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Four States Of Transition Management

transition management

Have you ever researched a change management framework? There are plenty from which choose — Kotter’s Eight-Steps for leading change, McKinsey & Company’s 7-S Framework, Kurt Lewin’s Change Model, The ADKAR Model, The Kübler-Ross Model, and the Satir Change Management Model, to name a few. These models all offer a process for leading change. Some are probably better than others, and some are more useful for specific change scenarios than others. But what is missing from nearly every change process is transition management. It’s helpful to understand why a change process isn’t sufficient for most change efforts.

The difference between change and transition:

Any change process that ignores the people affected by the process is nearsighted and insufficient. A successful change effort requires transition management, and they are not the same. Change is different than transition. Change is the new pending circumstances. On the other hand, transition is the emotional, psychological, and spiritual adjustments people undergo as change moves forward. Change focuses on what, but transition focuses on who and partially how; therefore, change needs leadership while transitions need management.

Bottom line: Unmanaged transition makes changes unmanageable. With this differentiation in mind, leaders desirous of change must integrate transition management. Typically, transition management occurs in four distinct, yet at times, overlapping states.

States of Transition Management:

Phase 1: State of Comfortable

This state is why change is necessary. As a leader, you see what is and recognize what could or should be. This recognition makes the current state intolerable. The tendency in this state is to plow ahead with a change initiative. Change agents recognize the need for transition management, not just change leadership. This first state is where you are, but it’s not where you can stay. It’s time for a change, and that requires some transition from comfort.

Phase 2: State of Caution

Every change effort begins with an ending. People don’t like endings. Endings are why many change initiatives barely make it off the ground. Endings are why many people are change-resistant. But “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I know, that’s a line from Semisonic’s song Closing Time. But it’s true. Nothing new can begin unless what is old is ended.

When faced with the potential of ending what’s understood and comfortable, people resist. Leadership often views this resistance as a coup, but it’s not. It’s just the natural reaction to change. Contentious resistance is a natural reaction to losing comfort. As leaders, we must manage people through the state of contention.