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Are you Dancing at the end of The Change Curve?

Are you Dancing at the end of The Change Curve?

















"The Change Curve” is one of those models which seems to have been around forever. It’s been a useful tool in explaining everything from personal grief after a loss, to understanding the response when we implement organisational change. Drop it into a Powerpoint presentation and I doubt whether many people would actually read the annotations it’s so familiar. However, I’m not sure that there’s ever been a better demonstration of the Change Curve than what people and businesses have experienced over the past 12 months - yet so many people that I encounter seem to be stuck down there at the bottom of the curve, failing to recognise and embrace the need to climb back up the other side and accept the challenges of the ‘new normal’.

At RSVP Design we’ve always been optimists at heart, but even here we’ll admit that we spent some time down there in the Neutral Zone, characterised by frustration and depression. We’d fairly rapidly moved through The Ending that saw face-to-face adult learning disappear overnight - the initial shock, then the denial that said “This will all be over in a few months”. The frustration and depression took over as our world slowed down to a crawl and we couldn’t see how we could bounce back. Yet there was always the strong desire to understand this phenomenon and this carried us through several cycles of learning:

“What do we need to understand about our new market environment?”


“How do we need to respond to our new market environment?”

The search for answers to these two questions hasn’t been easy, and we still don’t have clarity about what our understanding/response needs to be. However, it’s been a clear and positive focus for our activity that has reinforced our bonds as an organisation and channeled our creative problem-solving like never before. And we’re not alone, we’ve spoken to many organisations who have embraced the ‘new normal’ and are firmly situated on the up-curve - so what observations might we make about those organisations who have been successful in doing this?

  • Observation 1: The keys to moving out of the lower reaches of the Change Curve are understanding and learning - and as learning professionals we should be good at that. We work in an industry that has practiced training needs analysis for decades, and the core question in a TNA is ‘what do we/they need to know?’ Work hard to get an answer to that and we’re starting to build understanding and we can move on to the next questions ‘what do we need to learn and how do we learn it?’. We can utilise what we know about learning design to structure a way out of a deeply problematic situation.

  • Observation 2: Look at the diagram above. At first sight the titles of the three columns may seem to have been reversed - they start with The Ending and end with The Beginning, but it is imperative that we work with the diagram as it is presented here. Unless we accept that something has ended and that this is the beginning of something new we will never recognise the novel opportunities that are now available to us. We need the mindset that isn’t still full of remorse for what’s gone, but is excited about what’s now possible.

  • Observation 3: The diagram suggests a single upsweep of progress in the right-hand column, which might suggest one phase of understanding, one phase of learning and one phase of acceptance - I’d suggest that for the organisations who are thriving now this is not the case. The organisations that are demonstrating the steepest psychological, innovative, performance recoveries are those who are cycling these phases again and again.

At RSVP Design our way of working bears little resemblance to how we organised 12 months ago, and our success in riding the Change Curve has been down to a lot of commitment and hard work, but also to the implementation of a lot of the learning I’ve described above. Here are some highlights of what that approach has achieved:

  • Some of the team work entirely from home. We have a weekly mid-week 'office team' call and an end of week 'all hands' optional drop-in social call
  • We now test new product ideas online, and regularly invite customers from all over the world to join us
  • Our commute no longer involves aircraft, or for some - not even motorised transport!
  • Our key supplier - we work with them on a daily basis - wasn't even known to us 9 months ago 
  • Our job roles have changed
  • We are still acquiring new customers
  • We still retain old customers, and almost all old customer relationships
  • We are now operating successfully on our own, purpose designed, remote experiential learning platform experientiallearningtools.com
  • We have launched new US (rsvpdesign.com) and UK (rsvpdesign.co.uk) e-commerce websites
  • We're not dancing yet - but looking forward to when we can all dance together!


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