Managing change and transition

The fusion of various technologies in the digital, physical, and biological worlds is truly disrupting businesses and organizations the world over.

Commonly referred to these days as the 4th Industrial Revolution or 4IR, it is having a profound impact on the way we live, learn, work, and relate to each other.

In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) cautioned that the scale, scope, and complexity of this technological revolution “will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before”. “We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society”, the WEF further avers.

These are all evident based in three fronts. Firstly, the speed of breakthroughs in the 4IR is exponential rather than a linear pace, as seen in developments in artificial intelligence (AI), biotech and nanotech, big data, virtual and augmented reality, and so on.

Secondly, the scope of disruption is expansive that it impacts almost every industry in every country. Lastly, the breadth and depth of these transformations affect the entire systems of operations, customer engagement, product systems, and governance.

The only way organizations will survive is to adapt and transform. Business and government leaders should be cognizant of not only planned changes, but also unplanned ones that may happen to their organizations, and its attendant transitions in areas of strategy, operations, and organizational structure changes.

But what’s more critical is how to manage transitions in particular as opposed to managing change. There is a distinct difference. Change is situational, an event as opposed to a transition which is psychological. Change happens when something starts or stops while a transition involves a psychological process that a person goes through to let go of his or her old identity and be assigned to a new one.

Transition takes longer than change, and this is where the complication comes in—the roller coaster ride of emotions involved among those affected by the change.

To effectively manage transitions, William Bridges, author of the seminal work “Managing Transitions”, provides a framework to help managers by identifying and managing the three phases of transitions.

The first phase – The ending

The first phase of managing a transition starts with the ending. Transitions begin with letting go of the old ways of doing things and leaving the comfort zone, as opposed to change which is usually situational and focused on a new state or objective.

As an example, employees affected by a change in organizational structure may find themselves doing other tasks or in a different role. Letting go of the old ways is tough and may entail throwing out old beliefs and assumptions.

The job of the manager is to help people deal with the employees’ tangible and intangible losses and mentally prepare them to move on. This can be attained by providing much information repeatedly, compensating for the possible losses to people, and demonstrating how endings ensure the continuity of what really matters to them.

The second phase – The neutral zone

The most critical phase is the neutral zone as its effective management will determine the progression to the next. This is characterized by discomfort where people go through psychological adjustments, anxiety rises and motivation falls among employees.

This is also where productivity declines and old weaknesses reappear with a vengeance; where the organization is vulnerable to attack from the outside and sabotage within.

At this stage, managers help get employees get through it and out of all the confusion, by encouraging them to be innovators. This is the phase where communication is key wherein the manager should strengthen the channels of communication and relationships.

The third phase – Launching a new beginning

Finally, a rebirth happens after the journey through the tumultuous phase. This is characterized by noticeable changes in people’s behavior and attitudes towards work and the change that’s taking place.

The task of the manager is to help people develop the new sense of identity, a renewed experience and energy; and discover the new sense of purpose that make employees reenergized to work anew.

Managers make this happen by communicating the vision and goals of the company. This is also the stage where managers identify resources, and provide knowledge and skill training.

Managers should identify and celebrate small successes to build self-esteem and confidence among employees.

Managers must progress through all the three phases to achieve the desired outcome of the change program. Some transitions may be quick taking only months while others will take years.

But the key is being keenly aware of the phases, being conscious of the actions that need to be taken, and being sensitive of the progressions from one phase to another.

The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consultancy Inc, a digital and culture transformation firm, and Co-founder of Caucus Inc, a data privacy and business advisory firm. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at