In this week's blog we will explore the 5 stages of change and how to use them to encourage and motivate employees to create positive change in their lives. Understanding this concept will help managers meet their employees where they are, reduce manager frustrations around employee performance, and improve the manager-employee relationship. If you are a manager and have been trying to encourage an employee to change but keep on running into resistance or lack of follow through then this blog is for you.
Origin Story of 5 Stages of Change
Let's put on our history hats and quickly learn about the origins of this theory. The 5 Stages of Change were created in 1983 by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente to describe the five stages that anyone progresses through during health-related behavior changes. It is part of the Transtheoretical Model which assesses someone's readiness in creating behavior changes and includes strategies to use in guiding that person through change. It has been used effectively in supporting individuals who want to eliminate addictive behaviors as well as weight management. Since its creation, it is now being used in all kinds of behavior changes including behaviors related to employee performance.
What Are the 5 Stages of Change?
The 5 Stages of Change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. In the following paragraphs we will look at each stage of change and provide suggestions on strategies that you can use with your employee. I will use a simple employee behavior of missing deadlines to illustrate each stage.
Precontemplation: This is the first stage of change and so there isn't a lot of serious thought put into changing behaviors. People in this stage tend to be defensive about their current bad habits and don't really accept that it is a problem yet. In terms of our example, this is an employee who is able to give excuses for why they are missing deadlines. They might have just started missing deadlines and so aren't seeing the pattern yet of this behavior and its consequences. When the employee is approached by the manager, the employee might minimize the consequences of the missed deadlines (e.g. I know I was late with handing over the project but the team was understanding) and might exaggerate or stagger the excuses (e.g. My child was sick again / My computer didn't work / I had a power outage for a few days).
Contemplation: This is the next stage of change and when employees start realizing that there might be a problem. They start weighing the pros and cons of modifying their behaviors. An employee who is in the contemplation stage might sound like "well I know that I've been missing a lot of deadlines and I want to change that but I also really enjoy my weekends and socializing with my coworkers during the day".
Preparation: Welcome to stage 3 and the start of change. In this stage, the employee realizes that things have to change. Employees might make statements such as "This is getting serious - I need to change something about what I'm doing". This is the information gathering or research phase of change. The employee will start to think of all of the things they can do to create positive change rather than just the consequences of their change. For an employee missing deadlines this could look like: "I really need to change something. Maybe I could set myself micro deadlines. Or I could work later one day a week. Or maybe I should talk to my team about what we can do together to meet deadlines".
Action: Woohoo! We have reached stage 4 and it's time to take action. FINALLY! This is the stage where the employee gets to make changes. They can pick the solution that they think will work best for them from stage 3 and try it out. It's always best to have the solutions be behavioral and to have the employee try the solution for at least 2 weeks before they make a judgement on whether the solution actually worked or not. Avoid solutions such as "I'll just try harder" since that doesn't actually tell you what to do and go for more behavioral solutions such as "I will set myself a deadline of 2 days prior to the actual deadline to get everything in to you so that we have time to revise and edit it together".
Maintenance: The stage that most people forget about. It's easy to think that once you have taken action you are now done with the stages of change. But stage 5 is crucial for long term change. Whatever action the employee took to solve their current problem needs to be maintained. If an employee chose an action that won't be feasible long term, then they will relapse and the problem will arise again.
Learning how to identify and use the 5 Stages of Change in your organization will allow your leaders to support your employees in making positive change throughout their careers. It will also allow for your leaders to meet your employees where they are and reduce leadership frustrations. If you need help coaching your leadership team on the 5 Stages of Change and how to employee them please reach out to us.