For successful Change Management to occur it’s vital that the events and the transitions are both given equal focus during the process.
Why? And, what does this mean?
Events are those things in change management that are visible, tangible and happen relatively quickly if well planned, implemented and managed e.g. systems changes, change of structure, change of CEO.
Change transition is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change as they let go of the certainty of way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now and eventually going to be. Managing the change transition means helping people by making the process less painful and disruptive. It is an on-going process that can take weeks or months depending upon how much emphasis is placed on planning, organising and leading the change transition.
This crucial distinction is made by William Bridges in his research and work in understanding how change occurs and why emphasis on both is essential.
Both are important, according to Bridges, because just explaining the change and justifying the benefits will do very little to encourage people let go of the past; beliefs they hold, assumptions they make, relationships they have depended on and behaviours that have supported them to deliver results in the past.
He defines three phases to change transition:
- Ending as people deal with their longing for the past certainty and for things to not change, their confusion and frustration.
- A Neutral Zone, or the ‘Ditch of Doubt’where people feel disoriented, impatient, and sceptical but with a glimmer of acceptance and creativity.
- New Beginning where people are still anxious but find their energy and enthusiasm, and start developing hope and optimism for a brighter future after the turmoil.
Bridges research shows most change initiatives are change management heavy and change transition light.
Without supporting people through these phases, an organisation is doing only half a job in change management and is certain to have difficulties and frustrations during the process and odds are they are unlikely to achieve the planned outcomes.
Earlier this week we were facilitating a very productive workshop with a leadership group which is designing some key changes within their organisation and the discussion moved to how best to lead and manage ‘the change initiatives’. In the discussion we raised the issues of change management and change transition and their role in the implementation of any change initiative.
This leadership group did not see a difference between change management and change transition and that’s not surprising as it’s not often that it’s raised.
To quote directly from William Bridges “change is the way things will be different and transition is how you get people through those three stages to make change work”.
In our work, we see limited attention focused on change transition particularly in assessing the extent to which people are ready for the transition. Paying attention to this early in the process will support the change and minimise those areas that pose a risk to change success.
The key is to ensure that change management (the events) and change transition (the on-going process of helping people come to terms with the change) receive equal focus.
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