January 20, 2009

Transition: An Essential Part of Change

When you think about implementing change at work, what comes to mind? Stress? Happiness? Worry that employees will resist change? People have different reactions to change, some folks hate change; others welcome change and will change just for the sake of changing. Regardless of your view on change, managing the transition of change is an essential part. In fact, William Bridges, a leading author on change, says that the number one reason change efforts fail is because the transition process is not managed.

I’m writing this on Inauguration Day, a very exciting day for the USA because we successfully transition from one leader to another and this year from one political party to another. We’ve known that we had a new President on November 4th but the change didn’t take place until today, January 20th. The transition period helps make the change more successful as information is passed from one presidential team to the other, key staff can be placed, and detailed plans can be made. What would have happened if the change had taken place on November 5th? Can you imagine how chaotic it would have been? Think about the emotions of the citizens of the USA on Election Day. President Obama won the election with 53% of the vote, but 46% wanted another candidate and voted for John McCain. People have now had time to deal with the fact “their guy” didn’t win and adjust to the new reality. Think about the transition for President Bush, at the center of everything that is happening in the world with a large staff to handle life’s details. On Wednesday, January 21st they’ll have to make their own breakfast and get their news from CNN like the rest of us. Transition is evident throughout this whole process. For the new beginning to start tomorrow for the new President, there also had to be an ending for the current President. We have to deal with the endings of change to be able to have a beginning, this takes time.

Here are some tips for leading the transition of change:

· Communication: There is no such thing as too much communication during times of change. People may need to hear the same message more than once, especially if they are in denial of the change. Vary the message for different styles, some verbal some in writing. Make sure that communication is two-way to truly hear concerns about the change in addition to giving information.
· Time: People need time to adjust to whatever the new reality the change will bring and how it will impact them personally. Just like we would not have had a smooth transition for our new President if the change happened on November 5th, people need the time to adjust to the new reality. People who have had input to the change but the end result wasn’t their first choice, have a chance to deal with their disappointment and rally their support to the final decision.
· Involvement: I’ve heard that “change imposed is changed opposed”. People are less likely to resist a change where they are involved, if they feel their concerns have been heard and they can be part of implementing solutions to the barriers that are discovered during the change. Involvement can be in the form of brainstorming sessions, meetings, and one-on-one discussions.

We will always deal with change at work because of the external forces on our organizations and internal forces that drive us to continuous improvement. Managing the transition process will ensure the success of your change.

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