Forget Change Management, You Need Transition Management

Change management is necessary for any media company looking to disrupt its old business model and stay relevant in today’s media world. But while

Change management is necessary for any media company looking to disrupt its old business model and stay relevant in today’s media world. But while reading William Bridges’ seminal book this week, Managing Transitions, it’s clear to me that the resistance publishers are facing is most often a function of not managing transitions well, not change.While change and transition may sound synonymous, Bridges draws a clear distinction — change is situational. Transitions are psychological, the mental and emotional process employees go through once a change has been implemented. In other words, transitions happen once change is completed.But transitions are more crucial than change — without them, you get a new org chart but business is going on as usual within the system. Sound familiar?So, how do you manage transitions?Bridges outlines three phases you need to help your employees navigate:

  1. Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had. If you’re looking to launch a freemium site, some of your print journalists or editors may need to start thinking of themselves as digital journalists or bloggers. But that won’t happen without deep feelings of loss.
  2. Going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new identity isn’t fully formed or even operational. This in-between period is where innovation and creativity can truly thrive, and an organization can be revitalized. But because this period is confusing (and most professionals don’t like admitting that they’re confused or uncertain), this is also the time when any change can be short-circuited and individuals will look for escapes from learning new behaviors.
  3. Making a new beginning. This is when employees develop a new identity based on new behaviors, and can experience new energy and discover a sense of purpose in their new role or responsibilities.

The key here is that the transition period is an emotional and personal one. To help your employees through, you don’t need to cross any boundaries or become a New Age spiritualist, but you can’t do it impersonally, either, which is what most organizations try to do.Bridges discusses a great many strategies and tactics for managing transitions, but the most important steps you can take (or hire a process consultant like myself to help you manage) include:

  1. Figuring out exactly how individual behavior and attitudes will have to change to make a new process or team work. This may seem like micro-managing on some level, but think about it — even people who agree with the changes you’ve implemented are going to resist if they’re not given clear steps, training and support in adopting new behaviors. Want every reporter to use SEO? Then you’re going to have to tell them what that is, how to do it, and provide them with the resources to adopt that behavior. That may mean giving more time for deadlines or fewer stories until reporters are really fluent in the practice.
  2. Analyze who stands to lose something by the new system. It’s unfortunate, but change often means loss on some level or for some individuals. Going digital means your pre-press department is going to be down-sized, and finding a soft landing for those employees can help you maintain morale around change. Sticking your head in the sand and trying to ignore the downside of change will win you no fans.
  3. Sell the problem, not the solution. This is so counter-intuitive for marketing professionals, it’s almost blasphemy. But your employees are not your audience. You audience knows the problems and pain points they’re having; your employees do not know or experience the pain points the company is having, so they don’t understand why change is necessary. Their paycheck isn’t changing, so to them, money seems to be coming is just as it always did. But if you trust your employees enough to be transparent with the company’s problems, they may surprise you by coming up with solutions that are even better than yours. And then you won’t have to sell them the change — it will be theirs.

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