Five minutes on… managing transition: the past was a golden age

Transition is the process of moving from what was to what will be, from an ending to a beginning. Yet people basically don’t like endings – not even happy ones. For they can bring with them: a certain nostalgia for the way things were uncertainty about the way they now will be even a sense of loss of control as the comfort zone is left behind.

So the manager’s dilemma is: how to encourage them to make the move?

Transition Vs change

The first step is for managers to be clear on this difference:

Change is: external and situational – e.g. the new office, the new team, the new system; in most cases is reversible

Transition is: internal and psychological – the process people go through to come to terms with the new situation; in most cases is not reversible, as mentally you cannot change back

Without transition, how can change last?

Transition process

The next step is to grasp a picture of the whole transition process, which involves 3 main phases:

  1. the ending– the starting point of anything new is the ending of something old
  2. the ‘neutral zone’ – the time between the old way of doing things and the new; the old way is gone, but the new one doesn’t yet feel comfortable
  3. the beginning – the real accepted start of the new way of doing things; people have mourned the loss of the old way, have had time to become used to the new way, and are now ready to move on

‘The neutral zone is like the wilderness through which Moses led his people. Moses led his people out of Egypt, but it was the 40 years in the neutral zone wilderness that got Egypt out of his people … – the attitudes, values and ways of thinking that had been functional in the past had to ‘die’ before people were ready for the new life’ William Bridges, author

Transition pointers
For leaders who face the task of helping employees make it through their own transitions in the workplace, the more practical steps are offered in a set of guidelines to manage the transition:

Identify who’s losing what, ask yourself:

  • What exactly is going to change?
  • What is over?
  • Who will be affected by it?
  • Of what will they have to let go?

Acknowledge and compensate for their subjective losses

If you’re looking to gain their commitment, you must show some understanding of their position; ask yourself:

  • do I know and understand what they will lose, and what it means to them?
  • what can I give back to balance what has been taken away?
  • how can I increase their feeling of control?

Respect the past
do not belittle the ‘used to be’ of your employees: it got you to where you are today, and they may feel that you are attacking them, which will only serve to strengthen their resistance to any change

Define exactly what’ s over
for example, make sure they know to what degree the structure/process/ systems/roles will change; mark the change in some way e.g. by an event or announcement, a celebration of the past, a workers’ ‘wake’ to celebrate the ‘passing’ from old to new

Marking the end
To help staff make the move towards a new culture, when it came time to make the change, the chief of US Dana Corporation chose action rather than words to convey his point. In a management meeting he piled all the company manuals on a table and swept them onto the floor then held up a single sheet of paper on which the corporate principles were typed, and said “these are our new principles”

Explain the ending
Show that the ending is really needed to ensure the survival of what really matters; for example, explain that a product line has to be discontinued because it must be replaced with a new one to help retain customers

Key text: Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges

This entry was posted in JIT: Managing change, Managing change, The leadership toolbox. Bookmark the permalink.

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