing on learning from the failures and incorporating that learning into modified plans.

Stage 4 – Determination

This often forgotten phase is critical because teams often experience "change fatigue" despite the results of their cumulative effort. People get exhausted from prolonged expenditures of time and energy rethinking their daily work and changing their way of operating. Some team members will long for an excuse to quit the hard path of transformation and resume the old ways. If the focus on change continues and problems are addressed honestly, progress and commitment can be kept alive. If not, the team may fall back into stagnation. Test and re-test your assumptions about the change, keep the positive, honest communication going, and get as many team members as possible involved in evaluating and modifying the change plan.

Stage 5 – Fruition

Fruition is the phase during which all the hard work and long hours at last pay off, and team members are optimistic and energized. It is a period of relief, reflection, recognition, and congratulations. It is important to take the time to celebrate the accomplishment and embed into the team the new capabilities and attitudes that have produced success. The more difficult the change process has been, the more critical it is to have the learning explicitly reviewed.

In every team, a danger awaits in fruition: celebration may turn into self-congratulation. Fruition can breed complacency and a belief that the Change Monster has been slain forever. In truth, the monster is always lurking, looking for ways to pull the team into stagnation again.

We know that teams must continuously change in order to survive, but they have to change in ways that bring strength rather than distress to team members. That's why understanding Duck's 5-phased change curve can make a positive impact on your next change effort. The Change Monster is always lying in wait and ready for battle, but by using the concepts in this book, your team will be better armed.

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Additional Resources on this Topic

  • "Managing Change: The Art of Balancing" by Jeanie Daniel Duck (Harvard Business Review, November/December1993). This is an earlier work by Duck that gives a shorter overview of the topic and can be accessed at
  • Beyond Change Management by Dean Anderson & Linda Ackerman Anderson (Jossey-Bass, 2001). This book is an in-depth look at the advanced strategies and tools for change and ransformation. I recommend it to those of my readers who are HR or OD professionals.
  • Taking Charge When You're Not In Control by Patricia Wiklund, Ph.D. (Ballantine Books, 2000). This book gives a complementary view to Duck's on how human emotions, attitudes, and behaviors are a key aspect of any change process. For a more complete review of this book, see

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What’s New at Brenowitz Consulting

Randi's writing:

"5 Rules Veteran OD Practitioners Know…And Sometimes Forget"
Advice from the Sages column in the Bay Area OD Network Newsletter, Winter 2002

"Managing Time vs. Attention"
The Leading Edge – The newsletter of the Leadership Development Pilot Project at Genentech published by the Workpath Group Volume 1, Issue 3, March 2002

Randi's speaking schedule:

Monday, June 10
Institute for Supply Management
Philadelphia, PA
Jumpstarting High Performance Lean Teams…Improving Productivity

Tuesday, September 24
International Conference on Work Teams
Dallas, TX
Jumpstarting High Performance Teams: Single-Function, Cross-Functional, & Virtual

Monday, October 28
Institute for Management Consultants
Reno, NV
The Tao of Consulting

Randi on the web:

Randi's webinar on
Jumpstarting Teams in the Virtual Environment
Is now archived at

Randi was featured by
Women in Consulting
The interview is posted at



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