Managing Change – and Transition – in an Organization
About a month ago, we announced the partnership of one of our long time clients, Solveda with the digital engagement company Bridgeline Digital, Inc. (BLIN). Although this is an exciting time for everyone the complexity and bureaucracy involved in an organizational transition can be overwhelming.
With this in mind, I read an article over the weekend about the inevitability of change and how often we’re ill-equipped to manage it. It cites the testimony from participants in the Strong Field Project Leadership Development Program (LDP), an organization promoting strong individual leadership skills and stronger organizations, as they express their struggle with the question of how to manage and lead through change.
For these leaders, the challenge isn’t the change itself – whether it was individual change (more staff to supervise, expanding fund development responsibilities), organizational change (systems implementation, emerging programmatic strategies), or external change (shifting founder priorities, dynamic political landscape). The challenge lies, rather, in the transition– the emotional and psychological process people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the eventual change.
Research Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline and Director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management), states that over 70% of all organizational change efforts fail. Why? because organizational attention is focused solely on the external event that generates the change. What is downplayed is how to lead staff, teams, and the entire organization through transition. Getting people through transition is essential if the change is actually going to work. To that end, the LDP participants explored what William Bridges describes as the three stages of transition:
- Ending: letting go and dealing with loss
- Neutral Zone: the in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational
- New Beginning: new identities and new purpose emerge
In doing so, they examined what emotions staff members might have in each stage and why experiencing all three stages is critical to ensuring that change takes root. Most importantly, this group of leaders identified various strategies for leading themselves and others through transition. Here are the top four tips that emerged from their discussions for managing change in an organization:
- Clarify and communicate the purpose and outcome of the change
- Acknowledge what people might be losing as a result of the change and, to the extent possible, honor the past
- Provide relevant information as the transition progresses, including information about any temporary policies, organizational groupings, or reporting relationships that will help us get through the transition
- Encourage thoughtful experimentation and innovation during the transition
What are some other strategies you’ve implemented to lead your organization through change and transition?
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