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Change is not enough

September 25, 2014

Change, change management, transition management—it’s easy to use these terms interchangeably. But, that’s a mistake. Organizational change can be difficult, and understanding the key differences between these three can help you address each individually. And that’s critical for success.

Change is an event.

When we talk about change in an organization, we are talking about an attempt by the organization to capture opportunities and business benefits; for example, to deliver better customer service, decrease costs, improve productivity, engage employees, etc. Change is an event—something old stops and something new begins. It’s situational and external. It’s something that gets announced and added to calendars and memos.

Change management is about the organization.

Change management is a structured process for helping the organization create the commitment to the new opportunity and develop the capability to execute on it. It’s the way we ensure that we’ve got a plan and the competencies within the organization to effectively implement the change.

Transition management is about people.

Transition is the internal, emotional, psychological process that goes on inside people. And transition management is how the organization addresses people’s normal reactions to the change and helps them get on board with it.

We all experience both change and transition.

Regardless of whether a change is positive or negative, we all go through a transition. Say you get promoted. Congratulations, that is a positive change! In this case, your transition consists of learning the ropes of the new job and navigating changing relationships with the people you used to work with who now work for you. There are many examples of changes that require employees to go through transition, such as mergers and acquisitions or new technology implementations. The list could go on and on.

You gotta manage both.

You have to manage both change and transition. Change starts with the outcome–where you want the organization to be. But transition starts with wherever people are right now. You need an effective change management plan because a badly planned or implemented change will create extremely painful transitions. But even the best-laid change plans put success at risk if the transition goes unmanaged. It’s no wonder that we continue to read that 60 to 70 percent of change initiatives fail.

As William Bridges, who introduced this notion of transition with his seminal book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, used to say: “It’s not the changes that do you in; it’s the transition.”

Have you seen change derailed by ineffective (or non-existent) transition management? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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