The Five Steps of Change

Published: Apr 15, 2015
Modified: May 20, 2020


Implementing change is one of the most important roles a leader or manager needs to master today. The time and money lost because of resistance to change is devastating to an organization’s bottom line. And we all know that change is not only constant, it is accelerating.

In this article, I will discuss The Five Steps of Change—awareness, desire, knowledge, action, and perseverance—explaining how managers can use these concepts to help themselves and their teams move forward.

Step 1: Awareness

Change begins with awareness, and admittedly, being objectively aware can be challenging.

For example, a manager notices his team of employees is negative and disengaged.  He could think, “Okay, there’s negativity going on, and people are working on personal things rather than projects. Let me take a look at this to see how I’ve contributed and what we can do.” On the other hand, his thought might be “I cannot believe how negative everyone is. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what else I can do—it doesn’t seem to matter. People just don’t have any loyalty—they don’t care about anything but themselves.” Which option do you think has any chance of making a positive change?

When we blame and make excuses, we become stuck where we are. When we judge ourselves or others, it’s contrary to making any kind of positive change. We often end up focused on the wrong things. If we’re aware without judgment, we can see more objectively, and we’ll be able to hone in on the right areas.  We will consider the person’s perception, and we can agree or disagree. We can then decide if we want to make a change, whether it’s to change our actual behavior or to change others’ perceptions of our behavior.

Step 2: Desire

Think about a time when someone was trying to change you. Until you saw the benefit of making the change, you probably resisted or made a surface change to pacify the person—but it wasn’t a genuine or lasting change. People change only when they decide to make the change themselves. We can demand, bribe, or threaten, and sometimes people do change, for a short time, but you can almost guarantee that they are holding resentment, which will cause them to sabotage themselves or revert back to the original behavior. When you’re not looking, they’re probably complaining about you, or doing other things because they’re just not vested in it.

Take the manager with the awareness of his negative team and his own role in it. What will be the result if he doesn’t change? He may not meet his goals and could ultimately be fired, or he’ll have to hire a whole new staff and hope they have better attitudes and work ethics. The latter, of course, will be very costly to do, and without changing his perspective, he is likely to see the same traits in the new employees. If he does make a change in attitude, he will probably have more motivated, productive employees and reach his goals. He’ll keep his job and might even be promoted. He’ll enjoy work a whole lot more. So if he accepts it, owns it, and even acts as if he chose it (or at least played a part in creating it), he can then move on to making the change.

Step 3: Knowledge

Knowing your desire, your why, opens you up to accepting the what and the how. A lot of us just want to jump right into the knowledge step, where you ask, “What do I need to do and how do I do it? What does it take to make this happen?” Although you need to find the knowledge—the way—just make sure you don’t skip the desire step. Desire is the emotion, the why, and it will fuel the knowledge. Knowing the how gives us confidence and support.

Knowing ourselves helps us find the way that works for us. Bear in mind that just the knowledge and motivation isn’t always enough. We might need some kind of support as well—a coach, a friend, or even a support group.

One way of finding knowledge is to find someone who’s been successful at what you are attempting. It’s important to respect that it can be different for everyone, but it’s useful to look at how others have done it.

Once the manager realizes that he needs to change himself first, he needs to find a way to do it. The manager’s awareness and understanding of his own intent sometimes is enough without needing a class or a coach, but most of us need some help because often the behavior that needs changing is rooted in our thoughts and beliefs. This can take time, commitment, and action. While knowledge is an important step, knowing how isn’t enough. Knowledge has to be put into action and reviewed for effectiveness.

Step 4: Action

This is where most of us get stuck. We have an awareness of something we want to change. We do the research or get knowledge on how to change—and then we don’t do it. When it comes to taking action, many people stall or never get started. They get the knowledge they need, and then nothing happens. Why?

Take the manager who knows what he needs to do to be a more effective leader but is not doing it. He may not take the action because deep down he’s worried he will not be successful, and it will be apparent that he’s not a good manager. Or it seems overwhelming and he gets stuck with how to start. Perhaps he is not staying aligned to his priorities, and too burned out to focus on it. There are many reasons people do not take action, and most of them boil down to that four-letter F word that keeps messing us up—fear! There’s something holding us back.

Fear isn’t always obvious, and if we’re not practicing awareness, it can be very difficult to even recognize fear. The fears we have are directly linked to the beliefs we have. Sometimes fear can be an opportunity for awareness, so fear isn’t always a negative thing. In fact, if we are practicing true awareness, we’re not judging the fear, and we’re not playing victim. When we learn to recognize fear, understand where it is coming from, and move on, fear becomes a trigger to help us. And we can respect it.

Step 5: Perseverance

Maybe you take action, and you fall flat on your face. You feel like you’ve failed. Get up, shake it off, keep going. Try something different. Just don’t judge it and get stuck in the negative. When you get off track, be aware of it, and don’t be so hard on yourself. Look at it objectively, think about what happened and how you can do it better in the future, and let it go. Remind yourself of your motivation. Just keep doing your best in every situation. Typically, the change you desire won’t happen overnight. Be patient. Persevere. We might need to course-correct, change methods, get more help, and revisit our desire to get motivated again. But never give up!

Change is happening at such a rapid pace within our organizations that if we don’t manage it properly, the people who resist change can create more wasted time and loss of productivity than almost anything else. Resistance is very hard to track and measure, making it easily ignored or mismanaged. As you’re looking to change systems, rearrange office space, merge companies, change anything at work—be aware of yourself and your situation—consider your players and manage your team. Be mindful of why this change is important—your desire. Research, so you know the best method. Take action and keep going, with debriefings and follow-ups along the way. Changing habits and clearing blocks are crucial to a successful transition, within ourselves and within our organizations.

About The Author

Laurie Sudbrink is president and founder of Unlimited Coaching Solutions, which specializes in improving workplace performance. She is the author of LEADING WITH GRIT: Inspiring Action and Accountability with Generosity, Respect, Integrity, and Truth (Wiley). Sudbrink is a certified New York State trainer, an approved United States Navy trainer, and is certified in the Four Agreements. She has over twenty years of corporate experience in human relations, management, sales, marketing and training and is a magna cum laude graduate in Communications from SUNY Cortland. For more information, visit