Motivating & Sustaining People Through Change & Transition

In my last article I focused on the differences between change and transition, and how people tend to respond to them. In this one I want to focus on transition and how people align to external changes in more detail.

There are three phases to any transition: Endings; Exploration and New Beginnings. In each of the three phases people could experience a range of emotions, for example in Endings people may experience feelings such as denial, anxiety, shock, fear, anger, frustration or confusion. In Exploration people may experience chaos, stress and creativity, and in New Beginnings people may feel scepticism, acceptance, impatience, hope, energy and enthusiasm. As someone leading people through change and transformation, it's important to remember that each individual you lead could have a different emotion. Similarly, no two people will necessarily have the same emotions or experience all of the emotions detailed above.

There could also be multiple "curves" going on at the same time, as each individual in your team aims to re-align their internal reactions and adjustments to the external change event. Typically, within the general population you have:

20% - innovators

60% - adopters

20% - traditionalists

As a rough rule of thumb, when you're working with people through change and transformation it's helpful to consider the population you're working with as having similar percentages.

Everyone needs to feel supported through each of these three phases of transition. Therefore, properly leading through change and transformation - actively communicating, staying in touch, being proactive and remaining accessible - is key.

Engagement is critical in the change psychology of individuals. As we’ve just discussed:

• Psychologically, change is a serious disturbance to an individual’s need for predictability and control as well as their sense of security. This is currently compounded by the pandemic and ever-changing guidance, which means:

• The level of anxiety can be seriously “dis-enabling” for individuals;

• People’s sense of safety needs to exceed their anxiety, which may not be the case at this moment in time;

• Without personal engagement to the change agenda, and an inspired change leader as an anchor, there will be limited personal motivation to support the change journey.

• Successful implication of any change agenda needs collective, not just individual, engagement;

Therefore, as leaders of change thinking about the SCARF Model I shared with you in my last article, look for opportunities to:

• Help those impacted by change to understand how they can make a difference in the future (status);

• Provide clarity on next steps and timescales (certainty);

• Help others understand how they will be able to manage and prioritise their work in the future (autonomy);

• Emphasise psychological safety – share your own change journey, the questions you had and how you raised them – just as I asked you before to reflect on how you felt (relatedness);

• Engage and involve others in the change process (fairness).


From a practical perspective, what you could do (while being mindful of the current situation we are in) while leading others through change is the following:

1. When people are anticipating - COMMUNICATE

How have you adapted your communications during this period of extended remote working and uncertainty? Over-communicate if necessary. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Given recent events, consider:

• Relating to how people are coming into this period of change may be a real challenge – you may not know what else has gone on for each individual;

• How to stay connected and the best channels to use, and creating a new baseline. Its not necessarily about just doing what you've always done and converting normal face-to-face methods into the virtual classroom;

• How communications will be evaluated;

• How to keep the plan agile and responsive to further changes, such as where people are working;

• Sign-posting. Its particularly important that there is clarity about when communications can be expected, and timescales for responses to questions. In the current climate, the timelines may of course be fairly extended.

2. When people are facing the fact that things are different and are letting go - LISTEN:

Listen to hear; not to tell. Individual adaptive leadership. How do you actively listen when you and your team are working remotely? Ensure “equal voice”. How may you do this?

3. When people are disoriented, and things are no longer what they were and yet not quite what they will be - DIRECT:

Give clarity as much as you can. Sometimes stating you have nothing more to update is enough.

4. When people are re-appraising - ENGAGE:

Create a sense of community by sharing knowledge and information openly, readily and in a timely fashion. Give people an equal voice, encourage ideas, questions, involvement and participation. Create TRUST. Dedicate time with others to building their understanding – e.g. discuss possible future scenarios.

5. When people are recommitting and reconnecting to a sense of purpose - COACH:

Continue with that tried and tested sense of community and belonging; testing and reviewing new ways of working. In the longer term, encourage a culture of feedback and learning reviews.

In conclusion, as Kotter and Cohen stated in a 2002 Harvard Business School Press article titled 'The Heart of Change':

“The central challenge in leading change is not strategy, not systems, not culture. These elements and many others can be very important, however the core problem without question is behaviour – what people do, and the need for significant shifts in what people do.”

Realise we are not all in the same boat;

Aspire to learn with people who are also learning; and,

Do not judge; be open and honest – be human!

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