How to harness Transition & Change for Success

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Trust is the answer!
April 8, 2019
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Transition is a wonderful opportunity to rejuvenate, learn and come out stronger. Managed badly, it is also a source of stress, rejection and potential failure for a change to be successful. Many leaders do not acknowledge transition and thus enable their people through it. I would like here to bring alive one of the best models of transition, as a platform for each of us to use transition through change successfully.

Firstly let’s clear up the terms. Focusing on the business context:

Change is situational – new role, new team, new boss, new location, new policy….

Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.

So, change is external and transition is internal. Business today requires us to go through many changes. Great leaders recognise that, for a change to be successful, the people involved need to make a successful transition.

Secondly: Transition can be challenging, however it can also be a time of development & renewal, leaving us stronger, better adapted and fulfilled by the journey. By understanding the phases of transition, and giving our people the time and resources needed to go through it, we significantly improve the likelihood that the change will stick, and the people will transition through it stronger, engaged and taking personal ownership. Failure to give the appropriate leadership understanding of transition, will instead risk people rejecting the change and failing to develop themselves.

The transition model I suggest to use was developed by John M Fisher, based on earlier work done by Isabelle Kubler. Transition happens in all aspects of

our lives, and Kubler focussed on bereavement, while Fisher’s model was developed primarily for the business context. If you look in to it further, you will find many variations with people using their own words and emphasis overlaid on the core model, as I do here.

My objective is simply to make us conscious that

– When someone is subjected to a significant change, they will go through transition

– The shape of the transition is predictable … it is not always linear, and the phases will vary in length and intensity, depending on the precise circumstances; but it will happen and it will follow a predictable shape

– As a leader, just by understanding this, acknowledging it with our people when they are in transition, and perhaps paying extra attention to how we coach people at these times, we will significantly improve the chance of success, retention and performance.

1. Shock. If the change is unexpected, the initial reaction may well be shock.

2. Excitement – Uninformed Optimism. Take for example, moving to a new role in a new department or country, this can be exciting. We don’t yet know what the reality / challenges of the new role might be, but the opportunity of new learning, new people, new location is exciting. We might assume that all that was good before, will continue in to the new situation, with the upside of new opportunity.

3. Denial. The change is underway, and now we are in the reality, things are perhaps not as we expected / hoped. For example, a re-

organisation. We may seek evidence that the change does not in fact need to happen. At this stage, if you are helping the person in transition, it is important to maintain simplicity & consistency that the change is happening, look for areas of alignment, and do not overload them with too much information.

4. Pessimism – Unconscious Resistance. This is often the toughest part of a transition, and can take various forms. Fear, anxiety, frustration, withdrawal, anger, blame. We understand the change now, we know it is happening, & we don’t like it. We blame anyone and anything else – ‘why did you make this happen, why didn’t anyone tell me about the implications’? We may feel guilty – ‘my previous expertise is not enough for me to succeed here, will I be able to make it, will I let my family down …. how did I let this happen’? Confidence is low / reducing. When you are working with someone in this situation, you must be ready to accept their anger and not take it personally. Be available to listen & empathise. They need to go through this, and it will come to an end! If they are negatively affecting other people, you do need to find ways to help them see this and be mindful of their affect on others.

5. Letting Go / Acceptance – Conscious Realism. This is a turning point. We accept the choices we have made or the change which we are being asked to accept. Without really knowing it, we have discharged the anger / fear we needed to feel, and we sort of wake up, and open the door to see how to make this work. If you are working with someone in this stage, you can gently offer nuggets of motivation & inspiration.

6. Exploration & Testing – Conscious Optimism. We realise that we can succeed here, and start to try things out. Some things work, some do not, and we feel we are learning and developing. The people around us appreciate our efforts. Confidence is building. Energy is increasing. We feel like the tough stuff is behind us. When you work with someone in this phase, offer them ways to open their wings – training, targeted resource, opportunities to pilot stuff. Give individuals and teams opportunities to share experiences, build on each other’s thinking. Build new ways of working, celebrate success, embed changes.

7. Confidence – Conscious Integration of changes. We are through the transition. We are stronger and more confident than before. We have taken on a change and come through, and by doing so, learnt about ourselves and our colleagues / context / business. We are in flow, and can help others.

If you look back at changes you have come through, or perhaps a change you are in at the moment, can you see some of these feelings or behaviours? When I am coaching a leader going through transition, often the understanding that this process of transition is real, normal and experienced by all of us, is in itself very helpful. And then we can work on the specific needs at a particular stage of the transition – more understanding and acknowledging emotions in the early phases, more identifying options and planning actions in the later phases.

I hope you can use this to help your people to transition successfully through change.

Peter Soer
Peter Soer
Peter combines experience as a coach, marketing leader & someone who has faced the fear of being found out. He harnesses this experience with his natural optimism & determination, to help people thrive in their work and enjoy the life they want. To achieve our dreams, we have 2 resources, time and energy – so use them well.

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