Change, without doubt, is the only constant in this world. It is one of the biggest things that leaders must tackle every day. In this episode, host Jeffrey Edwards talks about leaders, change, and transitions. He explains how leaders must learn how to navigate the phases of transitions with his people as well as understand the layers of change. After all, managing transitions successfully is a true mark of effective leadership.
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Managing Transitions Successfully
It’s great to be with you. I am excited and let’s talk leaders on this subject. It’s a subject that’s close to my heart and I’m sure to many of you out there. It’s on the topic of change and that constant change management. How many of you have gone through a change in your personal life, in your business life or your community? I’m sure most of your hands are going up and if not, then wait a few minutes. I’m sure it will happen. When we look around us, the law of change states this, that change is constant. You’re constantly evolving and moving towards a newer level of being. It’s a perpetual motion right up until the day that we are no longer here.
On the business level, when it comes to organizations, many organizations do come to a point and whether it’s a profit, not-for-profit or social enterprise, whatever that type of organization would be. There does come a point in time where there is a requirement for change and that can take place in terms of a change in the leadership. It can be also changing direction, changing the strategy, maybe bringing in new people or changing departments. You may have an example in your mind or experience what that may have felt like or been like. It’s interesting that you read the research that large organizations, we’re talking more about the Fortune 500 size that has undergone major change management initiatives report that 80% of them usually don’t go well. Why is that?
You think some of the bigger mergers that happen over the lifetime and I remember way back when I know some of you may not be around that time. That’s okay. When Time Warner and AOL, American Online was the internet company and they joined together and became this big company called Time AOL then it’s called Time Warner. At the time, it was at the start of the internet phase of technology and it was an opportunity for TV and film to integrate with the internet and bring it all together. There were to be all great things are going to happen to that, but it didn’t materialize into the success that they thought would be until much later on, literally years and years afterwards.
There were a lot of ups and downs and money lost along the way. Something that was supposed to billions of dollars that went up in smoke due to a lot of the changes that took place. In most part, what tends to happen in any of these situations is that the focus is on the change, but change is only one part of any type of transition. When you think of change, it’s something that’s external to us. Change is something that we can see and it happens to us whether we like it or not. It’s something that is going to occur. We don’t have a lot to say. When you think of change, sometimes you see it in terms of, is it something that’s within your span of control? Is it something that I can manipulate and moved in a way that’s going to change the outcome?
Think of it, how many times have we complained about the weather and how many of us have control over the weather? Again, if your hand is up, then I want to talk to you, but oftentimes we don’t. The second layer that comes with change is the internal layer. That’s the second part, which often is ignored in these big change initiatives. That’s the piece that is called transition. William Bridges was an author and consultant. He came up with a book in 1991. It was called Managing Transitions. It was a follow-up to his more like a breaking book, which is called Transitions. The interesting part of what he was pointing out way back when was that part of the reason why companies struggle with change and change management is that the leadership are often focused and attentive to the structural changes that are happening in the organization.Change is only one part of any transition. Click To Tweet
What tends to be ignored, forgotten or even minimized is the transitions that people are experiencing on an individual level. The definition of transition is the internal mechanism. It’s the internal movement that we all go through. When you are going through a change, let’s say even just a simple example, it’s raining outside. The change is, it was sunny, now it’s rainy. The transition is as you prepare to go out the door is, “Am I going to get wet? Is it going to be a miserable drive on the way to work? Is the traffic going to hold me back? Am I going to be late? Am I going to get my pants all dirty, etc.?”
It ends up with love layers of what is I am going to succumb to or more or less what am I going to lose? Oftentimes when it comes to the change element, the transition is where the focus becomes that decision point. Do I want to go forward or do I want to stay here? That threat of losing what you already know, what’s familiar to you or the threat of the unknown may not be all that enticing or motivating to want to go forward. What is the element of transition that leaders need to be focused on? Here are some tips that I came across that I thought it’d be helpful to you.
Leveraging the work of William Bridges over the years speaks to what he was talking about in terms of understanding more of the three phases of the transition. That first phase he speaks to is called The Endings. As a leader, it is recognizing that whatever the change maybe is that you’re bringing something to a point of an end for a lot of people. I remember when I was working and my company was acquired by another company. They had a different way of doing and operating things. Everything was different, even our systems were different. There were some people hanging on to the hope that somehow someway what we used to do in terms of how we processed our expense reports or all the access to some of our libraries will remain intact. It was a real blow when they realized that was going to go away.
That resistance to what was the come held them back from integrating into the new company. For some, it was part of an added struggle to accepting what was to come. When you look at your situation as a leader, how well are you acknowledging and aware of what people may be feeling? That feeling of fear, denial, anger, and sadness. Feeling a little disoriented, frustrated, uncertain or just feeling lost. How much time are you allowing for them to feel that? It’s not necessary to allow them to sit there and live there, but at least acknowledge it. Knowing that at some point in time that what they knew and what allowed them to perform at the level that they were and that was familiar maybe going away.
Imagine that you spent time in your work in developing, perfecting and processing all ways of how you can be the most effective and productive in your environment only to come in one day or to realize that all that may be changing and you’re not sure where does that leave you? You react. What if there was at least acknowledgment that you know, “I recognize that this point in time, it’s going to be tough.” Taking time to outline, yes, this is an end. Let’s recognize what you’ve taken from it and let’s honor that history, that legacy that was so that we can move forward. What Bridges speak to is giving people that opportunity to grieve. It’s a grief that allows them to express, to say, “Take a deep breath in and let it out,” and then they can focus on the next steps.
That second phase, where he speaks to, is looking at that nebulous middle, he calls it the Neutral Zone. If you’re a Trekkie fan, and I am a quiet one, you might think it’s a Romulan whole thing going on there and cling on. What it is, is that area of, “What’s that place between here and that next phase?” That’s where a lot of companies do fall down. Because in that second phase of transition, there’s still a lot of internal chatter that goes on. People want to know, what is my role going to be? Where do I fit in? What do my skills or my experience mean? How are they going to be honored or at least valued going forward? Am I going to be outdated or is my company can be outdated? Am I going to have an opportunity to learn or at least acquire new information or new resources to move forward and help me grow?
All sorts of different ways of thinking of it from a business perspective, from a career perspective, and understanding at the frontline leader level, it allows for you as a leader to be there to acknowledge and be ahead answering some of those questions. What are some ways you can help people navigate through that zone of uncertainty called the Neutral Zone? What roles are available within this transition, this change initiative where people can provide their input? Where are these opportunities to allow people to ask questions? What opportunities would you have in terms of an open forum? It might be in person, it might be a webinar, could be a series of webinars.
As a leader, how often or what time allocation would you make to get out there, as they used to call it, manage by walking around as you can? Getting out on the floor, getting out to your people in any way possible just to see them and help them feel that they are being heard and also being acknowledged. It may seem little and might even seem like, “Why am I doing this?” The research would show that when people feel that they have been heard and felt that they have had an opportunity to express, an avenue or channel to share ideas and to express themselves, then that helps to diffuse a lot of that nervous, anxiety and energy that’s out there that can help them propel forward. At the other end is, what are the new beginnings? What is that vision for the future?
For me, if you are familiar with creating a vision and having a mission, but this is less about former corporate vision and mission statement. This is about painting a picture of what the new reality will be. The new next level of being, doing. Performance is going to be defined within the environment. That maybe you who are saying that stage within your group or you might be supporting someone in sending out that message as well. How vivid is that vision going forward? How clear are the objectives, the expectations and also the roles, responsibilities to everyone in terms of creating the new results and also having room to grow, to learn and to feel safe as well? Going through those three phases, starting with the endings first, and then navigating through that neutral zone as you’ve to start continued to create that vision going forward are three elements of managing the transition.
Keeping your eye on the change on the outside, but being the leader who is the example and a resource to mobilize the people to help them manage the transitions. That’s what effective leadership can be. In those situations, 80% of those companies who didn’t do so well, have they applied any of those strategies, what the outcomes could have been earlier on in their existence? Leaders, change and transition. Two words that sound the same or have some similar meanings but definitely something to look at and think about the next time that you go through a chain cycle. Thank you. Until next time, take care and be well.