A people-centered change perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic is, without any doubt, THE change in all of our lives. There are countless stories of worry and fear, confusion and anger, but also excitement and growth opportunities.

1. Understand why people behave the way they do

This current situation, and coping with all the changes, reminds me of the Kübler-Ross model I learned during my Organizational Behaviour classes at university. The Kübler-Ross model helps to identify and understand how other people are dealing with change. I can imagine it could help leaders, practitioners and individuals understand their own reactions and empathize with colleagues during these times.

According to the Kübler-Ross transition curve (graphic below), an event causes immobilization and individuals most likely deny the change at first. The same event may evolve into a state of anger. Afterwards, at your lowest valley, you may fall into a depression. Slowly you let go of the past and accept the new situation through trying new approaches and behaviours.

Other researchers have utilized this model towards job transitions. In their research they found that individuals show this common psychological pattern throughout changes at work, while also experiencing a drop in performance, frustration or difficulties in coping with the new situation or relationships. However, at the end of the transition there is a great opportunity to reflect and to develop yourself further.

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Please note that not everyone experiences this general curve and different people will experience unique progressions and regressions. Correspondingly, there is no straight path through these stages. The different stages can be experienced many times, they may come in a different order, and sometimes several of the stages are experienced at the same time. It is good to know that in times of going through changes these reactions and feelings are totally normal.

2. Gauge how your employees think and feel then react accordingly

How do organizations navigate through this crisis and how do they scale empathy for their people? It is more important than ever before to focus on what your people need in this particular moment. Through listening and asking employees for their feedback we can elicit employees’ needs and help our employees express their emotions to become more comfortable with the new situation.

“People first, business second” should not be just a phrase but it should be leading to a people-centered perspective. Therefore, listen to employees’ voice is even more important nowadays. Given this, many organizations might struggle at the moment deciding whether to survey their employees or not. According to Benjamin Granger “[…] organizations should ask employees for feedback right now. However, the content and tone should be adapted to reflect the current environment.” This holds true as we live in volatile and ambiguous times and just orchestrating your survey landscape as planned might be a missed opportunity to really engage with your employees and acknowledge their realities. Besides designing feedback programs that identify, measure, and understand experiences employees are having you need to put an extra portion of empathy into all your efforts. This is how organizations successfully navigate the change and learn from this experience all together.


Granger, B. (2020), Is Now The Right Time To Ask Employees For Feedback?, [online] https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2020/03/18/is-now-the-right-time-to-ask-employees-for-feedback/#2681a37d2dc7 [Mar 18, 2020]

Parker, C. and Lewis, R. (1981), “Beyond the Peter Principle—Managing Successful Transitions”, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 5 No. 6, pp. 17-21.

Kübler-Ross, E., Wessler, S. and Avioli, L. V. (1972), On Death and Dying, JAMA, Vol. 221, No. 2, pp. 174-9.