The Not So Simple Shift

These days it seems like every man, woman and their selection panel want to to talk to you about change. You can bet your life savings there will be at least one question in your next interview about it. Change Management – it certainly is having its day in the sun right now.

Leaders will immerse themselves in learning and talking about change management at some stage or another. It’s almost like a right of passage. The end goal is to effectively lead groups of people towards embracing a new system, a new structure or perhaps even a new location. It’s generally believed that good leaders are great accepters of change themselves.

If I’m honest though, I’m not the best at the whole ‘change’ thing. I don’t have a problem learning an alternate way of doing something, working in a different building or office, or reporting to a new supervisor. What I hate is the slow movement from one state to another. I’m ok with change, but I hate ‘transition’.

I’ve never really ‘transitioned’ well, come to think of it. As a kid, holiday road trips with my family were bookended by torturous experiences as we drove to and from our destination. Although I love to travel internationally, I look like I have been hit by a bus when I land at the other end – my hair a mess, my skin sallow, with a guarateed tissue hanging out of a sleeve and my shirt sporting more than one new chocolate stain. Moving schools could have been an absolute nightmare had my parents actually told me that’s what was happening. Instead, they decided to head my ‘transition-itis’ off at the pass and spring the news on me the night before school went back. As an adult, it’s only marginally better. My boss will confirm it was like pulling hens teeth to get me to accept my new tablet style 2-in-1 computer. Happy to change, but hate the idea of setting up all the files and passwords and bookmarks and… you get the picture.

Before any prospective future employers start backing away slowly right now, stick with me here because I’ve developed a survival strategy that is an absolute winner. I promise. 🙂

See, the thing is, change is an external event. It happens to us. Sometimes we are prepared, sometimes it springs up out of nowhere. It can be fast, without much notice, a little bit shocking or perhaps exhilarating and exciting. There is no real control over it. We may be able to guide the timing of it a little bit, but it will happen.

However, transition is an internal thing. It’s personal and individual. Our inner thoughts are busy processing all of our emotional, psychological, cognitive, social, cultural and behavioural responses to change. We trying to make sense of the shift, and our relationship with it.

Teresa Griffin at the Adelaide University believes the way we manage transition is even more important than managing the specific change. One step further suggests you can’t have effective change management without first focusing on supporting transition.

So the next time you’re being critical of yourself as you try and work out the best answer to the change management interview question, have a think about whether you are truly challenged by change, or ‘transition’ instead.

It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change, or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between we fear… it’s like being in between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.” — Marilyn Ferguson.

I manage my transition with a journal. I write a letter to my future self and explain why things are happening the way that they are, how I feel about it now and add little reminders of why things need to change. I centre on the benefits of what I have to gain, rather than focusing on what I am giving up. It often helps me to read that letter back later when I am confused, disappointed or lamenting ‘the way it was’. Feel free to give it a try next time you’re faced with a transition moment.

Also, William Bridges has developed a 3 step framework to help manage transition. You can read more about the 3 steps and how you can support your team as your lead them through their transition for change at:

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