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Change Management: Putting the Change and Transition Curve Model into Action

By Carol Piras, Managing Partner, The Piras Group

Change and Transition Management

Change is the new normal.  20 years ago, we had stability.  Change is happening more rapidly and it’s hard when we get stuck in our own transitions as we adapt.  The two key words to remember are: resiliency and adaption.  How resilient are you?  How quickly can you adapt to new situations and curve balls?  Getting to a sense of optimism and hope in what’s coming more quickly helps to reset your environment in a way that works for you.

Why Is Change Hard? 

Change can be uncomfortable: being with the unknown and living with ambiguity.  You’ve got to try new things.  And that’s scary.  We see so many people that have a fear of failure.  One reason change can be so hard is because we worry about what the outcome will look like and whether we will fit and like it at the same time.

I’m going to explore what I think change is all about and how you as an individual or your team can start to get more comfortable with it. 

You need to put the oxygen mask on first before helping others: by understanding change, you understand its effects on people and how you can maneuver and navigate to help other people experience change more positively.  The faster you go the easier it becomes and you build that resilience muscle at the same time. 

An Example of Dealing with Ambiguity

Here’s my own personal example dealing with ambiguity.

I was going to a retreat several years ago and I got a pre-retreat package in the mail.  The instructions were:  here are some books to read and here’s what you need to bring for clothing.  No agenda, no information about who’s participating.  

I went ballistic – I didn’t know what was going to happen over these 10 days.  What was the plan!?!?!?

My business partner said to me:  “Carol, having a little trouble dealing with ambiguity?”  It was like boing.  When I could name it, yeah I was worried – what was I worried about?  I might not fit in?  I might not like it?  I might not do well?

Once we start to say ‘gee, ambiguity is hard, but if I let go of the future and just enjoy the journey’ it might be a whole lot more fun.  Once I could name it – that I was worried about the future – I could then start to say what was really going on for me.  By doing that you start to grow a stronger muscle of asking: what’s the worst that could happen?  If I don’t like it I can renege.  If it’s really not for me I can leave.  

We all have choice and it’s about how we show up with change and realize that we don’t have to figure it all out before we experience something new…it’s so freeing.

The Change and Transition Curve Model

Change Transition Curve Diagram

Here’s how the change and transition curve model for change management works.  Starting on the upper left, you encounter a situation that requires you to let go of what was.  We all have ways of operating, learning, things we’ve produced.  We have results that we’ve delivered and they’re changing.  They’re going away. 

On the right hand side we have the new – the new levels of performance, a new set of expectations, but it’s a little ambiguous so we’re not exactly sure what that’s going to look like.  To expect people to immediately dispense with the old and adopt the new is not an option.  People will go through the psychological reorientation of what it takes for them to move to the new. 

Everyone Has Their Own Pace in Managing Change

Everyone goes through this process at his/her own pace, in their own sequence and their own time.  Some will be very quick.  Some will be hesitant.  And that’s perfectly normal.  Change is hard on human beings because we have a natural tendency to want to control things.  When we have to give up control or we have to give up our comfort zone it’s hard to do. 

People will likely go through these various stages of figuring out how to deal and adapt to the changes in front of them.  They might resist, they might have frustration.  They are asked to do things differently or tackle new assignments.  They’re sometimes stressed or confused. They don’t exactly know what their role is.  That’s all very normal.

They will go back and forth across the entire curve as they work through their issues, questions or concerns.   People don’t go through this curve linearly following the path.  They go back and forth, even within a given day. 

The Role of a Leader in Change Management

As leaders, we have to empathetically help people understand and adapt to the change, then commit to participating in the future.  This requires a conversation.  Not email, not text, and not IM – a real conversation. 

Exposing ourselves to fear means being vulnerable.  We have to talk about what worries us, we have to talk about what it’s going to take if this is where you are.

Here are some questions leaders can ask in that conversation:

  • What concerns you? 
  • Where do you have angst? 
  • What is it going to take to get you to the positive side of change? 
  • What help do you need?  What do you need from others? 
  • What will help you go through that change curve with its ambiguous, unknown future and get to the other side? 

Sometimes we have to just let go; to let go of what’s going to happen in the future because maybe we can’t control it.  

Conversations to Have Using the Change Management and Transition Curve Model

You can use the change curve as a way to begin to talk to people about where they are and what they need because they’ll give you guidance directly in those conversations. 

Here are five areas that oftentimes accompany change and worry people: 

  1. Am I going to last?  Am I going to have a job?
  2. Will I make it? (the competence issue)  You’re asking me to do something new.  You’re asking me to do something that’s more strategic.  I’m kind of comfortable in the data.  I’m not really comfortable being a business partner or a trusted advisor.  I don’t even know what that looks like.  What does that mean to me?  How am I going to do that?  How am I going to do it well?  We worry about our own personal capability and ability to do what’s being asked for because it’s new and it’s still evolving.  Some people like more structure and need data.  Some people are really very good with ambiguity and possibility and they’ll allow the future to unfold.
  3. Relationship is often an area that people worry about.  Am I going to have the same relationships with my long-term clients?  Am I going to have the same relationship internally with my team?  What’s going to change here that might worry me?
  4. This is a new direction so there may be lost meaning and purpose: ‘I really liked what I did before.  I’m not sure I really like what’s coming down the pike.’ You always have choice about how you show up, what you need to do for yourself.  Change management efforts fail because people forget the human condition.
  5. The last area of concern is being in new territory, new responsibilities and boundaries.  What do I need to do myself?’  Roles and responsibilities become blurry.  I might be worried about my own competence, taking new orders, working with new peers.  The landscape changes.
  6. Through all of these stages, it’s not the change itself; it’s what people feel they may lose.  And if you understand that, through questioning and building these trusting relationships, you can do a better job of helping yourself and helping others move through the curve.

We all have to get comfortable ourselves with how we deal with change.  When I’m going through a change – a little change or a big change – what’s going on for me?  How do I feel about it?  What’s going to make sense?  And if you start asking yourself how you’ll get to the other side of the curve then you can start to answer those questions. 

Another Personal Change Example

I was doing a change management presentation for a community college down in Southern California.  I was told I had four hours to do a workshop for 250 administrative staff and teachers.  When I arrived, the schedule changed.  They needed an extra 15 minutes to walk over to the lunch area.  Okay. I was a little frustrated, a little rigid, like what’s going to happen to my presentation?  I cut that 15 minutes out. 

It turns out of these 250 people in the room didn’t know each other. The next curve was to allow 250 people to introduce themselves.  In my mind this could take a long time.  I’m like ahhhhhh.  But because I was talking about change and going through the change curve, I was thinking: my presentation isn’t going to be as good.  My credibility might be at stake because now we’re going to take time to do this, not that.

Acknowledging that, I responded to the audience with “we’re going to meet everybody and that is a wonderful thing.  Here’s the tradeoff.  We’re going to trade some things in the presentation and I hope you’re okay with that.”  It was fine. 

Letting go of the future, letting go of what was happening is the best advice I can give you. Trusting that the outcome will be fine is really the key.

We all get to choose.  Do I want to be Zen like?  Do I feel calm?  Do I have resiliency?  Do I feel good?  Do I feel confident?  That’s one way to operate.  You can also get angry, stressed, upset – that’s another way to operate depending on how you view change. It’s all about choice and how we choose to deal with change. 

The question for you is what’s most important for you?  We’re each unique.  Ask yourself: what do I need?  Get your needs met.  Ask for what you need.

Leadership and Change Management

Several years ago there was an article written in HBR (Harvard Business Review) about what oftentimes happens with senior leaders as they move up the chain - they forget what it’s like to learn something new because they’ve got a lot of people doing things for them.

Sometimes you just need to share with your leadership team that you personally ALSO have to learn something new and you don’t know what that is yet.  Sometimes as people rise the ranks of leadership they forget about those on the front line having to deal with change, that it’s hard and it takes some learning about new things. 

If I broke my right hand I’d have to learn how to write with my left hand.  If you get a new technology device or a new iPad you need to learn it all over again and that takes time.  We need to slow ourselves down to take the time to learn and to be okay with that.

A Change Management Exercise for You

I’ll leave you with an exercise.  Find a friend or co-worker to partner with for just a short conversation.  Or write your answer on your favorite media.  Ask yourself where you are on the change curve right now in a project or process at work or at home.  What would help you move up the curve?


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