Change: The Transition to the New

In my last post I shared the eight steps to making a successful change as described by John Kotter in his book Leading Change. When we think about change in an organization, we seem to think that it is a matter of identifying the change, announcing the change and holding people accountable for making the behavioral adjustments that are needed to make the change happen. I am reminded of a previous re-organization of Extension several years ago. I recall a conversation I had with the Director of Extension at that time. His comment to me was that we had made the change to the new structure and had done it in record time. He stated the change was complete and successful.

I remember distinctly my reaction and response. My reaction was, you’ve got to be kidding? We have only begun the transition process. My response was to ask the director for more information about what determined success. He stated that all the employees were in their new positions and everything was in place. I then shared that while we had made the change structurally, we were far from successfully completing the change to the new Extension organization. I shared that would take several more months and possible a few years for some people to actually make the behavioral changes needed.

It seems that with most change efforts a lot of thought goes into the re-structuring needed and getting the new structure in place. However, it appears there is little thought to the behavioral aspect of the change. We don’t understand that the change is far more than the structure of the new organization. A truly successful change involves the human transition that is needed to bring about the behavior and mindset needed to see and experience the new system.

A change starts with something new or different happening. A transition starts with the end of something that is currently happening. So while you can make a change that causes people to be in a new or different place or role, they don’t automatically start behaving as needed by that new role. The reality is that unless you use a process that reflects the eight steps identified by Kotter, you probably have an individual in a new position, new location, or new role who is actually behaving as they did in their old role or position.

The required change will cause the individual to think about or reflect upon; even grieve the loss of the security and comfort of the old way of doing their work. And if there is nothing in place to help that individual learn the behaviors, skills, and attitude needed for the new role, the individual will desperately be trying to adapt their old behavior and skills to the new job. Does this sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself in a new location or a new position without much support and feeling very disoriented or lost because what you are trying to do doesn’t work anymore.

If you look at the eight steps, the middle steps of “making it happen” are critical to helping someone through the transition caused by the change. There must be some thought given to how you are going to communicate the change and get others to see and buy-in to the vision. You need to provide the support that removes the barriers that are preventing someone from making the change. And you need to identify and celebrate short-term wins. Most importantly you need to keep the pressure on to make the change so that the vision becomes the reality and the new organization is created and becomes the way of doing business.

So change is not simply creating a new whatever, announcing the change, and expecting others to make it happen on their own. It is much more involved and requires a plan for how to make the change a reality. That plan must start with a sense of urgency and be implemented by a small team of folks who can guide individuals through the transitional aspect of the change.

Ask yourself, am I making the change work? Am I being successful at managing the transition? Where do I need to turn for that guidance and support to make it through to the new reality? What do I need to be doing to take responsibility for my own successful change management and be accountable for my new role, position or function?

Until next time, have a good time exploring the change and what is needed to be successful in the new position or location or role.