“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”
― Isaac Asimov
Change in companies happen all the time: leadership changes; restructuring; new products; market shifts, changes in policies and procedures and so much more. According to William Bridges, the established expert in transitions, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”
But what is the difference between a change and a transition?
In a nutshell, change is situational and transition is psychological.
While companies always are going through change, we often have a blind spot when it comes to understanding and managing the transitions that are going on. Unfortunately, this is often to a company’s detriment and sometimes peril. An example of a change is company restructuring. Due to market changes, it is often necessary to make significant changes in a business to allow it to remain competitive. With changes in personnel allocation, product creation and distribution, and marketing initiatives established, what else could be of concern?
Areas of concern are numerous. Significant chance always involves a transition within the key stakeholders. With the example of the company restructure, areas of transition may include: employee uncertainty and stress around job security; confusion about departmental responsibilities; gossiping around conjectures that take away from the work; employment leaves associated with stress; public disenchantment and judgment. The list can definitely go on.
If transition is so crucial, how can it be managed?
First, it must be understood.
Transition happens in three phases: endings, the neutral zone, and beginnings.
The first phase of a transition is actually endings. This is where one of the first blind spots for a company occurs. They want to implement the latest and greatest and fail to understand that the past must be released and often grieved. In a company restructure, losses may include people/relationships, established practices, comfort and safety in the known, a sense of accomplishment. To allow the natural process of letting go requires an attention to what will be lost, an acknowledgement of the worthwhile aspects and a mixture of emotions as the shift happens.
Then what? Can we rush into the new arena with ease yet? No.
Just as a caterpillar must dissolve into itself prior to becoming a butterfly, all transitions experience a time of chaos and opportunity as the old morphs into the new.
The next phase of a transition is the neutral zone. During this time, the old is gone but the new is not fully established. While this is a time of natural confusion and chaos, it can also be a time of opportunities and flexibility. As the psychological restructuring is happening, there is an opportunity to explore a variety of ways to operate in the newly emerging future. For example, in the case of a new product launch, the established way of selling an old product may not be applicable, but how to sell the new product is not yet known. Think back to the time of buying phones for your home prior to cell phones. We walked into a brick and mortar store, held the device in our hands and handed over the money as an exchange. Transitioning to selling a mobile phone with websites, social media and global connection is a whole new world.
During the time of the neutral zone, it is important to allow the people to adjust and explore different approaches in the transition. There will be times of excitement, chaos, inefficiencies, challenges, creativity and adjustments. Allowing opportunities to process this crazy time can ensure a successful implementation of the change.
The last stage of transition is one of beginnings. Finally what everyone has been waiting for! The new initiative or change can now be fostered and supported. As with learning to ride a bike, the early stages of the beginning will not be perfect and there may be bumps and bruises, but perseverance and the understanding of what happens in a transition can be the training wheels that make the change easier.
They say that change is not easy, but it truly is the transitions that are difficult. But transitions are fertile ground for many amazing transformations and the emergence of very worthwhile aspects for your business. By navigating the transition from end to neutral zone to beginning, the process can flow and the people in the business can embrace the changes with a powerful energy that gives positive results. An endeavor that definitely gives a worthwhile ROI.
Cheryl-Dean Thompson has embraced many roles – consultant, speaker, educator, mentor, therapist, leader, facilitator – all to unleash the power and potential of others. She is a founder and creator of The Art of Growth Consulting Inc. www.artisticgrowth.com.