Management Articles


The Stages of Culture Shock

By: Thomas W. McKee

Thomas W. McKee is president of Advantage Point Systems, Inc., a staff development and change management firm. Thomas is an author, motivational speaker, trainer and leader. He has spoken to over 1/2 million people and taught the Advantage Point System method of change management to over 100,000 managers in companies like Hewlett Packard, Ernst and Young, Procter and Gamble, the California Department of General Services, and the IRS. ; For information about the Advantage Point System of managing change see

One way to look at change is to see change as if you were moving to a foreign country and experiencing culture shock. People who have lived in a foreign country for over one year find that they move through these five stages: tourist, foreigner, explorer, neighbor and finally citizen. Applied to changes in a corporate culture, the stages of culture shock look and feel like the following:

The Tourist Stage: Wow -- change is exciting!
For some people this stage lasts for a few seconds; for others it might take a day or two for reality to set in. And for a limited few, they never get out of this stage, and simply jump from change to change, never seeing reality. Everyone must learn how to spend some time in the tourist stage to realize the vision of what can be. But we must move on.

The Foreigner Stage: The loss of security and significance. 

You have let go of one trapeze and are waiting for the next to come. You fear that the next trapeze won't come and you will be left falling without a safety net to catch you. This is a stage which all people will and must experience. However, you can learn how to move to either the Neighbor Stage or the Explorer Stage. What stage you move to next is optional, but you must move on. According to your personality, you will manage change best if you know which stage is best for you.

The Neighbor Stage: "Hello neighbor!"

You begin to build new relationships that will help you through this time of transition. Your security and significance are often built through people, and as soon as you feel that sense of community, you will dive into the Explorer Stage with enthusiasm -- as a team.

The Explorer Stage: A Process of Discovery

You begin to build new skills. You experience fear and confidence at the same time. Learning new skills of a new position or a new job can be overwhelming. It's like learning to drive a stick-shift car all over again. You can only concentrate on one thing at a time. But once you learn, you drive, drink coffee, and talk on the cell phone -- all at the same time. 

The Citizen Stage: "Wait! I just got comfortable."

With a new set of relationships, a new set of skills and a renewed sense of security and significance, you are focused into your new position. Just as you get settled, they change your work team or job or . . . and you start all over again.

The more you master the skills of negotiating the five stages of culture shock, the more quickly you will adjust to change and reduce the stress of living in limbo.

© 1998 Advantage Point Systems Inc.

Other Articles by Thomas W. McKee

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


Place "+" (without the quotes) in front of words that must appear; "-" to exclude articles with certain words; and put double quotes around phrases. For example, fantastic search will find all case studies with either the word "fantastic" or "search" (or both). On the other hand, +fantastic +search will find only case studies with the words "fantastic" and "search". "fantastic search" will find only case studies that with the phrase "fantastic search". Note: Searches will not find words, such as 'management', that appear in more than half of the articles or words less than five letters long.


Would you like us to consider your own articles for publication? Please review our submission and editorial guidelines by clicking here.