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Change vs Transition: why they are not the same

‘The only constant in life is change’


This quote will be familiar to us all - we move house; get a new job; meet new people; get a promotion; go through a restructure at work - recognisable events which are happening around us all the time. If change is such a constant, why do people feel so much discomfort around it?


It’s not the change that’s the challenge


There is more to ‘change’ than meets the eye. Change itself is situational, that is, when a company moves locations, the location changes; when a person gets a promotion, their role and responsibilities change. For most, this is not where the discomfort lies. What we often fail to recognise is that hiding behind the veil of change is transition, its shy friend.


Transition, the psychological and human aspects of change, is often skipped over unknowingly by individuals and leaders who get caught up in the practical aspects of change: working remotely, adapting to new software or making sure the email signature has been updated with the new job title. People must acknowledge and go through a personal transition to keep pace with the situational change. Without effective transition, any change that is being implemented is unlikely to work out as planned.


Transitions can be broken down into three critical phases*:


  • Ending: Before beginning something new, you must end what used to be. All transitions start by letting go of something. For example, if you have been promoted, you may have to let go of the way you interacted with your peers or the work you really enjoyed and felt competent at as you shift to a management role.

  • The Neutral Zone: This is best described as a time of limbo or as an ‘emotional wilderness’ - the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. At this time, critical psychological realignments and repatternings are taking place. It is important to manage expectations and be creative with the opportunity before you as you and your team are getting used to new ways of doing things.  This will take time so don’t be too hard on yourself or your team - you can’t skip this step or rush through it. 

  • The New Beginning: Transition ends with a beginning. You and your team have now developed a new identity; you’re aware of the advantages ahead; and a picture can be painted/a plan for the future set in place so the change can begin to be successfully executed.

Navigating transitions - the true challenge and how it can be successfully managed

It isn’t the change itself that people resist, it’s often the losses that they have or might experience as a result of the change. Although the three phases mentioned above can’t be avoided, an awareness of, and consideration for, personal transitions, as well as maintaining open communication, will help you and your team on the journey.  There is no single solution but in my experience coaching can help enormously. As part of my coaching practice, I partner with individuals and organisations to provide tailored programmes to assist with and manage transitions.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss how we can work together, do not hesitate to get in touch.

*William Bridges, PhD, with Susan Bridges, Managing Transitions - Making the most of change, 4th Edition 2017

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