Organisational Change Management Volume 1

Framework 49 Transition Management

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In organisational transition, there is an internal psychological process that people go through to come to terms with a new situation ie unfreezing or unlearning phase. Unless this occurs, the change cannot work. This starts with an explicit ending, ie letting go of the old ways, by, for example, burning manuals and old laws, rules and regulations; having a memorabilia room, an 'Irish wake', etc!

Having let go of the old system, people then move into a neutral zone which is like a state of limbo. The neutral zone is the best environment for creativity, renewal and development.

After the neutral zone, they are ready to move onto the next step of creating a beginning.


organisational development change management


Importance of Handling Losses and Endings

Organisational transition involves

"...combining 'inner' shifts in people's values, aspirations and behaviours with 'outer shifts' in processes, strategies, practices and systems " is not enough to change strategies, structures and systems, unless the thinking that produced those strategies, structures and the systems also changes" There is a chain of activity, from intellectual learning to emotional learning to action, as a never-ending process..."

Peter Senge et al, 1999

This step involves the principle of creative tension within individuals and organisations, ie pushing people outside their zones of comfort

Most resistance to change comes from the losses and endings that people experience with the change. Thus the need to:

  1. identify who is losing what
  2. identify what is actually going to change

a. what are the secondary, tertiary etc changes that will occur?

b. what are the cause and effect collisions?

c. who is going to have to let go of something?

  1. accept the reality and importance of losses

a. loss is a subjective experience

b. you need to understand these subjective losses and make decisions based on this understanding so that you will get people's commitment

  1. accept 'over-reaction'
  2. remember: people are reacting to losses, not necessarily to the changes

a. sometimes they are reacting to past losses that have not been handled well, ie not acknowledged or given the chance to grieve for past losses, as well as current losses

b. sometimes they are over-reacting to a small loss that is perceived as the first step in a process (eg as lay-offs start: "am I next"?)

c. sometimes their over-reacting can be symbolic of a larger loss, ie minor lay-offs in an organisation that has never laid off staff before

  1. overtly deal with the underlying issues of the losses by acknowledging the losses openly and sympathetically
  2. bring losses out into the open, ie acknowledge them and express your concern for the affected people. Some managers are loath to talk openly as they fear that it will 'stir up trouble'. This sends the following message :

"...I don't know how to handle this issue and/or don't care about the pain the staff are feeling about this issue..."

William Bridges, 1991

NB Remember: staff recover from losses more quickly if losses are openly discussed

Three questions that can help 'unpack' the loss situation

i. Is it loss of status, team membership and/or recognition?

ii. Is it loss of control over the future?

iii. Is it a feeling that competency is being eroded?

NB Need to understand the message beneath the words

Neutral Zone

The neutral zone is chaotic, and sometimes lonely, and its dangers can take several forms:

- anxiety rises and motivation falls

- people in the neutral zone miss more workdays than at other times

- old weaknesses, long patched-over or compensated for, can re-emerge in full

- personnel are overloaded, signals are often mixed, and systems are in flux and therefore unreliable

- people become polarised between those who want to rush forward, and those who want to go back to the old ways

- staff turnover increases

- organisations become vulnerable to attack from outside

- most staff do not understand it

Need to harness the lack of certainty in the neutral zone to foster innovation and new ideas


Beginnings can be frightening for the following reasons

- can reactivate old anxieties with the prospect of a risky new beginning resonating with the past ie memories of previous failures

- new ways of doing things represent a gamble

- endings can involve losing a pleasant experience/activity as move into the neutral zone

To make a new beginning, people need a purpose, a picture, a plan and a part to play

- need to explain the basic purpose behind the outcome you seek. People have to understand the logic and appeal of it before they will turn their minds to it

- paint a picture of how the outcome will look and feel. People need to experience it imaginatively before they can give their hearts

- lay out a step-by-step plan for achieving the outcome. People need a clear idea of how they can get to where they need to go. Plans are immensely reassuring to most people - owing to the information they contain - and justify people's existence. The existence of a plan sends a message: somebody is looking after us, taking our needs seriously, and watching out so we don't get lost along the way.

- give each person a part to play in both the plan and the outcome itself. People need a tangible way to contribute and participate. To get ownership of the plan, it is important that intended implementers have maximum involvement in developing the plan. By being part of the plan, staff can see their roles and relationships in the new scheme of things.

Giving participants an explicit part to play facilitates the change process in 4 ways:

i. gives a new insight into the real problems faced by the organisation (when people understand problems, they are in the market for solutions)

ii. by sharing these problems, there is alignment between management and staff on one side and problems on the other, ie provides a common focus between management and staff. If the relationship between management and staff has been frayed, this provides an opportunity to rebuild the relationship

iii. gives people a chance to contribute by providing facts (including those involving self-interest and human issues) and potential solutions to the change process.

NB It is important that solutions address the human issues as well as the financial and technical

iv. everyone who plays a part in analysing the problems and developing the solutions is establishing ownership, responsibility, commitment and accountability for the outcomes

This stage is like a low pressure area on the organisational weather map: it can attract all the storms and conflicts of the past and present. At this time, many barriers that previously held things in check come down, ie

- old grievances resurface

- old scars start to ache

- skeletons come out of the closet.

In the short term, this can complicate things, but it is important to heal the old wounds that will otherwise undermine the future process, and use these as opportunities for organisational enhancements.

(source: William Bridges, 1991)


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