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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts on Dealing with Change and Transitions

Change is the essence of development for individuals, for groups, and for organizations. Change is a process, not an event – it’s any situation that asks for significant adjustment by the individual, such as is the case with a new job, starting a business, marriage or divorce, a reorganization, a promotion, relocation to a different country, or the death of a loved one. Whether you are dealing with self-inflicted, desired, involuntary, or forced change, in order to embrace and manage ‘the new’ you have to be able to let go of the old, but also, to incorporate the old in the new. This takes time, focus, energy, and much more. In many cases, the biggest challenge during a transition or change process is caused by what happens in your head. Your beliefs and your thoughts about change and about new experiences to a large extent determine the outcome of the change, which means you can exert quite a bit of control over changes and transitions you’re facing.

The following thoughts on dealing with transitions and change stem from 20 years of experience in the field of training & development, coaching, and counseling in many different types of organizations, and, of course, from life, which provides us with one transition after another.

1.   Simplify

In the relatively stable economic and business environment of the last decade, the negative impact of unnecessary complex business models or change processes went almost undetected. The economic downturn, however, is challenging all that businesses do, such as how they execute their business strategy and how they deliver change. In today’s harsh, interconnected, and vastly changing business climate many organizations find themselves ill prepared to cope with the challenges they get thrown. I believe this, at least in part, to be due to models, strategies, change programs, and systems that are unnecessarily complex and thereby inflexible and ineffective. Business model simplification has gained increasing interest and should be applied to change and transition programs in order for them to be successful. It’s not just your organization - your change program and tools too need to be agile and flexible in order to adjust to rapidly changing economic, political, and business factors. If not, your business will likely suffer from overlapping management structures, from people and administrative functions that do not add value, and from poor implementation of strategy and change.

Tip: For the ‘what and how’ of business simplification I suggest you work with experienced consultants with expertise in this field. An interesting article related to this topic is posted on Harvard Business Review Blog by Chris Zook: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/02/desperately_seeking_simplicity.html

2.   Reframing

If you reframe a question, you can open up your thinking and your choices to many more possibilities than when you remain stuck in that one question or just one perspective. Some of the most interesting breakthroughs in science, technology, political negotiations, or during a crime investigation by a team of detectives come from reframing questions. Every question leads to particular lines of thinking, to a specific inquiry, and to a certain kind of research. Don’t limit yourself to just one.

Tip: Change the question and new horizons arise.

3.   Drivers Ed

Just as you don’t wake up at 16 to find you can drive a car, so it goes with dealing with change and transitions. Wanting something badly can be a great start, but without a decent plan, without awareness of all that’s at play including your own beliefs, attitudes, and choices, without consistent training, and without adjustments based on feedback, you’ll be a danger on the road and successful change will be yours to wait for. Just like some companies (or better: their leaders) cannot find the right strategic path, others have difficulty successfully executing their strategy, and yet others execute their strategy well for a while but then lose their way for many different reasons, so do people when facing challenges related to change and transitions.  

Tip: Develop a strategy for the change you’re facing. Test it, adjust it, stick to it, and search for ways to secure and sustain value.

4.   Failing upwards

Any sport is built around pushing limits. You practice, rehearse, and persevere until you reach your top and then you push that top even further.
You exercise, train, climb, and fall, and if you aren’t falling chances are high that you are not improving. When you push your sport or business forward, you are likely experiencing more failures than successes in certain stages of the transition. You can learn to carry yourself through failure with confidence and competence which enables you to manage transitions and change effectively. And if you are in a leading position, support and enable your people to reveal their challenges and problems. Most people don’t like revealing problems because they fear it makes them look weak and incompetent. Employees rather reveal their “great performance” but without accountability there will be little collaboration and growth.  Know and explore your ideological comfort zone and decide to regularly step out of it, accepting falls, bruises, and mistakes as part of the process.


Start asking questions like “Even though we are transitioning and performing well, what’s not working or can be improved in your team?” or “What is your greatest personal challenge or concern we should be addressing today?”

Just four thoughts on dealing with change and transitions. Use them to your advantage.

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