Change versus Transition

The concept of change is often misused. It is used to encapsulate everything associated with it. Change isn’t transition and vice versa. William Bridges in his book Transitions: making sense of life’s changes presents a clear difference between the two. Change is a specific event, be it personal – new job, moving house, becoming a parent or getting married. In work, new processes, products, systems, re-structuring and ways of working all represent change. The latter are all DONE TO people. In this way change is relatively easy, buying software, creating a process or re-structuring the team. Transition is about how people respond to change that happens to them. What happens in their minds and to their behaviours as they go through it.

The change and transition differences are rarely recognised by those bringing about organisational change. Transition requires different approaches and attention.

Reasons change often isn’t as successful as it could be.

In planning change, a common reason it fails is its lack of proper people focus. The people element isn’t given as equal a focus as new ‘shiny things’ – software, planning the change project or the new structure. People are simply considered a part of the ‘process’. Communication, training, team engagement, listening to employees, coaching support are often only considered towards the end of the project lifecycle. 

Additionally, senior leaders and project teams spend months or years planning change. So they have time to mentally and physiologically adjust and transition themselves through it. When it comes to rollout, those the change affects are only given weeks or days to understand, accept, discuss, apply and then transition. The balance is wrong.

People need time, understanding and support to enable effective to transition to a new state. Too often these skills, abilities, time and the desire to do this are absent from those bringing in change. Transition isn’t fostered or enabled.

Despite the numerous change models that are advocated, many don’t give the people element a core focus. Models such as Kotter’s 8 Steps and ADKAR are more people centric. The use of any change model has to equally (if not more so) focus on people as it does on the change itself. As soon as any change team recognises that people transition is at the heart of any change activity this will influence how they approach and deliver it. 

Impact of change on employees

Change impacts on employees no matter how well it is implemented. It can create fear, uncertainty, anxiety, stress. It causes irrational behaviours and language. Ultimately it impacts upon performance. Yes some employees are more embracing and accepting of change and there is less of an impact, but these are often a minority.

Employees reactions to change are demonstrated well through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ grief / change curve and also Klaus Janssen’s Four Rooms of Change.

Coaching and coaching through transition will significantly increase employee’s abilities to work through and more successfully transition. Consequently, increasing the likelihood of success for the wider change work.

Coaching through transition

Coaching is the antithesis of the uncertainty created by change. It creates awareness, engagement, expression, communication, personal involvement direction and hope. It enables transition and, ultimately the change too:

  • Use coaching to create opportunities for discussion around the change. Using a coaching style use to facilitate conversations safely. Gently teasing out thoughts and feelings of employees.
  • Using the grief curve or four rooms of change within teams. Coaching out where people at and what they need to have and how they can move through the transition.
  • Create awareness in teams of how people as a team are experiencing the transition and how they can support each other
  • Coaching in 121 situations with focus on some or all of the above.
  • Work with individuals / teams exploring the change model being used and how they can contribute to the process.
  • Coaching to identify the roles employees can play in the change, directly or indirectly. This too will aid transition and give a feeling of control.
  • In change communication, a coaching style will show empathy towards employees and promoting openness.
  • Change agents who use coaching will directly impact people in their own work areas, helping them adjust to change.
  • Change stakeholders who apply coaching skills and style will show the ‘human face of change’. Especially where change affects jobs.
  • Coaching creates a picture of what ‘good’ in the change might look like for employees. Then, what initial steps to ‘better’ might be.
  • Similarly, the change team can add value to their roles by using coaching to challenge their thinking and approaches around the change process.

Why does coaching work so well in transition and change?

Coaching brings focus to and on employees, their agenda and needs, not the change leads / teams agenda. Having time and space to talk about the things giving employees concern. This is an important distinction.

Allowing employees to determine the conversation gives them more control in the situation which is happening to them. This is restorative for employees. 

It creates the opportunity for employees to fully understand, explore the situation they find themselves in. This non-judgemental conversation gives complete freedom to express what is going in inside of them. This cathartic process enable employees explore their situation. Then understand it and make more evidence based, healthy and rational decisions for them.

Coaching allows employees to utilise existing skills and experiences to inform and manage their current internal state and external situation. It gives them space to unpack and unpick the change as it affects them. Test ideas, map approaches and actions. This enables them to not only understand the change but potentially be part of it and contribute to it. Or, if they determine the change isn’t for them, they can consider, what that means for them and how they manage that.  In turn this allows them to develop tools to support their own resilience and wellbeing activities as they transition.

Finally, coaching employees through the Kubler-Ross curve, will shorten the time employees may spend on the curve. Similarly it will also reduce the extremes of feelings and emotions, whilst transitioning..

Manager as coach through transition

The manager is best placed to fulfil the coaching role. They know their people and how they are likely to respond to the change. They are ever present and able to use coaching in the moment, when it is needed. Working with individuals trust, clearer communication, open relationships and engagement will be built. The manager should be confidently versed in coaching and in its supporting tools and approaches.

A risk with manager as coach is that employee may not be as open and trusting as they would with an external coach or someone from another part of the business. They may see the manager as ‘part of the change process or change team’. To some degree proper contracting can lessen the likelihood of this. Discussing the coaching dynamic and equality of their coaching relationship, boosts trust. Empathising and disclosing will also bring employee engagement.

Manager’s should seek formal and informal, group and individual opportunities to talk and coach.

Change is ever present in business, the place and role of transitioning employees needs to be recognised, encouraged and supported. Coaching is fantastically placed to help employees and organisations alike.

If you have a key role in change in your organisation, especially if it directly relates to the people element, check out our courses and become a coach yourself. Or, look at our resources to add to your existing skills and knowledge.