Thursday, 12 March 2009

Managing Large Scale Transitions

Whether spreading good practice from one team to the whole organisation or leading a more ambitious large scale change, managing the transition from one state, today, to a desired future state, is worth some thought. I am not sure that I, the leader, can "manage" the transition as any behavioural change required is very personal to the people impacted by it. The process is something they need to go through and make meaning of, themselves. However, as the leader of any large scale intervention there are a few things I can do to help.

The work of William Bridges where he provides a model of managing transitions, I believe is useful for our behavioural type interventions. His work is primarily focused on the individual and also on the organisation. The nub of the model is that we go through three phases as part of coming to terms with a new situation: endings, the whitewater and then a new beginning. I find this a helpful way to think of the change process.

  1. Endings; what will individuals, teams and organisations be losing as part of this change? How can I help this be made explicit? Has this been taken into account in the planning? How can I as leader help people mark and celebrate their endings?
  2. The whitewater; this is an analogy that Bridges uses to describe the stage between ending and beginning. It is messy, uncertain, unclear, scary and nearly always feels faster than we can cope with. It is also a time of great creativity and innovation. As a leader, what am I doing to support people through this stage? What temporary structures and processes would be helpful? What mechanisms do I have in place to harness the ideas that will arise? How can I support these suggestions?
  3. Beginnings; so much of our planning work is in designing the future. The expectation is the beginning is the start, rather than the two phases listed above. To what extent am I so focused on the beginning that I am disabling the transition process? How will I know when a new beginning is emerging.

While the model is designed for individuals and teams, it has relevance for large scale interventions across systems. For example, I can use it to help me discover the meaning of the change for different groups of people in different organisations. Especially by seeking to understand the endings. Sometimes one team's loss is another organisation's proposed new beginning (though they will also have some endings). By looking at these dynamics across the system I will gain insight into what may be the scale of transition and thus also the pacing of it.

No comments: