Contact is the first encounter employees have with a Change going to take place in the organization that may require them to shift their thinking and/or behavior. Methods for delivering the first contact message can vary, going from memos, staff meetings, personal contact, internal social media channels, and other mechanisms.
Now, employees know that a Change is being considered or implemented. Awareness is established successfully when employees realize that modifications affecting the organization’s operations (and potentially affecting them) have occurred or are possible. This requires that initial communications about the change reach the desired audiences and get the message across clearly.
Employees show some degree of comprehension of the nature and intent of the change and what it may mean for them. As they learn more about the initiative and the role(s) they are likely to play, people begin to see how it will affect their work and how it will touch them personally. These insights enable them, for the first time, to judge the change.
Now, people form intentions to support or oppose the change. This is not done in isolation—they typically weigh the costs and benefits of the change against the costs and benefits of other alternatives, including doing nothing. In many organizational change situations, the benefits of moving forward are only marginally more positive than the benefits of the best alternative course of action.
Here, individuals take action to test a change. This is the first time people actually try out the change and acquire a sense of how it might affect their work routine. The critical importance of this stage is that no matter how positively people view a change prior to engaging with it, their actual experience with it will reveal a number of small or large surprises. An environment that encourages the open discussion of concerns
tends to solve problems, promote ownership, and build commitment to action.
While experimentation focuses on initial, entry problems, adoption centers on in-depth, longer-term problems. Experimentation asks, “Will this change work?” Adoption asks, “Does this change fit with who I am as a person/who we are as an organization?” The shift is from “Can we do it?” to “Do we want to continue it?”
Once a change is institutionalized, it becomes the new status quo. Even if the original reasons for legitimizing the change become void or people no longer believe it is worth the price to continue it, organizational systems and inertia are capable of maintaining the new way of operating long after it has served its usefulness. This stage reflects the highest level of commitment that can be achieved by an organization— the level above it, internalization, can only be achieved by individuals who make a personal choice to go there.
At this last stage, people “own” the change. They demonstrate a high level of personal responsibility for its success. They serve as advocates for the new way of operating, protect it from those who would undermine it, and expend energy to ensure its success. These actions are often well beyond
what could be created by any organizational mandate.