The 5 change phases of employees

The first job after my studies was in the sales development department of an insurance company. This time taught me a lot about my future career. Insurance, sales, and development are a challenging combination. Very few insurance companies have a customer base that tears the company related products out of their hands or proudly wears the brand T-shirt. You have to think carefully about how to guide people from A to B. There is a sentence from that time that still accompanies me almost daily. The boss of my boss mentioned it over and over again:


"Thought means not said, said means not heard, heard means not understood, understood means not agreed, agreed means not applied, applied means not maintained/integrated."


In all the projects and initiatives that I have led since then, this sentence has shaped my view of the change of the people involved and this has remained until today. It was coined by Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), an Austrian behavioral scientist, zoologist, professor, Nobel Prize winner, and much more. His main focus was the research of animal behavior. Konrad Lorenz began to draw comparisons between species and transferred his findings to humans. He is regarded as a co-founder of behavioral biology. An analytical approach in which innate and external factors trigger and control a certain behavior. Behavioral biologists study the behavior of animals and humans and make comparisons between individuals and species. His research was mainly based on observation rather than experimentation, a discipline that is rarely used today because it takes too long for results to become tangible. Research today is under great pressure to deliver and can no longer afford such long-term research series. Konrad Lorenz is an exciting but certainly not undisputed personality.


I simply broke down his sentence into 5 steps and applied it in individual coaching sessions with teams and also in the transformation of entire organizations. 


  1. Heard
  2. Understood
  3. Agreed
  4. Applied
  5. Maintained


These five steps make it very clear why a CEO letter or an intranet message is only the beginning. It also becomes clear: Skipping stages will not be crowned with success. You can have employees apply a method. However, if they fundamentally disagree with the initiative, no sustainable result will be achieved.


How do I proceed? First of all, I think about: "What do I have to do so that a person/group reaches the defined target? Let's take the example of a CX Roll-Out in an organization. This could be my rough concept for a back-office team (e.g. accounting):


  1. Heard: Several communication measures
  2. Understood: Together we define what the customer experience should be (co-creation)
  3. Agreed: Experience being a customer yourself (guided workshop)
  4. Applied: Learning and applying method(s) (skills development)
  5. Retained: Independently apply methods (with mentoring)


After almost 20 years of observing and applying this step model, I can say: "That's how it is. That is how we humans are designed. Everyone who experiences/sees it finds it obvious. In my opinion, the strength of it lies in its simplicity and closeness to the human being. It helps me to develop empathy for the people who are in the process of change. It also helps me mentoring management during change so they have more patience towards the employees and the process.


Try it yourself. Plan all 5 steps through. This will help you to lead a well thought out/considerate, deliberately led change process. Patience, empathy, and flexibility should not be missing. After each step, you must always check again whether the employees have reached the level you are aiming for. If not, go back to the concept. 


Important: this is neither a failure on your side nor a failure on the employee's side. This is a normal and very natural part of the change process. The challenge: "Find the right measure for the target group. With time and experience, this approach becomes easier and easier. 


You do not know how to get started, how to kick-off?

Do you want to have your concept challenged?

You are not sure which measures are good and suit your situation?

I'm here to help.

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