Leading Transitions

Personal Effectiveness and Preparing for Change - © Performance Management Consultants

As the Manager approached the front of the room to begin his presentation on the upcoming changes that were about to occur in the department, his moist palms and dry throat gave testimony to a sleepless night. At the heart of his stress was an uncertainty as to whether in the previous months he had made enough deposits in a number of relational bank accounts to carry the day. His anxious audience sat in preoccupied silence—their thoughts consumed with visions of layoffs, loss of status and financial insecurity.

Welcome to the world of leading transitions.

Organization Context

Today, organizations and individuals continue to look for insight to guide their judgement and actions in response to dramatic advances in technology, communication, media, markets and just about everything else in life. Change is now constant.

In both public and private sector organizations, change is often driven by a financial or commercial imperative. Change is usually managed from the top with an emphasis on structures and systems that will deliver economic value. Sometimes change is driven by a broader desire to develop organization c apability, where the emphasis is on bottom-up participation that requires facilitating leadership and an emphasis on culture and organization behaviour.

In either of these scenarios, organizations often focus on the “Technical System”—the complex array of structures, processes, controls, products, services, and technologies, while paying lip service to the “Social System”—the even more complex system of people, personalities, needs, expectations, and relationships. Without serious leadership and an organization development focus on enabling the Social System, sustainable change is unlikely.

In a for-profit environment, it could be argued that the only sustainable competitive advantage that one organization has over another is its ability to adapt or change more quickly than its competitors. In the not-for-profit or public sector the ability to adopt and realign to new directions is also fundamental to the achievement of new goals or the effective implementation of policy initiatives.

Every organization has two dominant systems at work: a technical system and a social system.

Individual Context

As the futurist Alvin Toffler observed in “The Third Wave”, in the face of constant change we either learn to adjust and embrace change or we spend an increasing amount of time in pathological regression looking for our private place of security and insulation from the reality and challenges of change.

To a degree our response is dependent on our pre-disposition of personality and our sub-conscious conditioning and learned behaviour which guides most of our emotional responses.  Paradoxically, as a species, our survival has depended on an incredible ability to morph to ‘survival mode’ when needed.

At a personal level, most of us enjoy the comfort of the known and become stressed when our assumptions of security and order are challenged.  The Holmes-Rahe stress diagnostic tool which predicts the possibility of stress-related illness is built on a model which accumulates scores for various life event changes that one may be experiencing at any point in time.  The cumulative affect of change takes its toll on all of us.  Many psychologists would suggest that in an evolutionary sense we are not physiologically built to cope with the pace of change that challenges us all.

The Role of the Manager

The manager’s (Manager, Supervisor, Team Leader) role in transition is critical to both success and survival in today’s world.  Strategies are intellectually simple; their execution is not.  At the end of the day you bet on people, and the capability of managers to lead people through transition is at the heart of effective transitions.

The role of the manager cannot be overemphasized in a change scenario. In their book, “Execution—The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” Larry Bossity and Ram Charran state that the vast majority of strategic initiatives fail due to a lack of management engagement and involvement at the operational level—at the point of execution.

The Critical Competencies in Leading Transition

The suggested behaviour framework that follows reflects the life cycle of possible transition.  It starts with self-management, moves to enabling others, and then managing communication and building commitment to a new future.

It is worth considering some of the specific skills, behaviours and attitudes (competencies) that define exceptional transition leaders.


1. Self-Management

“What you are speaks so loud – I cannot hear what you are saying.”

Positive Behaviour Indicators:

  • Knows that self-management is critical
  • Understands their role and what is inside and outside of that role
  • Demonstrates self-awareness and maturity in recognizing their strengths and development needs in leading change
  • Understands organizational constraints and identifies realistic goals and outputs of change
  • Is able to articulate organizational priorities in language that allows people to connect to the vision at an emotional level, e.g., Are we “laying bricks” or “building a cathedral?”; Are we “administering programs” or “serving a nation”?
  • Maintains perspective and humour throughout the process
  • Nurtures internal and external personal networks and enlists support when appropriate
  • Demonstrates consistent commitment to the common good
  • Seeks alignment of organizational and personal values and beliefs and accepts that there can be tensions and conflicts

2.  Enabling Others

“When the effective leader is finished his work, the people say we did it.”
-Lao Tze

Positive Behaviour Indicators:

  • Remains focused on their role in the transition and manages distractions well
  • Is realistic and authentic with others about the possibilities and limitations of transition
  • Is sensitive and responsive to the varying reactions of individuals or groups at various points in the transition process
  • Prepares people emotionally for change and encourages openness and trust
  • Listens and empathizes with feedback and issues raised by others and commits to solutions
  • Is active, available and engaged with team members during transition
  • Creates opportunities for people to express themselves individually and collectively
  • Ensures that people receive the training and development to effectively execute new tasks
  • Communicates progress and initially seeks small wins and rewards positive behaviours and attitudes

3.  Communication

“People will not remember what you said—
People will not remember what you did—
People will remember how you made them feel.”
-Maya Angelou

Positive Behaviour Indicators:

  • Makes an extra effort to keep others informed of activities at organizational level
  • Takes the time to fully understand the logic behind changes and to communicate this to others
  • Anticipates questions and concerns and prepares responses in advance
  • Provides people with the information, data, facts and means to manage their responsibilities in the change
  • Uses a variety of means and media to regularly review and communicate successes, problems solved, etc.
  • Actively pursues information and data that is important to the success of the transition
  • Is prepared to demonstrate passion and commitment to changes that benefit various stakeholders

4.  Envisioning

“If you aim at nothing, you will surely hit it.”

Positive Behaviour Indicators:

  • Involves people in the planning and implementation of changes that affect them
  • Shares in inspired vision of the future and paints a positive picture of possibilities while being honest about cost / benefit realities
  • Develops strategies and tactics to enlist the support of various stakeholders
  • Provides a “Roadmap” of priorities and plans so people can form their action plans
  • Signposts progress and milestones within the vision which allows others to experience success
  • Actively celebrates achievement and regularly gives credit to others
  • Models the behaviours and values of a successful new beginning
  • Signals what is important by making decisions that are consistent with new values or directions.  Explains decisions from a values perspective

This competency framework is not intended to be all inclusive or perfect in content.  It is framework for reflection, consideration and personal development as one embarks on the task of leading transitions.

Career Implications

  • In today’s world of constant transition, the most valuable managers are those who are able to effectively lead transition. Organizations still need managers who can manage quality, process and consistency, but the career edge goes to those who can contribute to creating the future
  • Facilitating change presents a tremendous opportunity to differentiate oneself and to demonstrate one’s skills and leadership capabilities in the testing crucible of transition
  • In affecting change, emerging leaders demonstrate the spatial ability to integrate thinking, embrace tensions and navigate through complex currents of process, attitudes and often conflicting agendas—all critical senior management skill requirements:
    • The ability to embrace the paradox of economic necessity and stakeholder needs
    • The ability to set direction from above and engage people below
    • The ability to focus on both “hard” and “soft” issues simultaneously
    • The ability to plan while also able to be spontaneous and creative
    • The ability to think strategically yet act tactically

We live in an age where intellectual horse power, creativity and engaged people create the future in all spheres of life.  It takes enlightened leadership to guide others in this quest for a better tomorrow whether in science, industry or government.  The challenges of transition offer enormous opportunities for personal and professional development.

As our theoretical manager begins to speak to his team, his initial fears are tempered by a renewal of confidence:
– He has invested in authentic and supportive relationships with his people;
– He has worked hard at developing his emotional intelligence—his understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses and an empathy for the concerns and needs of others;
– In the many conflicting needs relating to stakeholders, economics, process, staffing and related issues, he knows that he is committed to the “common good” in a spirit of justice and fair play.

Who better to lead transition?

For more information or to book a team workshop on leading transitions, please contact us at teamtraining@pmctraining.com or at 613-234-2020.

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