Change and Transition

Edition: April 2014 - Vol 22 Number 04
Article#: 4477
Author: Randy Chittum, Ph.D.

It is commonly believed that 70 percent of all organizational change efforts fail to achieve their desired results. That does not mean they are outright failures, but that is likely small comfort if you are in the middle of one or more of those efforts.

Change and transition are not the same things. Change is that which happens in the external world. Change is a new organizational structure, or strategic plan, or regulation.

Transition is the internal psychological shift we experience as a result of the change. The transition happens in three overlapping stages. It may not be that change efforts are failing, but that transition efforts are failing.

Working with change is fairly simple. Because it is “out there,” we can see it somewhat objectively. Look at market data and trends. Engage strategic planning processes that employ risk mitigation and acceleration of the pursuit of key opportunities. Implement organizational design principles and workflow analysis to ensure that we are structured properly and we are doing the right things. It requires discipline, but it can be done.

It is much harder to help people adjust to the realities of new expectations. One reason is a particularly disturbing societal trend coupled with human nature. More of us are getting more of our personal meaning from work. Our identities are more wrapped up in our work than ever before. Now consider that when you ask me to do something different that you might very well be asking me to be something different. When you ask me to be something different, you are asking me to change my identity in some way. It is this we resist, not the change itself.

Start your transition

The transition process has the following three phases.

1. Ending – this is the letting go phase. The start of transition always begins with my ability to let go of what I know and how I see myself.

2. Neutral Zone – this is the in-between place where I have let go of the old but have not attached to the new. As you would expect, it is disorienting. What you might not expect is it is potentially a very creative time.

3. Beginning – in this phase I have made the internal shift to the new role or new expectations and I am fully engaged.

Each of us goes through the transition at our own pace. It is ultimately about dealing with loss, and therefore requires strong interpersonal leadership.

About the author

Randy is a leadership and organizational development consultant with 25 years of experience, the last 10 at PSS World Medical where he was the Vice President of Leadership Development. Randy also teaches leadership and executive coaching in the Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown University. For more about what leaders can do to help manage the transition of others, visit