Friday, August 21, 2009

Must End the Old before Transitioning to the New

Before you can begin something new, you have to end what used to be.

Every change starts with an ending. The transition to the new change requires people to let go of the old realities of the past. Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through what people will lose in the change. It does little good to talk about how wonderful the outcome of the change will be if you haven’t prepared people for the losses and ending of what was before. People cannot leave the past until they accept the need to end it.

Here are some things you can do to make the passing of the old less painful:

Identify Who is Losing What. Describe the change in as much detail as possible. Tell them specifically what will be different when the dust clears. Make sure everyone knows specifically what will be continued and what will be stopped.

Accept the Reality and Importance of the Losses. Don’t argue with what you hear. Accept the anguish that people are going through. Allow people to go through the grieving process regarding what they are losing in the change.

Don’t Be Surprised at People’s Overreaction. People usually overreact to change. However, it’s the losses they are reacting to. A part of their world is being lost. Rather than trying to talk people out of their overreaction, show them which losses are real and which are merely speculation or rumor. Separate truth from fiction.

Acknowledge the Losses Openly and Sympathetically. Bring losses out into the open. Do it simply and directly. Everyone is losing something. Don’t try to sugar coat or wash over it. Be kind and understanding regarding what people are going through. They had a lot invested in their past, and now they are losing some of what they worked hard for.

Expect and Accept Signs of Grieving. When endings take place, people get angry, sad, frightened, depressed and confused. Treat these emotions seriously. Don’t get defensive or argumentative. Give people time to work through their loss and expect it to take awhile before they become accustomed to the new.

Give Something in Return to Compensate for the Losses. Many organizational change efforts fail because the affected people feel only the pain. Trying to talk people out of their feelings will get you nowhere. Instead, ask yourself what you can give back to balance what’s been taken away. Find ways to recognize and reward people for making a successful transition to the new ways of doing things.

Treat the Past With Respect. Never denigrate the past. Honor the past for what it has accomplished. Present changes and innovations as developments that build upon the successes of the past. Show how the change is a natural progression or evolution from what has been done in the past.

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