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  • Writer's pictureKate Earle

What Goes On Inside Change

Updated: Apr 29

I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with a leadership team who has been buffeted by strong winds of change in recent months. We kicked off our time together running one of my favorite activities called No Guessing. In this activity, we post a word and give folks a minute to brainstorm all the ideas they associate with that word. Before revealing the word, we ask the group to predict how many exact matches they'll have on their lists. Inevitably, teams are overly confident in their predictions, which leads to a great conversation about how commons words mean different things to different people.

With this team, I gave them the word TRANSITION. As expected, there was a large delta between their predictions and their results. What I didn't expect, however, was that each group had exactly one match and for all six groups that match was the same word: CHANGE. In all my years running this activity, I've never seen this outcome.

Which got me wondering, does differentiating between "change" and "transition" really matter? I think it does. And here's why.

Change and transition are two terms often used interchangeably, but they carry distinct meanings and implications. Understanding the difference between the two can significantly impact how we navigate through periods of transformation.

Change refers to the external events or circumstances that occur, such as a shift in leadership, a new organizational structure, or the implementation of new technology. Change is often tangible and observable, representing the surface-level adjustments within an organization.

Transition delves into the internal psychological and emotional process that we as humans undergo as we adapt to change. It involves letting go of old ways, navigating uncertainty, and embracing new identities or roles within the transformed environment. Transition is inherently personal and subjective, varying from person to person based on our perceptions, experiences, and coping mechanisms.

So, why should leaders and teams care about the difference?

Firstly, recognizing the distinction allows leaders to adopt a more holistic approach to managing transformations within their organizations. While addressing change involves implementing strategic plans and structural adjustments, attending to transition requires acknowledging the human aspect of change and providing the necessary support and resources to facilitate individual adaptation.

Secondly, understanding transition enables leaders to anticipate and mitigate the challenges that arise during periods of change. By acknowledging the emotional responses and resistance that individuals may experience, leaders can proactively foster a culture of resilience, empathy, and collaboration, thus minimizing disruptions and maximizing productivity.

Moreover, paying attention to transition fosters employee engagement and commitment to the organizational goals. When individuals feel supported and understood throughout the transition process, they are more likely to embrace change, contribute their ideas, and align their efforts with the overarching objectives of the organization.

Back to the team being blown about in the the context of my day with them, openly discussing the psychological aspects of change and encouraging dialogue about individual concerns and aspirations cultivated the teams' sense of solidarity and mutual support. These leaders walked away with a shared mindset for how best to ground themselves and their teams for what lies ahead.

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