Four rooms of change: managing transition

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For the UK pharma industry, 2010 is likely to bring change in various forms. How will you cope? OTD’s Andy Cotty explains how, with a little self-awareness, we can ease ourselves and our colleagues through transition.

There have been some well-worn phrases in pharmaceutical industry vernacular during the last twenty years. Along with ‘account management’ and ‘win-win partnerships’, ‘change Leadership’ has to be well up there in the top 10. However, despite all the talk and the references to it, Change remains steadfastly easier said than done. Far from being focused and sharp, Change often appears as ‘loose’.

Why is this? What makes Change a difficult concept that is often associated with downturns in productivity, engagement and morale? None of us, it seems, are immune to struggling through change. A couple of years ago I came across a model called the ‘four rooms of change’ which on the face of it is very simple and yet offers real depth in understanding how we can help ourselves and others to thrive during change. Being able to recognise where we are in the change process and to take some control can support us to remain productive and/or to regain our productivity.

Four Rooms of Change

The Four Rooms of Change is a theory that deals with change, what happens to people and organisations in transition and how they can influence the change process by taking responsibility for their emotions and actions. The model was developed by the Swedish psychologist, Claes Janssen as part of his groundbreaking research on the dynamics of change. The four rooms – or psychological states of mind – are Contentment, Self-censorship (denial), Confusion-Conflict and Inspiration-Renewal.

The model proposes that in any change situation we begin in the Contentment room and move anti-clockwise through the other rooms as we engage with Change. It is OK to be any of the rooms, they are all valid and natural phases of change. However, problems can surface if we spend too much time in any of the rooms and outstay our welcome. More of this later.

So let’s begin with Contentment. In this room we feel focused and in control. Life is good and our energies go into maintaining a good system rather than looking for change.

And then something or somebody comes along and change appears. Our first reactions to change are characterised by the Self-Censorship (denial) Room. It is OK and perfectly ‘normal’ to be in denial initially and the phase can act as a way of keeping us focused and not getting sidetracked. Important change will not go away though and ultimately we will recognise our need to respond. Our next destination, therefore, is Confusion-Conflict.

Willingness to respond to change is generally high, but clarity of what to do is low. Typical responses can sound something like “I want to change how I do things but I just don’t know what or how to do it’. However, given the right support and time, clarity begins to emerge and we step into the room of Inspiration-Renewal.

This is a room of high energy, possibilities and creativity. The goals have a sharp focus and we are highly motivated to achieve them. Ultimately, we reap the rewards of renewal and arrive back in the contentment room, at least for the time being!

Emotions experienced at each phase




























In Chaos

Time to move on

What happens if we stay in the rooms for too long and how can we manage ourselves and others when in each of the rooms? For each problem I will offer a strategy to overcome the issues.


Imagine each of the rooms having a small annex which we can enter should we outstay our welcome in the main room. For contentment we have some sliding doors which lead out onto the patio of complacency. Inhabiting the contentment room for too long can lead to ‘insular’ behaviours and strengthening resistance to change. We can get a little sleepy and will not be alert to the changes going on around us or the activities of our competitors. It is in this scenario when we can walk out onto the patio and become vulnerable.

Strategy: Hold regular reviews and continue external benchmarking activities to ensure you are at the top of your game.


Self-censorship (Denial), as previously stated, is perfectly OK and natural. However, the annex here is accessed via the trap door which leads to the pit of misery. Slip through the trap door and it becomes very difficult to get out again and we can become stuck.

Strategy: Work on creating the right environment for yourself and the people around you to feel comfortable and secure to talk and give input. Be calm and don’t force the pace.


The room of Confusion-Conflict can feel like a whirlwind. Lots of noise, fast-paced, shifting sands. This can be overwhelming and too much time in here often results in people heading for the ‘unknown annex’ via the door in the corner of the room marked ‘Exit’.

Strategy: How do you eat an Elephant? Answer – in bite-sized chunks. Break down the change into short term goals. Keep talking and hold regular meetings. Recognise and build upon small ‘change successes’.


So, what could possibly be wrong with always being in the room of Renewal? Surely this is where we and our employers would like us to be all the time? The annex here is via a staircase to the gymnasium of burnout. There is only one exercise machine and on it we run at the only available setting, ‘Fast’.

Strategy: Take some time out on a regular basis to get ‘on’ the business and not ‘in’ the business.

Final Thoughts

If only life was a simple as dealing with one change at a time! We can find ourselves in all four rooms at any given time for different aspects of our lives. We will require different strategies for different activities and we all move through the four rooms at different paces and in different ways.

The Four Rooms of Change model is a very simple but extremely powerful tool based on the notion that we meet change in psychological and behavioural stages. Once we understand this we can start to enable effective and sustainable change through applying the right strategies for each stage.

In terms of the quantity of change, 2010 is likely to bring similar levels to 2009, if not more. How well placed are you to take control of how you navigate this and to also have a positive impact on those around you?

Andy Crotty is Director of Operations at OTD Ltd, providers of business skills training and coaching. See for more details.