Tips for Managing Transitions

Every day, more corporate mergers, restructuring, and downsizings are occurring.  I remember when executives used to strive for stability, but that doesn’t often work now. The phrase “change is constant” has taken on a whole new meaning in today’s world.  Most managers, as well as employees, aren’t fully equipped to deal with the emotional impact that dramatic change can have.  Adding more stress is the fact that as soon as one change is complete, the next big one is on the horizon.

Effective transition management is an important skill.  Change is different from transition.  Think of change as being the “thing” that occurs such as a team being restructured, divisions being merged or new policies being implemented.  Transition is the mental process that people have to go through in order to accept or reject the change. It’s the “internalization” of what is happening around them.

So how as a 1st line leader can you help your organization “transition” in the most effective manner and prepare for the new world ahead?  Here are a few tips to help you:

  • When a major change occurs, managers need to talk openly and acknowledge what people are feeling. Individuals may be expected to do things differently. This may mean learning a new process, doing things that another department handled in the past, covering more accounts with less support or working with a new manager.  The first important step to transition is allowing people to let go of the past.  It’s a grieving process that has to take place.  But in the business world, it needs to happen as quickly as possible.  So let people talk about how they are feeling and discuss ways to move forward.  When downsizing occurs in an organization, people remaining are not only feeling the loss of friends and peers, but they are also feeling the loss of their own job security.   Be honest and sincere and allow people to talk about what’s on their minds.  The more issues can be openly discussed, the faster you can move onto the needed transition.
  • Give people something back that allows them to feel more control. For example, a large firm recently reduced its field sales force significantly.  This doubled the size of the sales territories along with the size of the expected revenue each sales person had to deliver.  As part of the restructuring, the company increased the number of Inside Sales reps that would be available to work with the field sales people.  This gave each field sales person another partner to lean upon to help identify leads and handle the less complex sales opportunities.  In return, even though the territories were larger, the field rep could now focus on the largest opportunities and feel good that all of their accounts were being covered.
  • Communicate and communicate during times of change. Hopefully, the corporate office has developed a well laid out communication strategy.  As a leader, take it upon yourself to ensure one is in place for your group and role model behavior.  All eyes will be on you to see how you’ll react to new situations.  Get answers to questions that are being raised, send out FAQ’s and identify training requirements if new processes need to be learned.  Help become part of the solution.  A lack of communication allows rumors to run rampant which can increase anxiety.  Don’t allow this to happen!
  • If the change you are going through is significant, recommend a transition team that stays in place until the transition is well in place. This team can also serve as mentors for leaders within the organization to help them in their ability to deal with issues as they arise. Transition teams can consist of cross-functional representatives and other experts who can quickly address issues and work with a core team in getting needed actions in place.
  • Help people get focused quickly on the new tasks at hand. Encourage them to become part of the process to help with the transition.  Ensure they clearly understand the following:
  1. the purpose behind the change and why it was necessary
  2. what the expected outcome will look like
  3. how the outcome will be achieved
  4. the role each individual has in making the change occur
  5. who is available to help them when needed

During major transitional change, it’s very tempting to focus on the processes rather than the more difficult human emotions that will occur.  Becoming effective at managing transitions and dealing with the “soft side” will pay big dividends and yield a faster change agenda.
Mary Donato is President of Applied Principles and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets. She can be contacted at

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