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DABA Change Ladder: The Leader Matters Series

When teams move through moments of change in the workplace, they experience real human emotions and, as a result, human behaviors that must be planned for by their leader. This leader must understand that regardless of the level, role, or even their performance ranking within the team, these emotions and behaviors will be a part of their transition from what they currently understand as the norm to the new environment and expectations. These things are real and natural.

Leaders also need to understand that their behaviors will matter most to help these team members move to a level of acceptance where they can once again perform at their usual high levels. The leader matters most here.

In Gapology, we share a tool we call The DABA Change Ladder. Based on the well-known grief model, DABA is an acronym that stands for, and it lays out four key steps people go through when faced with change: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Acceptance.

In each of the steps, you may hear…

Denial. “This isn’t happening. It will go away.”

Anger. “Why me? Why now? This won’t work.”

Bargaining. “Can we do this a different way? How about a different time? Can I have input?”

Acceptance. “We can do this. What do you need from me? How can I help? What is my role? When can we start?”

Another critical element to understand and plan for is that there may be a Wall between Anger and Bargaining. The height of this wall varies based on the individual facing the change and, most importantly, the leader. The leader’s role is to keep the team members moving forward and over the wall smoothly by providing clear expectations, direction, and support.

Here are key steps winning leaders take:

  • The leader’s role is to ensure you are crystal clear on the reason for the change. Make the business case by explaining how the change connects to your company’s purpose and objectives. Also, when possible, include how the change will positively impact the team members themselves.

    • Our Gapology Communication Model is: “Tell them what they need to know. Tell them why it matters. Tell them what they need to do.” This model works especially well when leading a team through change.

  • The leader's own level of Acceptance is critical. Any sign that you disagree will plant doubt in the team. So, gather help from your own leader or peers to help you understand and accept the change.

  • The leader must be clear on how the change will impact each team member. Ensure they know their involvement and connection to the change. A lack of clarity here will create anxiety and fear, so be as transparent as possible.

  • The leader must clarify what the team needs to do. Providing clear action steps will give them focus and a sense of strong leadership from you.

  • The leader must enlist the support and help from those who move quickly up the ladder. Seeing a peer accept change can show others that the change isn’t bad and everything will be okay.

Understanding that DABA is a real, natural process that everyone goes through, allows you to proactively plan how you will help your team at each step. Build your methods of support into your leadership rhythm so you are prepared when your team members exhibit the Denial or Anger step so you can help them get over the wall.

As the leader, you will be critical in helping your team move up the DABA Change ladder and over the wall to reach Acceptance. Denial and Anger can be infectious to others on the team, but so can Acceptance. If your leadership isn’t clear and compelling during these times, the team may experience fear, confusion, and anxiety and become grudgingly compliant around the whole thing. But your demonstration of acceptance, transparency, clear direction, and support will help them understand what they need to know, why it matters, and what they need to do. All this will instill confidence and create a steady pace and stress-free experience for everyone.


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