A typical change management strategy consists of 5 tracks: (1) Engagement, (2) Communication, (3) Training, (4) Coaching and (5) Transition Management (including resistance management). This post focuses on the fifth and last track: Transition Management.
This is the sixth post in my series about managing change in large organizations. You can read my first 5 posts here:
1. A Practical Guide to Creating a Change Management Plan
2. Part 2 – Building the Engagement Strategy
3. Part 3 – Building the Communication Strategy
4. Part 4 – Building the Training Strategy
5. Part 5 – Building the Coaching Strategy
Pre-requisites to transition management
There are a few key activities I perform prior to diving into the transition management strategy. One of these activities is performing a preliminary target audience analysis to identify the individuals that will be transitioning from old ways to new ways. I also conduct a preliminary impact assessment to gauge the level of change that will be experienced for each group and individual within each group (This is discussed in this post – A Practical Guide to Creating a Change Management Plan.) My transition management strategy is also reinforced by the training and coaching strategies. These are needed to coach managers that will be leading their employees through a transition phase.
William Bridges – a transition management guru who deserves to be mentioned
I must admit, I have a bias towards William Bridges’ model for transition management. It’s a straightforward model that depicts individuals moving between three phases of transition; letting go, the neutral zone and the new beginning. In his model, he makes a subtle, yet important difference between change and transition. In his view, change is described as having predictable hard dates, such as the go live date to a new technology or the start date of a new CEO. Transition, on the other hand, is the more psychological part of change that happens within each of us. It’s when we begin to internalize the changes happening around us. A transition cannot be assigned a hard date, cannot be fully predicted and is more time consuming than the actual implementation.
The model also provides a checklist to guide employees through these 3 phases: checklist. You can navigate to my previous post for more information: My Favorite Change Models: Part 3 – William Bridges’s Managing Transitions.
Because a transition from old to new ways can be perceived differently by each employee, I always incorporate an “individualistic” feel during change initiatives. In other words, I place myself in other people’s shoes to experience the change. I know this is a tedious exercise, but who said managing change was easy? Here is a good video on this topic: Overcoming Resistance to Change – Isn’t It Obvious?
My strategy for managing transitions
In addition to using William Bridges’ model for transition management. I apply the following strategic approaches where applicable.
A) Identify and engage ‘unofficial leaders’ early for bottom-up engagement and propagation of the change
I call those employees that do not have a high-ranking title but carry tremendous influence to other employees within the company ‘unofficial leaders’. These are the employees that have the ability to act as a communication hub between people and groups of people and have the predisposition of voicing their opinions freely to others. Getting these unofficial leaders on your side will help promote the change from the ground-up. When selecting the first wave of employees to move through a transition period, I make an effort to include these unofficial leaders early in the change process so that the communication of the change is propagated favourably throughout the organization. In addition to executive leaders, the unofficial leaders can be one of your greatest advocates for change.
B) Create Transition Monitoring Teams
Another tactic that I like to apply in large change initiatives is forming Transition Monitoring Teams (TMTs). TMTs are small groups of employees (7 to 12 employees) created for the purpose of providing real-time feedback on the change initiative. TMTs are a good way for the project team to hear back from employees that are not part of the project regarding the perception of the change initiative in real-time fashion.
A word of caution when creating TMTs: make it clear from the beginning that TMT members do not hold any decision power on the change initiative. Their purpose is to report on the feelings and perceptions of the change project. With frequent feedback from the TMTs, the project team can re-calibrate the change plan as necessary. Create as many TMTs as you see fit for your change initiative. This will show the employees that the organization is listening.
C) Make a list of people that will be going through a transition.
Once I start getting a good grip on the type of employees being impacted by change, I like to create a list of people with the following five sequential factors as columns to capture the progress towards change. I find that moving employees through the following factors gives me more favourable odds at implementing change:
1 – Aware of change?
2 – Ready and willing to change?
3 – Understands how to change?
4 – Demonstrates ability to change?
5 – Sustains the change?
Here is a link to my template
With this template, I am able to take a snapshot of the organization at any point in time during the change/ transition effort. This data will let me know if the organization is adopting the changes in a timely manner or if some re-calibration is required to get targeted employees back on track. For example, if a specific group was slated to demonstrate new abilities by a certain date and failed, the training components in the plan may need to be re-visited to get people back on track with the planned timeline.
D) A few words on building a strategy for resistance management
Resistance to change is normal. It’s the prolonged resistance to change that becomes a problem. From my experience, there is no secret sauce to managing resistance.
Resistance to change will likely be present in most change initiatives. I do my best to work with the organization to iron out the pockets of resistance that appear along the journey. With many conversations and interviews, I try to predict the pockets of resistance early in the project and identify the possible tactics to mitigate resistance. In the end, I believe that the best remedy for resistance to change is sitting down with the resistors and having an honest conversation.
Similar to section C, I run through a list of 5 sequential questions that may unravel an individual’s need to resist change. Here are the five questions:
1- If resistant (or underperforming), is it because they don’t understand why the organization is changing?
If so, the “why” and purpose of the change initiative needs to be revisited.
2 – If resistant (or underperforming), is it because they are not ready and willing to change?
If so, their immediate supervisor needs to convince them otherwise. Unless the user has a valid point and the proposed change needs to be revisited. Either option is good.
3 – If resistant (or underperforming), is it because they don’t know how the change will work?
If so, their immediate supervisor needs to revisit how the change will be implemented.
4 – If resistant (or underperforming), is it because they haven’t had enough hands-on training and need to be trained or guided a little more?
If so, a little more hands-on training needs to be provided to the user
5 – If resistant (or underperforming), is it because it is too easy to regress back to old habits?
If so, find ways to reinforce the change. The options are endless here:
- Reinforce by surrounding the individual with people who are already using the new process/ systems.
- Retire old systems.
- Remove access privileges to old systems. Etc…
* Perform action-research: plan, action, analyze result of action (and repeat)
This tool can be given to managers and team leads for capturing and mitigating resistance to change.
This was the last post on strategy. My next articles will focus on the planning and execution phases. See you next time.