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Navigating Organizational Change with the Kubler-Ross Change Curve

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Organizational change is a complex process that can have a significant impact on employees and the overall success of a company. Navigating this change effectively requires a deep understanding of the emotional and psychological responses that individuals may experience. One model that has been widely used to understand these responses is the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. Developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s, this model outlines the stages that individuals typically go through when faced with a significant change or loss. By understanding and addressing these stages, organizations can better support their employees and facilitate a smoother transition. In this article, we will explore the Kubler-Ross Change Curve in detail and discuss how it can be applied to navigate organizational change successfully.

The Five Stages of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve

The Kubler-Ross Change Curve consists of five stages that individuals may go through when faced with a significant change. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is important to note that not everyone will experience all of these stages, and the order in which they occur may vary from person to person. However, understanding these stages can provide valuable insights into the emotional journey that individuals may undertake during times of change.


The first stage of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is denial. During this stage, individuals may struggle to accept or acknowledge the change that is occurring. They may deny the reality of the situation and cling to the familiar and comfortable. This can manifest as resistance to change, reluctance to let go of old ways of doing things, and a desire to maintain the status quo.

For example, imagine a company that is implementing a new software system. Some employees may initially deny the need for the change and resist learning how to use the new system. They may continue to rely on outdated processes and tools, believing that the change is unnecessary or will not affect them.


The second stage of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is anger. As individuals begin to accept the reality of the change, they may experience feelings of frustration, resentment, and anger. This anger may be directed towards the change itself, the individuals responsible for implementing the change, or even towards colleagues who seem to be adapting more easily.

Continuing with the example of the new software system, employees who have moved past the denial stage may become angry at the inconvenience and disruption caused by the change. They may feel that the change is being forced upon them without considering their needs or opinions.


The third stage of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is bargaining. During this stage, individuals may attempt to negotiate or find ways to minimize the impact of the change. They may seek compromises or alternatives that allow them to maintain some level of control or familiarity.

In the context of the new software system, employees in the bargaining stage may try to negotiate exceptions or workarounds that allow them to continue using the old system. They may propose alternative solutions or request additional training or support to help them adapt to the change.


The fourth stage of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is depression. As individuals realize that bargaining may not be successful and that the change is inevitable, they may experience feelings of sadness, loss, and hopelessness. They may mourn the loss of the familiar and struggle with the uncertainty and challenges that come with the change.

Employees in the depression stage of the new software system implementation may feel overwhelmed by the learning curve and the perceived loss of efficiency. They may struggle with feelings of inadequacy or fear of being left behind as their colleagues adapt more quickly.


The final stage of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is acceptance. During this stage, individuals come to terms with the change and begin to embrace it. They may develop a sense of optimism and start to explore the opportunities and benefits that the change can bring.

Employees who have reached the acceptance stage of the new software system implementation may start to see the value in the new system. They may discover ways in which it improves their work processes or enhances their productivity. They may also begin to appreciate the support and resources provided by the organization to facilitate the transition.

Applying the Kubler-Ross Change Curve in Organizational Change

Understanding the stages of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve can be immensely valuable in navigating organizational change. By recognizing and addressing the emotional responses that individuals may experience, organizations can better support their employees and facilitate a smoother transition. Here are some strategies for applying the Kubler-Ross Change Curve in organizational change:

1. Communicate openly and transparently

Effective communication is crucial during times of change. Organizations should provide clear and timely information about the change, including the reasons behind it, the expected impact, and the support available. This helps to reduce denial and anger by addressing any misconceptions or concerns that employees may have.

For example, if a company is undergoing a restructuring, leaders should communicate openly about the reasons for the change, the expected outcomes, and how it will affect employees. They should provide opportunities for employees to ask questions and express their concerns, ensuring that their voices are heard and acknowledged.

2. Provide support and resources

Change can be challenging, and individuals may need additional support and resources to navigate it successfully. Organizations should offer training, coaching, and other forms of support to help employees develop the skills and knowledge needed to adapt to the change.

Continuing with the example of a new software system, organizations should provide comprehensive training programs that cater to different learning styles and preferences. They should also offer ongoing support, such as help desks or online forums, where employees can seek assistance and share their experiences.

3. Encourage involvement and participation

People are more likely to accept and embrace change when they feel involved and included in the process. Organizations should actively seek input and feedback from employees, allowing them to contribute their ideas and perspectives.

For instance, if a company is implementing a new performance management system, leaders should involve employees in the design and implementation process. They can form cross-functional teams or task forces to gather input, test prototypes, and provide feedback. This not only increases acceptance but also enhances the quality and relevance of the change.

4. Recognize and address resistance

Resistance to change is natural and should be expected. Organizations should proactively identify and address sources of resistance, rather than dismissing or ignoring them. This requires a willingness to listen, understand, and address the concerns and fears that individuals may have.

For example, if employees are resistant to a new work schedule, leaders should take the time to understand their concerns. They can then explore potential solutions or compromises that address these concerns while still achieving the desired outcomes.

5. Foster a culture of resilience and adaptability

Change is a constant in today’s business environment, and organizations need to cultivate a culture that embraces resilience and adaptability. This involves promoting a growth mindset, encouraging continuous learning, and celebrating innovation and experimentation.

Leaders should model and reinforce these behaviors, demonstrating their own willingness to learn and adapt. They should also recognize and reward individuals and teams who demonstrate resilience and adaptability in the face of change.


The Kubler-Ross Change Curve provides a valuable framework for understanding and navigating organizational change. By recognizing the emotional stages that individuals may go through, organizations can better support their employees and facilitate a smoother transition. By communicating openly, providing support and resources, encouraging involvement, addressing resistance, and fostering a culture of resilience, organizations can increase acceptance and enhance the overall success of the change. By applying the insights from the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, organizations can navigate change more effectively and create a positive and productive work environment.

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