Kubler-Ross grief cycle

The change roller coaster

Mapping the impacts of change


kubler-ross,change resistance,resistance to change,change management,change managers,change management training Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss physician/researcher who undertook seminal work on the grief process.

The Kubler-Ross model, was first introduced in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying" in which she describes five stages of emotional and psychological response to grief, tragedy and catastrophic loss.

Many regard her as the mother of the modern hospice movement.

However the wider business significance of her work has been the realisation that people go through similar responses when faced with lesser – but still significant changes in their working and personal lives.


    In summary, the 5 stages of the Kubler-Ross model are:

    (1) Denial - This is usually a temporary initial response along the lines of: "I feel fine... this can't be happening to me..."

    (2) Anger - Once the realisation that that denial cannot continue then anger sets in: "Why me? It's not fair!"; Who is to blame?"

    (3) Bargaining - This stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay the inevitable… “Just give me a bit longer… just let me finish…. “

    (4) Depression - During this fourth stage, the person begins to understand the certainty of what is going to happen:" What's the point? I cant go on?"

    (5) Acceptance - This final stage comes with a measure of peace and acceptance of the inevitable. "It's going to be okay… can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."


The major significance of the Kubler-Ross model is that it maps the emotional responses that your staff are likely to experience if or when you announce a major step-change and especially if [as in the current climate] this is likely to contain bad news.





Here is a schematic based on this model that highlights what is often referred to as The Change Roller Coaster.


kubler-ross,change resistance,resistance to change,change management,change managers,change management training



This representation of the change roller coaster [based on the Kubler-Ross grief cycle model] highlights very clearly the emotional terrain that your staff are likely to be experiencing, and the necessity for clear yet compassionate leadership - and especially through the initial phases of the change.

This where thorough attention to the Stakeholder Mapping and Analysis process and the Communications Strategy is very important.

Fuller details can be found here - Kubler-Ross grief cycle. This article outlines how people get stuck in the various stages of the cycle or move forward too soon and get caught in a loop between 2 stages.

Books by Elizabeth Kubler Ross





Applying these insights


Surprisingly the insights of Kubler-Ross as simply expressed in the change roller coaster model are all too frequently overlooked, and this is reflected in the failure rate with change initiatives.

A major underlying cause of the 70% failure rate of all major change initiatives, is the failure to take full account of the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it.

There are two levels of impact. First there are the new ways of working, the cultural shifts, and the new processes, procedures and structures. Secondly, there are the emotional and psychological adjustments that people go through as they adjust to these new ways.

Daniel Goleman and others have stressed the importance of the leader's ability to articulate a message that resonates with their followers' emotional reality and their sense of purpose, and thus motivate them to move in a specific direction.

John Kotter says that the single biggest challenge facing leadership in a change process is just getting people to change their behaviour - and that happens:

"When they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings."

kubler-ross,change resistance,resistance to change,change management,change managers,change management trainingWilliam Bridges, the internationally recognised thought leader and authority on leading and managing change, has said:

“A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully.”

All of this is examined [in the context of the Grief-Cycle model], co-related and integrated with the other key areas and is addressed in the "Practitioners Masterclass" which takes a holistic view of the key areas and shows you how to put all this into practise.




Return to : Change management theories

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practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management



practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management


practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management


change management,change managers,change management training