Woodward & Buchholz - Aftershock

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Woodward and Buchholz [1] offer a concern structure model based on the work of William Bridges that addresses an earlier phase in the change acceptance process, namely the denial or disavowal and resistance to change that people experience when large scale, dramatic changes radically restructure their socio-economic environment. The cycle begins when some relationship, condition, organization or community a person identifies with falls apart. People need to grieve, to experience the ending, accept it, and release old expectations, prior to embracing the new. A common mistake when announcing disruptive change is to immediately emphasize the new beginnings without allowing people to complete the ending/grieving/releasing process.

A period of confusion follows the ending, as the person struggles to reposition themselves in a strange new reality. This confusion must also be accounted for and given time to play itself out. Eventually, as the confusion resolves itself, the person is able to settle into a new reality to enjoy the new beginnings, releasing the past to focus on how to get their needs met in a new reality.

The middle period of confusion is typified by four basic reactions to change: anger, sadness/worry, confusion and withdrawal. The model-specific terms for these four reactions are Disenchantment, Disidentification, Disorientation and Disengagement. (The’4 Dis-es’). These are explained below as they are defined by Woodward and Buchholz in the context of organizational counseling.

P – Disenchantment (Anger): Illusions of security have been shattered, and there is no trust in the new status quo. Disenchanted people do not cling to the past, but they seethe with continual negativity and anger over the whole disruption and change. They feel betrayed and taken advantage of. They view the changes as an obstacle or threat, and they need an opportunity to vent and rage about this, with permission and acknowledgement that occasionally it is good and normal to let loose all of one’s negative thoughts. After they have expressed all of their negative attitudes about the change, they then need their core concerns validated and mirrored back to them. With this recognition, they will typically then be ready to start working to resolve those valid core concerns, and to make the necessary adjustments in their conduct and surroundings. Very often Disenchantment hides one of the other three ‘Dis-es’. The need for active expression puts this in the P domain.

A – Disidentification (Sadness/Worry): This person’s identity was comprehensively grounded in the old roles and procedures. Now the rules and roles have all changed, and the person doesn’t know who they are anymore. They do not accept ownership or responsibility for anything that may or may not happen under the new system, they use passive aggression to remain ‘incompetent’ with new work methods, and they are very nostalgic for the old ways of doing things. They need to be encouraged to explore precisely what it was they liked so much about the old system, and then asked to methodically explore how those same values might be found in the new system. The joys of past work must be separated from the form of past activities, and new opportunities for those joys pointed out. This will help the person construct a new organizational identity grounded in the newly changed ways of doing things. The procedural focus puts this in the A domain.

E – Disorientation (Confusion): Disoriented employees have lost their sense of the organization’s purpose and direction. They keep trying to get more clarity on what precisely they are supposed to be doing, but they lack an overall frame for making sense of the specifics. They no longer understand their role nor how they fit in to the larger picture. They understand neither their input nor their output requirements fully, because they lack any sense of the rationale for new processes. They busy themselves with tasks with no sense of organizational priorities, and spend a lot of time commandeering all the information they can get, in a piecemeal and un-integrated fashion, to try to build up their personal comfort levels at work. Explanation is necessary, to help these people connect higher-level organizational goals with unit and team goals as well as individual project goals. They need to have their roles and responsibilities placed into such a framework, and then they need support in devising a plan to attain those goals, using the resources of the larger organization. Orientation is in the E domain.

I – Disengagement (Withdrawal): Disengaged people go through the motions. Their performance may be adequate, and they may respond to requests, but they minimize their interactions otherwise, and exhibit no initiative, interest, creativity or enthusiasm. They are compliant, but not committed. They have “quit and stayed”. Disengagement can be a chronic problem that is hard to detect, but when a once enthusiastic and committed employee becomes disengaged, the problem is easier to see. Disengaged employees need to be gently confronted with their obvious change in behavior, in a safe environment, and asked what the problem is. The intervener needs to use non-threatening “I” language to discuss the behavioral changes (“I’ve noticed you don’t speak up at meetings much these days”) instead of “you” language (“You used to speak up at meetings, now you don’t. What’s the matter?”). This begins to build intimacy through mutual self-disclosure, which slowly re-engages the employee with the team and the work. The purpose of these interviews is less to uncover information, and more to build a connection with the employee that will result in their bringing more of themselves into workplace activities. Connection is in the I domain.

Committing to new beginnings is the inverse of the endings process. New realities are engaged, new identifications made, new purposes undertaken and trust is newly invested in the changed organization. In their new roles, they set meaningful goals and make plans that are consistent with a clear sense of direction. Their confusion and nostalgia subside, and they face the future together with the rest of their organizational team.

The Aftershock Dis-es are described specifically for corporate transitions in Woodward and Buchholz. It might be interesting to try to generalize these four problems to other domains, such a spatial orientation or set switching.

1. Woodward, H., & Buchholz, S. (1987). Aftershock: Helping people through corporate change. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License