Stages of the Transition Cycle and How to Lead through Each
In today’s environment, one must recognize that change is on-going and coming in continuous waves as a cycle. The changes we implement today will need to be changed. Change is a constant in organizations and leaders need to be well equipped. In fact, increasingly companies compete on their ability to quickly and effectively navigate change.
Stage 1 – Old Way
The Old Way recognizes that we have comfort zones that chain us to the past and these chains need to be cut for us to move forward. The old is often comfortable and familiar. Resistance to change is a natural response, but it isn’t necessarily the healthiest for our growth.
Stage 2 – Change
When facing the prospect of change, levels of fear is normal. People are far more concerned with how a change will impact them than they are with the benefits of the change.
As a Leader:
- Communicate the purpose of the changes and the logic behind it.
- Create a picture of what the desired end-state will be.
- Develop a plan for implementation with anticipated timelines for milestones.
- Allow staff to know they will have an opportunity to be involved.
- Engage in dialogue with staff to seek understanding of the other person or entities point of view.
- Actively seek senior leadership’s visible and active support.
- Expect resistance.
Stage 3 – Endings
People must let go of the past before they can make the transition to the new. It’s important to identify what aspects of the past people are giving up and to treat the past with respect.
People will often grieve letting go of the past. The grieving process has five steps- denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance.
As a Leader:
- Acknowledge the loss of the past by showing compassion and respect.
- Be willing to listen and provide a support system.
- Effectively communicate reasons for the changes and the benefits for the employee.
Stage 4 – Turbulent Zone
This stage can be characterized by the statement; “We’ve blasted off in the space shuttle, but the moon isn’t in view yet.” The transition is underway, people are letting go of the past and working through the grieving process, but they haven’t embraced the changes.
Things to Expect:
- Anxiety rises and motivation falls.
- Sick leave increases.
- Patchwork fixes fall apart.
- Staff feels overloaded, polarized, and strained.
As a Leader:
- Be empathetic but press forward by problem-solving and celebrating wins.
- Make opportunities to communicate individually, in groups, and between groups. Use different mediums to communicate effectively.
- Recognize and reward the new behaviors you desire in a genuine manner.
- Celebrate wins.
- Seek input from staff. Be open to better ways to get things done.
Stage 5 – Emergence
In the Emergence stage, small wins occur. Benchmarking metrics demonstrate the benefits of the change. People are gaining confidence that they are making progress and doing things right. Emergence is a stage where we test processes. It is important to realize that our journey to change is not over yet.
As a Leader:
- Stay focused on the change initiative and identify problems. Leaders must continue to be vigilant in supporting the change.
- Continue to the leadership tips in the prior stage.
- Determine remaining sources of the resistance such as late adopters and try to understand the resistance. If you’ve addressed concerns and taken the necessary steps to bring people along and you still have resistance, you may need to pursue disciplinary action if they continue to refuse to comply with the changes.
Stage 6 – New Way
Change is beginning to be accepted. People are actively involved in moving the change forward.
As A Leader:
- Reinforce and communicate the first bullet point in Stage 2.
- Focus on being consistent, ensuring quick wins, symbolizing the new identity, and celebrating the success.
The Cycle Continues
We know that the changes we are facing now are not the last. That is why it is important to understand these stages of the transition cycle and be ready for the next change.
Those involved with leading change report that they would do the following different when leading change next time:
- Dedicate resources to change management.
- Secure executive sponsorship earlier in the project.
- Repeat key messages early and often.
- Involve employees in the change process.
- Create a transition strategy with achievable timeframes.11
Change is hard, but it can be fun, too! The information in this newsletter will allow us to lead change more effectively and experience a greater level of satisfaction in the process.
For the Faith-Based Reader:
Living in the era if the constant change seems daunting but there is one constant unchanging God. In Malachi 3:6 the Lord says, “For I am the Lord, I change not.” God remains true to his promise and they are good. Here are just a few:
- It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8
- “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” Isaiah 40:29
- “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
As executive leaders, we can face change directly with the confidence of God’s desire and love for us. There is no room for fear and panic in the face of our great Lord.
David B. Guralnik, Editor in Chief, Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language-Second College Edition, (Cleveland: William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc., 1974), 237.
David Baum, Lightning in a Bottle, (Chicago: Dearborn Financial Publishing, 2000), 29-30.
Ed Oakley and Doug Krug, Enlightened Leadership – Getting to the Heart of Change, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 11.
Willam Bridges, Managing Transitions, (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1991), 3.
Special thanks to Jerry Gaines PhD who gave me permission to use the Six Stages of Transition Cycle material.
Prosci, Best Practices in Change Management, (Loveland, CO: Prosci, 2005), 6.