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Managing Individual and Team Transitions for Transformation Success

The human element of any change or transformation effort is often overlooked or not even considered. Leaders assume the hierarchy of management and staff will simply follow directions and bring the strategies and goals to life. With command-and-control leadership, assumptions are made that those responsible for operational and organizational change understand what to do or will figure out what to do to meet the set direction.

In today’s everchanging environment, internalized urgency to do “something” to adapt to market forces is critical, but even with that urgency, critical thinking remains paramount. The urge to do something is of course far from the reality of actually doing it which leads to most change or transformation efforts failing.

We introduced the importance of transition management last week and discussed the ways to assess readiness for change and transformation. This week we want to take transition management a step further as “management” is the most important consideration when asking an individual or group to change and transform.

What is the Human Factor in Transition Management?

Humans first and foremost do not like change. Safety and security as well as predictability are default desires. Humans like to know what they need to do, what they are responsible for, and what they should expect in any given situation, including day-to-day work. Humans construct their professional reality by gaining knowledge of the people, processes and technologies that comprise their work. The result becomes their basis of “knowing” what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and how they can do it well. Most seek fulfillment and derive daily satisfaction from their work as they gain positive recognition from doing a good job.

A change from one reality to an uncertain future reality requires a period of transition when an individual or team gains an understanding of what is changing, what they may be losing and what will be different. It is a period of personal recognition and eventual acceptance that reshapes the mental construct of self-worth in relation to day-to-day work life. When an organization seeks to change or transform, a direction is set, but rarely is there time and effort applied to enable the worker to understand what is changing, how the change impacts them, and what they are losing/gaining as a result. Leadership’s general assumption is that workers will adapt and do the work, or they will be replaced by others.

In any transformation, the possibility of loss is high: The individual worker may lose the safety, security and predictability they desire. The organization may lose a significant source of institutional knowledge of operational processes if workers need to be replaced, along with valuable employee relationships and interdependencies.

Transition management is most important when an individual’s recognition of loss inhibits acceptance. An organization must recognize and address that individuals and teams need to be able to process what was, what they may be losing in the change or transformation and develop an understanding of their new reality of work and its associated self-worth.

The Infrastructure of Transition Management

2040 is a huge proponent of William Bridges and his thoughts, writings, and representation of the importance of transition management. Change is situational, transitions impact individuals at every level of an organization who are involved, touched and are participants in any change or transformation effort. Bridges says, “You can’t separate change management from transition management until you have asked:

  • What will we no longer be doing?
  • What will be different because of the change?
  • Who will lose what?

Some clients resist asking these three questions. They tell us, “That’s negative… We want to be positive about this change…We don’t want to be putting ideas about losses into their heads,” adds Bridges. When these questions aren’t asked, individuals and teams do not gain a personal understanding of the change and then struggle through transitions to determine their role in the change and how they will assess their own worth in the changed system. Ambiguity and lack of clarity, consciously and unconsciously, result in an individual’s lack of support for the change. Multiplying these factors across an organization sets any change or transformation initiative up to fail.

Bridges further explain, “Transition management is based on the idea that the best way to support people in transition is to affirm their experience and to help them deal with it. It is understanding how the world looks to them and using that as the starting point in your dealings with them. If you deny endings and losses, you are sowing the seeds of mistrust. Most communication consists of listening rather than speaking. You open the door to the transitions if the change is to work. Issues are brought onto the table, where you build trust and understanding, and give people the tools they need to move forward. When you speak to where people actually are, rather than telling them where they ought to be, you bring them along with you.”

Why Transform in the First Place?

There is a lot of pressure in the marketplace and even within an organization to pivot and accelerate the changes that have emerged from the impact of the pandemic. Perhaps it is entering a new market, changing products and services, abandoning established business plans, or becoming more tech-driven. Becoming digitally savvy, integrating data and analytics into organizational operations, embedding DEI and CRS into the organizational culture, managing new remote work practices and procedures, and addressing the emotional and psychological needs of employees are real and present challenges for all leaders.

In managing any transition for change or transformation, executive leadership needs honed skills to inspire, lead and activate change. Empathy along with the support and recognition of what employees are processing and communicating with clarity and understanding of loss and gain becomes critical.

We advise clients that transcending all these skills is to start the exercise with the one question: “Why?” Asking why should be customer-centric, and those customers are external and well as internal stakeholders. Change needs to be authentic in how it will serve these two constituents. Change can’t be superficial, nor can it be public posturing to improve the image of your organization. Both of these approaches will backfire in a nanosecond if the human elements are ignored or dismissed.

Authentic Transformation

Let’s start with the basics. Managing transformation is changing an organization’s mindsets, behaviors, and ways of working. It is facilitated by critical thinking and an agile approach focused on continual improvement. It also means being resilient in today’s global environment of uncertainty and risk. Managing transformation requires leaders to inspire and mobilize employees to assess how transformational change will better serve customers (external and internal), incent them to work in cross-functional, cross-disciplinary teams to envision change and mobilize the organization to adapt to new models and directions. Transformation is a team sport, and top-down hierarchical leadership will not succeed. Transformation only works when everyone is pulling for it, as well as considering and supporting the dissident voices as part of the journey to achieving an actionable result. That is why a focus on the importance of transition management must be part of the plan and effort.

Organizational Dynamics

In approaching organizational transformation, it’s important to understand the dynamics of your teams and how they contribute to change. Some people like to plan, make lists, and check them off; others like to strategize and intellectualize the process as the smartest in the room; others are the cheerleaders who keep the teams together, and some like to just dive into action and take off. All these behavioral preferences are important roles in contributing to teams. A good balance of all four will have a greater chance of succeeding, even though the group conversations may be contentious, spirited, and difficult.

According to author Richard Evans, there are three mindset levels affecting transformational change: alignment, inspiration, and execution.

  • Alignment involves leadership and decision-makers. Evans says, “Aligning everyone around an initiative means a lot of listening and empathizing. It involves clarifying the human purpose of the initiative: people who will work on the initiative and people who judge it are all going to be better motivated if they feel good about why they are doing it. Alignment on strategy is not merely done by scheduling a meeting or two. It means really digging in on the purpose of the change and the solution. The very same leaders who will need aligning on the vision will also be called on to govern or make decisions throughout the program.”
  • Inspiration addresses the culture mediating value and behavior with talent. Evans explains, “The middle layer is the inspiration level, and this is the core focus. It is the people layer, the team members whose behavior, skills, and mindsets make all the difference. It has both technical and motivational aspects. The technical side is the subject matter expertise you will need in the team to create the winning strategy and to execute it. The motivational side refers to the teamwork, the team methods, the values and behavior that all need to align to the strategy.” Mobilizing people is a delicate dance to balance objectivity and subjectivity. Evans explains, “People yearn to find purpose in their work – whether they admit it to themselves or not. Behavioral change happens at the emotional level and not the intellectual level.”
  • Execution brings process, data, and tools together to make the vision actionable. Evans adds, “When executing major initiatives, the most common mistakes are in having poor integration between work streams and their teams (leading to churn and unnecessary work) or too much process (leading to bureaucracy and slowdowns). “

Process design is everything, particularly demonstrating what was and what will be. The focus of which aids in individuals and teams seeing the transition from what was, to what will be helping their leap forward in redefining their role and self-worth. The best initiatives include teams that are empowered to prioritize, deliver, and demonstrate ongoing delivery in short cycles (think: Agile). Paramount in this will be the approaches for removing obstacles to delivery, information flow, and decision-making. A great program aspires to use technology and predictive analytics to become as enlightened and accurate as possible with forecasting what will happen – not just looking back at what already happened.

Leadership Skills

Let’s face it, change is hard. As humans, we are wired to resist change. It makes us anxious, fearful, and insecure. Change agents may have a difficult time understanding these concerns because they have already envisioned the transformation and how to achieve it. However, it requires a “village” to successfully effect organization-wide change. Transformation can be approached step by step with mastery of leadership nine skills.

1. Clear Vision

This may seem obvious, but it’s critical to have a clear vision of transformation, why it is necessary and how it will benefit customers (internal and external). Communicating this clearly, with empathy, sets the stage. As clear as the vision may be, leaders need to also be open-minded and accept the reality that employees may very well have other strategies to augment and amplify the vision. This is facilitated through the process of critical thinking with iterations to the original idea. Empathy is sharing values and beliefs about change can help break down barriers and unlock the enthusiasm needed to change.

2. Create Urgency

Anticipate the future, don’t catch up to it. The pace of change in the marketplace can be overwhelming and if an organization lags behind its customers, it can easily become irrelevant. Make a case for macro market changes, conduct an honest SWOT, seek insights from leaders outside your own market sector, and communicate why deliberate speed is non-negotiable.

3. Be Persuasive

A good leader leads. Confidence and persuasiveness are assets when inspiring employees to change. It is infectious and can become viral among teams to reflect the same realistic optimism in facing change. Never underestimate the power of charisma in mobilizing teams.

4. Be Empathetic

Walking in someone else’s shoes is significantly more than just covering a distance. Empathy may be the single most powerful tool a leader has to build trust, credibility, and loyalty. Empowering an organization full of individuals who have full lives inside and outside the company requires empathy – especially in a time of social, financial, and health-related disruption.

5. Create Coalitions

Change is not possible in a siloed organizational model. Cross-disciplinary and cross-functional teams are a leader’s post powerful resource to lead change. Deeply held bias will manifest, and a holistic approach using systems thinking will help address these beliefs when revealed and then factored into the conversations. Employees can become influencers, both internally and externally, communicating the benefits of transformation.

6. Critical Thinking

Remove barriers that resist change through the discipline of critical thinking. Unconscious bias can infiltrate any transformational journey. Operating with an agile and unbiased organizational mindset will deflect and defuse the reasoning that factions, individuals, and cliques use to resist change. Critical thinking is a powerful tool to help shift thinking by making employees part of the solution and thereby invested in the outcomes.

7. Clear Communications

Most roads to transformation hit speedbumps when the vision and progress are poorly communicated. Frequent and relevant communications, including inclusive chats and forums encourage employees to become more invested in the transformation process. Open conversations, town halls, small group meetings – all levels of communications are needed to reinforce the plan. Tell them the vision, explain how the vision is progressing and then tell them again!

8. Be Steadfast and Resilient

Change is messy. Remaining vigilant with a long-term vision often requires short-term shifts. Some employees may not fit into the new model. Jobs may be redefined and repositioned. Employees formerly with limited voices in the organization may be elevated to new levels. Leaders need to remain steadfast and resilient in managing the individual versus the demands of the group and strengthening an organization for the good of everyone.

9. Celebrate Progress

Set goals and milestones for individuals and teams. Communicate the benchmarks and progress (or lack of). Don’t let the momentum stall in-process and meetings. Communicate good news of personal and team achievements, often and sincerely.

Endgame

At 2040 we work with clients to optimize the entire journey to transformation including how to address individual and team transitions. From assessments of readiness for change to advising leadership on the right process for change based on their organization, we have a strong track record of success. Our approach is to collaborate with management and establish the protocols and procedures to realize transformation and most important transitions. It’s always an exciting, stimulating and rewarding experience to see theory bridge into successful practice.

Get in touch with us!

2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues.  We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.

Onward and upward from the 2040 Team

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