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Stages of Change

Do you have a change strategy that works? How do you know where you are in the process of change? I have found that the Stages of Change Model has been constructive when assessing change and creating a change plan.

Two behavioral health researchers developed the Stages of Change model many years ago when they described what change smokers were experiencing as they attempted to quit smoking. Many use the model extensively to navigate change in situations, primarily in public health. I have adapted this idea widely and used it as a guide for all my change management work.

The stages of change are simple, and as with any research or data-gathering interaction, once we read the following list and understand the items, they impact us.

A Review of the Stages

  • Pre-Contemplative: At this stage, you are unaware of an issue that needs your attention. For some, this is the denial stage.

  • Contemplative: At this stage, you are considering your issue or challenge and considering changing. At this stage, you have not “done” anything about changing.

  • Ready for Action: This is a planning stage where you prepare, consider change behaviors, strategize, collect data, etc.

  • Action: You are practicing/implementing/assessing your change at this stage.

  • Maintenance: This is the process where we maintain change over time.

  • Relapse: At this stage, you may ignore the change, which is common and anticipated in most change processes.

The challenge for you is discerning where you are in the change process. For an organization, determining a stage might take a great deal of listening and learning. If it is personal, self-reflection might be the key to initiating change. The Stages of Change model provides a great way to understand where you are in the change process, but it does not tell you how to move from one stage to the next. For someone in the contemplative stage, self-reflection, coaching, and data gathering are effective strategies for getting ready to take action. This might be considering a capital campaign, strategic plan, or strategic initiative for a nonprofit.

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