The Process of Transition

Change. Whether it is in your family, in your team, in your organization, the psychological ramifications of change are powerful, subtle, and themselves temper a person, as much as the event itself.

The Process of Transition
The Process of Transition

The Process of Transition

The model described above is a take-off from Dr. Kubler-Ross’ work on grief and transition; she wrote her book On Death and Dying in the 1970s, and her thinking was an enormous contribution to understanding transition and change of all types.

My own experience with death of close loved ones has helped me understand the process of change both in myself and others.  As a result, I have become more and more accustomed to managing change – I have come to expect the wave of emotions sweeping myself and those around me; I have started to look for the joy in the situation, as there always is; I have been able to help others accept what is happening as well.   Kubler-Ross’ model has been accurate from my own experience – from anxiety, to the awkwardness of happiness and denial, to the lows of guilt and even depression.

And, I too have been “derailed”  – at times from the natural process of change, into denial or hostility. Even more common is to get “stuck” in a certain feeling – the nervous feeling of guilt that never quite goes away; the fear or anxiety around the future; the depression.

Change in Organizations

As leaders, it is important to understand the process of transition, and how it applies to the company as a whole. While useful, the process is not nearly as neat as described in the model above; people may experience only pieces of the cycle. They may get stuck, they may move rapidly all the way through. There may be several iterations, as multiple levels of what the change really implies sinks in. They may experience some, not all of the stages.

A leader who is aware of the possible psychological impacts of change will be looking for them. They will meet people “where they are at” – accepting that the likelihood of an impact is high, to be expected, and not in itself too worrying – unless someone gets stuck. By not attempting to change them instantaneously towards acceptance (through tactics like “forcing,” “selling,” etc.) they leave open the opportunity for that person to make the transition themselves, and thus integrate it fully. Strong-armed tactics can actually damage the trust and respect a staff member has for its leader.

To protect herself and the organization must make options clear for those who may not wish to accept the change, and may need to provide resources, psychological or otherwise, as people work through a transition. An organization must keep moving, and can only “wait” so long for its members to catch up.

As Peter Drucker so aptly puts it:

Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work — on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself — it must be organized for constant change.

A change may mean a realignment of values; in that process, the change may spur other changes, in terms of who wants to stay, and who doesn’t. A savvy leader heads into that “ready to ride the roller coaster” to the other end.