3 Steps for Managing Change

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This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about managing change.

For many of us, it’s graduation season. My son graduated last week and will be attending university out of province in the fall. He is the last of our three children to leave home, so my husband and I will be faced with a quiet house, less groceries to stock up on in the fridge, and no more backpacks or gym clothes lying around to nag him to pick up.

Recently, I heard a speaker say that change is only difficult for the unready. I do not agree – although there are often things we can do to prepare for upcoming changes, we simply cannot account for all the variables that will be impacted. Whether this is facing a relational change, taking on a new position, moving departments, or changing jobs, there is only so much we can do to ready ourselves. We can prepare to the best of our abilities and still find ourselves uncertain of how to proceed when the change arrives. I believe this is true at home, and in our work lives as well.

Although there are often things we can do to prepare for upcoming changes, we simply cannot account for all the variables.

This week at ACHIEVE, we began the process of looking for a new employee. In the weeks to come, we have a staff member who is moving on to pursue post-secondary education, and while we are thrilled for her, we are also sad to see her leave. We have a finely tuned hiring process and we are prepared to deal with this transition, but her replacement will bring their own unique personality to the office, which will have a ripple effect on all of us. It won’t all be easy, even though we are as ready as we can be.

In his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges breaks down change into three stages:

  1. First is the stage of letting go, where we need to mentally prepare to move forward. This includes being able to acknowledge the loss that is a part of every change – even natural and “good” changes.
  2. The second stage is the neutral zone, which is bound to involve some confusion as we must repattern our behaviours and actions. We are innovators at this stage – trying on new actions, learning to recalibrate based on the results, and then trying again.
  3. Bridges calls the third stage, “The New Beginning.” Here the change begins to become the norm as we form new identities, create new purpose, and find new energy to move forward.

Bridges’ stages are not merely theoretical – they can actually help us normalize our experience of change. I will allow myself to acknowledge the losses and be okay with the emotions of sadness as I anticipate missing my son and the employee who is leaving. I also realize that it will take some time to adjust after these changes have occurred. However, I am hopeful that a new normal will eventually arrive, and that the time in between is part of the experience of living and working with people I care about. I look forward to a new beginning, and envision the positive things these changes may bring.


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Wendy Loewen

Wendy Loewen is the Director of Training at ACHIEVE and co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. The book is available on our website.

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