“It isn’t the changes that will do you in; it’s the transitions,” writes William Bridges. “They aren’t the same thing. Change is situational: the move to a new site, a new CEO replaces the founder, the reorganization of the roles on the team, and new technology.
“Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.”
The transition (psychological) is where we deal with the change (situation) and what it means to our situation specifically. It’s the component of change that is often labeled resistance. And no wonder, because the first phase of every transition is where we process what we’re losing.
Your transition, which accompanies any change, depends on when you receive information that a change is happening (planned) or a change is occurring (unplanned). In traditional command-and-control organizations, like the ones we work for, your place on the org chart largely determines when you receive that information.
If a plan for change is created at the executive level, then revealed to the management layer, then shared with the rest of the workforce—just by way of how we do things—a transition lag occurs.
A transition lag is the interval between when a transition begins (information is received) for employees at different levels.
The danger of a transition lag is in not allowing those who receive information last (the workers) the same opportunity to complete a transition as those who received the information first. It’s easy to forget that something you’ve been thinking about, strategizing on, and planning for weeks is still new information, and often to the people it matters to most.
They deserve the opportunity to transition, too.
(And, by the way, transitions can be managed. Better yet: Go through transitions together.)
William Bridges’s transitions framework is a helpful mental model for change. Read more about it over here.