Models: Satir Change Model

Models: Satir Change Framework

The Satir Change Model is a model developed by family therapist Virginia Satir. Her foundation idea was that improvement is always possible: she, therefore, created a transformation system She developed a transformation system that helps improve people lives by transforming the way they see and express themselves.

An element of the Satir System is a five-stage change model that describes the effects each stage has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. There is definitely a resemblance to the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, although there is also some difference, especially for the part that allows predicting the effect of changes on performance. Which is also the main reason why this model is often abused. You find it basically in every Agile presentation these days. Most people depart from the misconception that this model guarantees a positive performance at the end. Which is wrong. Although Virginia Satir core concept is that there can always be a positive improvement out of a change process, this model is only a portion of her theory, which BTW is normally applicable through a Family setting. I still find the model truly useful, with the caveat just mentioned.

Here the five stages of the Satir Change Model:

  1. Late Status Quo
  2. Resistance
  3. Chaos
  4. Integration
  5. New Status Quo

Also, before diving into the final change management model, note that the Satir model focuses on tracking rather than affecting performance. Without using a supporting model to tackle these negative effects you’re left with little more than a way to measure the effect of your change.

This isn’t always a bad thing, but keep it in mind when looking for a method to actively support your changes.

The Satir Change Model

Fig.1: The Satir Change Model. Source: EvolveAgility
Fig.1: The Satir Change Model. Source: EvolveAgility

1. Late status quo

The first phase of the model is called the Late Status Quo. It is the moment where things stand currently, and how things are done. It is the starting point before a change is introduced.

At this stage normally performance is consistent to the old way of working, and teams are generally comfortable to where they stand. Expectations are easily set, experience and knowledge exist around the current process scenarios. Significant challenges are normally minimal at this stage.

At this stage, people don’t think about Change, because they don’t feel the need for it. It is, therefore, important to stimulate creativity, listening, learning agility so that people can think “out of the box” and see any improvement possibility.

2. Resistance

Change is normally created as a Foreign Element. This can be new technology, a new process, a change in a job etc. It normally leads to the second phase of the model: Resistance. It can be encountered at any level in the organisation (from CEOs to front line employees) and is usually accompanied by denial.

Resistance leads immediately to a nosedive in the performance of a team (often also of an individual). Which very often is a first sign that things are not doing well. It is the moment when the reasons for change need to be crystallized, goals set, and value after change established.

Unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult part of the model. In many instances, the Foreign Element is not recognised (Denial), and resistance is institutionalised at the organisational level, thus the jump into the next phase is often a consequence of this.

3. Chaos

The third phase is Chaos which can happen both if you are steering a change programme, as well as if Change simply happens. The Satir Change Model makes an important difference between the change that is passively received (which often leads to never making it back from chaos) and change that is instead positively directed. Which is the key difference in the assumption that change might deliver positive performance.

In any case, this phase is where emotions reign, there are always going to be negative reactions and there will always be a dip in productivity. The only way to move ahead here is to establish a listening framework: ask questions and consider implementing a support system.

4. Integration

To move away from chaos is where you need to have a Transformative Idea. I.e. something that drags out your teams from chaos, and can bring back your productivity curve up.

The goal of a change process should be to anticipate the definition of the Transformative idea as soon as possible, as this will help shorten the chaos period and help improve performance.

Now, this is the most misunderstood step of the model. I’ve heard many explain that Change is applied before the Chaos moment. Wrong. The Foreign Element we mentioned before creates the Need for Change, but actual Change only happens when the Transformative Idea comes into place. We are not talking here of a magical innovation. Rather we are talking of the individual assumption that change is meaningful and that I can adopt it.

Let me make a clear example by using a standard project methodology. A department in our organisation has always used System X to manage its processes (Late Status Quo). The software house that produced that has however stopped supporting the tool (Foreign Element), and issues are starting to creep in. However, the process owners and the users are happy with the process the way it is because they are used to work that way (Resistance). The small system bugs start to become more frequent and broader and start affecting productivity. Chaos starts. At this stage, a project team will start collecting requirements for a new system, do a software selection, chose a provider, build the system and start implementing it. But productivity will continue to lower until some people start to adopt the new software and its related processes.

This is when Integration starts to happen: i.e. productivity begins to improve and enthusiasm takes hold. This is the moment where support needs to be in place to ensure that all issues are solved as soon as encountered. Practice is key across this stage to ensure people crystallize new habits and knowledge.

5. New status quo

The final stage is when the New Status Quo settles as changes become the norm. Adoption is broad and complete, and all teams are working according to the new processes. If an appropriate Change Direction has been put into place, performance should be higher at this stage.

In this stage, it is important to check and monitor the overall effect of the change on the performance, understanding the lessons learned and setting the scene for future adoptions as well.

What’s good about the model

The Satir Change Model is great at being able to anticipate the impact of change before it actually happens, as well as by introducing the distinction between Need to Change and the Change itself. Through this distinction, it can help to justify the change project exactly because it can highlight the chaos phase.

Unlike many other models, the Satir Change Model also provides an easy way to create a link with performance, although it is important to note that there needs to be a holistic and multifaceted view of performance here (pure financial measure will often not be adequate).

What’s bad about the model

Despite the misuse that I have already mentioned, this model does not create a change plan. Plus, the idea that positive performance can be predicted and taken for granted can be risky.


Like some of the other models we have seen, the Satir Change Model is only effective when supported by an actionable, measurable framework. It also requires direction.

It’s great to manage individuals reactions, and understand the critical role that emotions play for example through technology or new process adoption.

This post belongs to a series of articles related to Change Management. An introductory article: Change Management: The 10 Best Approaches & Models is available, containing links also to all other posts of the series.

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