Saturday, August 8, 2009

Change Model 5: Change is a Roller Coaster You Can't Escape


My main head ache with existing change models has been the linearity of most approaches. In it's simplest form, look at Kurt Lewin's change model (which I yet have to describe in this series - this is not a chronological approach): Unfreeze - Change - Freeze. 3 steps, a clear start and an end. But what if there is no clear start because the change process is not a project which has been designed and implemented by the Central Committee? What if there is no end because a new change process emerges before the last has been completed?

Change Model 4 (The Change Journey) partly answers these questions, in particular if it is about living in constant change. And it is probably the most radical model you can perceive - except maybe the model that says there is no change, don't even try it.... It is my favourite model but I do understand that some clients need more details that describe what actually needs to be done to make change happen.

A couple of years ago, I came across Chris Spies, a great thinker and practitioner in the field of non-violent conflict resolution. In his seminal text Resolutionary Change: The Art of Awakening Dormant Faculties in Others, he develops a model for developmental change. I took the liberty to take it a bit further and apply it to the change processes I am involved in as a consultant and a facilitator. The model presented here is based on the idea that if you are in an organizational change process, there are certain aspects in which the wider system has to be involved, there are other aspects where team rules needs to be development, and there is also the need for giving space for personal experiments and growth. Combine this with the main tasks that need to be done when operating in a changing environment, and you have my model.

The difference to other phased models is an obvious one: there is no starting point. This is less a proposition but a fact of life - like Open Space Technology principle #2: "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have." So, when you find yourself or your team or your organization in a change process, just have a look where you are on the map and start from there. But don't forget - all the other phases are important as well.

There isn't really a name of this model - maybe we should call it the "Rollercoaster Model"?

Phases (not to be meant linear)

Here are a couple of guiding questions, which you can utilize to reach a common understanding among the stakeholders of a change project:

1. Goals
What do we want to achieve?
What is the purpose?
What is the long-term benefit of achieving the goal?
Who should be involved in the implementation of the project?
Who might be positively or negatively affected by the change?

2. Check In – Establishing Trust
How is change generally perceived in this organization (threat, opportunity)?
What can we learn from other successful or failed change initiatives in this organization?
What resistance to change is emerging before the project has even started?
Which groups will likely make or break the change process?
What are their needs (see also 3. Analysis)?
What support from top management do we have (spearheading, role modeling)?

3. Analysis
What do we know about
- hopes and fears of the involved people
- impacts of the project – required changes in work processes, communication patterns, job descriptions, etc.
- early initiatives
- early adopters / potential change agents

4. Envisioning
Do we have the broad picture?
Where to will the change initiative lead us?
What is taking shape here? What future is emerging?
What is our best potential?

5. Review
Which processes must be changed? What do we need to let go?
What must be preserved? What is essential for the integrity of our organization?
What mistakes of the past must we not repeat?

6. Experiment
What pilots can we create to verify our strategy?
Which are the small and which are the big changes we need to implement?
What extra resources do we need to allocate to allow for experimentation?

7. Nurture
What leadership style do we need to adopt to make change possible?
What extra support do we need to give to those who carry the change forward (resources, time, training, rewards, incentives, etc.)

8. Coach and Mentor
How can we provide constant feedback to those at the front line?
What learning mechanisms do we need to effectively implement the change?

9. Celebrate
What are the essential milestones that will demonstrate success of the change initiative?
What is our culture of celebration and rewarding?

10. Monitor and Communicate
How do we know that we are on the right track? What are indicators of success? How will others see that we are achieving our goals?
What are new processes, products, requirements, standards, etc. that others need to be informed about?


The Rollercoaster Model can be applied in any change process with a lot of diverse stakeholders. It is basically a check-up of where we are, what we need to do and what should not be forgotten.

Does the Model Relate to Complexity Theory?

Yes. It is systemic in its core but it could be misunderstood as a mechanistic model. Only if individual growth, team learning, and organizational development are harmonized, the change process can be successful and satisfying for those impacted by the change.

  • It is circular
  • It takes into consideration change at different levels: Individual, Team, Organization and Environment
  • It helps you define where you are
  • Because of it's phased structure, people tend to understand it as a linear model
  • It might suggest that if all phases are well planned, the project will succeed
  • It does not define roles and responsibilities


  1. Its difficult to describe a non linear process in a linear form like a blog but I really like what you have done adapting the excellent the developmental approach described by Chris Spies.

    I would change the roller coaster name - this suggests too liner a route to me.

  2. I agree with the cyclical nature of the change model which remains nameless. Who introduced this model. I am looking for more details of its origin but unable to find them.

  3. Marina, I developed that model a couple of years ago but I did not follow it up further. I am now more inclined towards a non-model approach to change. Please have a look at
    Holger Nauheimer