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Managing the transition, not the change

From a human perspective, it’s hardly ever the change that is a challenge, it’s the transition from the old to the new. Managing the transition can be overlooked as we implement new ways of doing things, expecting buy in and understanding from all stakeholders once the change has been announced and accepted in principle. Managing the transition is key.

Imagine a business where new working hours are introduced, changing from the 9-5 norm to an interesting and well received 7-2 (for example). That’s the change and that is the end goal. The transition will take a little time. Different members of the team will face their own version of the transition: adapting to new sleep patterns to wake earlier, managing childcare, organising a new time to fit in the gym or morning run, reshaping afternoons so they don’t just continue to work through. Your team won’t just face their own personal versions of the impact of the change, they’ll also use their own unique ways to circumnavigate them. There are lots of moving parts and therefore lots of opportunity for things to not always run to plan.

According to William Bridges in Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change (Addison-Wesley 1991), there are three stages of transition: ending, neutral zone, and new beginning. Understanding the three stages of transition is important for successfully managing the human side of change. [Source: Think HDI]

Managing endings

· Clarify what is and is not ending 

· Acknowledge that something is ending; that something is being lost 

· Paint the picture of the future 

· Give all the information people need to see the picture for themselves 

· Use ceremony or symbolism to honour the past 

· Understand and accept that some grieving is natural and often necessary

Leading in the neutral zone:

· Use the 4 Ps to lead: Purpose, Picture, Plan, Part

· Purpose: Be sure to have the supervisors and higher communicate the purpose 

· Picture: Paint the picture, show them places that are already doing it, encourage experimentation and training opportunities 

· Plan: Work with them to plan the change. Create short-term and long-term goals 

· Part: Focus on how this will impact them, what is their part to play; be sure to mentor and coach

Supporting New Beginnings

· Fine tune the implementation plan 

· Clarify the changes 

· Provide opportunity to practice 

· Work collaboratively with others 

· Focus on a few quick successes 

· Build in responsiveness and flexibility

[Taken from Managing Transitions]

In managing transition, the role of habit is really important to acknowledge. In a new regime, habits need to be realigned, sometimes broken and completely changed. So much of what we do each day is on auto-pilot. That’s often better than it sounds! Habit and rituals free up our brain so we can concentrate where it’s needed. Habits provide a framework for our lives. Great leaders often encourage positive habits. For example, it’s why Steve Jobs always wore the same thing every day – so time could be allocated to the things he saw as more important.

We must acknowledge that changing habits is about allowing our neural pathways to change, so it takes time. It’s a bit like driving up and down a track over and over, it creates a road. We are asking people to drive down a different track so it might mean it’s a bit rough for a while.

Anticipating challenges and providing support, suggestions and coping mechanisms is an essential part of managing change. It makes work more human, which is at the very core of what we advocate here at Cadman HR. Transition is incremental and each step is an opportunity for improvements and a better way forward. However change is proposed and implemented, the transition should be carefully managed with an understanding that it is a process and it’s a vital part of making work human. Talk to us, it’s what we do!



Bridges W, 1991, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

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