This post examines the predictability of what will happen – at least stages you’ll go through – in times of personal and leadership career transition. It describes four stages, and details of what happens during those stages Regardless of your position in the hierarchy of the organization, this provides context that is helpful for both strategy and project management.
What Change Transition Stages To Plan For
The diagram above does not refer to the phases of a project, although there are parallels. It provides insight into the intensity of change in the phases of a transition – a job/career change transition, in a new position, new roles, or change initiative.
In short, it shows the variation in change intensity over time, through four stages.
When I talk about transition, I am referring to people transitioning in a job. This can – and usually does – coincide with transitions within the organization. In fact, the higher up you are in the organization, the closer to parallel will be your transitions to those of the organization. When you are at the executive level, you are driving those transitions.
The timing of these transitions varies according to the situation, but they do follow a pattern. Here is the pattern, referring back to the number of months on the job, as shown in the horizontal axis in the chart above:
- 0-6 months – During this period you are new on the job and are getting established. This is the Transition stage.
- 6-12 months – This period, called Immersion, is when you are past the initial Transition and getting into the ‘messy middle’ of change.
- 12-18 months – Having gone through the Transition and the messy middle of the Immersion phase, adjustments are made, which bring about new changes in the Reshaping phase.
- 18-24 months – The last phase, Consolidation, is the most stable, with a small flow of steady changes.
Often times your job is complete after you are well into the consolidation phase – 2-4 years! This is after having gone through the ‘waves of change’ as indicated in the diagram.
Let’s take a look at more detail on each of the four phases, with an emphasis on what you can do to plan for these phases of change.
Stage 1 – Transition
This phase is one of initial establishment. You are establishing yourself in the job. Your colleagues and you are establishing relationships. You are getting acquainted with the surroundings, the environment.
But it’s not all just listening and learning. It’s also acting – even if some of that action is solely to learn. That early action that you take might be considered your ‘early wins’.
Here is the focus for your early actions and early wins:
- Build Personal Credibility – You will not be able to get much traction on anything you want to do unless you first establish your credibility.
- Establish Key Relationships – Building a supportive network within and outside the organization is a prerequisite for influence and effectiveness.
- Identify and Harvest Low-Hanging Fruit – You can usually find some ‘sure things’ that are easy to do in the early going. They can help facilitate the establishment of relationships at the same time as building credibility.
As you will notice in the diagram, you are building momentum with a steady growth in change activity. If you can focus on these three things and take action – and secure some early wins and build some momentum in your position – you will be successful in this first stage.
Stages 2 – Immersion
You set yourself up in the first stage by building some credibility. This goes a long way, no matter what your position.
Let’s look at a little context from an executive level. Thinking strategically, change initiatives will require:
- Strategy – Is there a strategy for moving forward?
- Structure – Does the structure of the organization – the org chart and the organization of information, equipment and other assets – suffice to execute the strategy?
- Systems – Are the processes and supporting systems in place to support execution of the strategy?
- Skills – Do the people – the actors that are part of the implementation – have the right skills set to execute?
A key early action is to set priorities – and those priorities will depend upon the gaps in strategy, structure, systems, and skills. Priorities need to be set by early in the Immersion phase.
Look at it from an executive level, regardless of your position. You need to buy in to the way forward yourself – or speak up with warnings as to what is missing…or make plans to move on.
Stage 3 – Reshaping
The diagram shows change accelerating and peaking at the highest level during this stage. This is because things have gelled: the work of Stages 1 & 2 have come together as a strong foundation for you personally and for all the organizational relationships around you. The pieces are in place to leverage momentum and tweak activities to improve the situation even further.
Here is some logic you can use for considering further changes in the Reshaping phase:
- Awareness – Based upon experiences gained and relationships built in the first two phases, is there critical support among the stakeholders for the change? It not, you may need to find a way to build awareness, wait until awareness grows, or move on to another change.
- Diagnosis – Is it clear to you – and others – exactly what the change is, why it is being considered, and what the expected results are? If you, personally, lack clarity, work until you get it – before moving forward with the change.
- Vision – Is the vision clear in your mind? Is it shared with others? Does it have buy-in? Is it believable? Can you and others picture it – and taste it – proving that there is a solid way forward? If not, you and those involved need to work through the kinks – and, if you don’t feel comfortable, move on to another change.
- Plan – Do you – or does someone else – have a grand plan for executing the change? Steer clear of action until a well-conceived plan is in place. This could be an opportunity to take the initiative and create a solid project or program plan.
- Support – This is an aggregation of all the above. A strong coalition of people are aware and have bought into the idea and the plan. A critical mass supports moving forward – or if that’s not the case, don’t do it.
As you and others in the organization learn, you will want to revisit some of your prior thinking and reshape initiatives accordingly.
Stage 4 – Consolidation
In this final phase, the diagram shows a little bump in changes, followed by a slow decline in change. This is where some final gains in the process are realized. These are final achievements – the last pieces being put into place.
Based on the changes that have happened already, this final stage is one of relative stability – of ‘having arrived’ at the destination.
Often times, this is the time to rotate people in and out from leadership positions. If you led the initiative, then you might be ready to move on to another challenge. In addition, perhaps a fresh set of eyes – and energy – will be good at this point to take things to yet another level.
Strategy and Planning for Stages of Transition
Strategy and planning occur throughout these stages, and are specifically mentioned in Stages 2 and 3 above.
The stages of transition represent a great combination of strategy and execution. Both are needed, and both are a major part of implementing change and moving things forward.
Strategic thinking is required at the executive level, but is also advisable at lower levels. Everybody benefits from good strategic thinking and appreciation of the strategic drivers behind change initiatives.
There are many morsels of insight for the strategist in the four stages. In looking at any organization, the strategist needs to consider this. It will influence the viability of the initiative as well the readiness, the potential speed, and the overall timetable. It also signals changes in approach at the transition between phases.
Project Management and the Stages
The project life cycle has much in common with the stages of transition. But they have their differences.
- Projects can be in one transition stage – A project is small enough to potentially fit into Stage 1, but is more likely to happen in stages 2-3. Project managers can use the context of the stage to formulate their approach to the project – with an informed insight on how much change is involved, how rapid the execution must take place, and how stable the environment is.
- The whole transition can be one program or many – One initiative may be the focus of the whole transition timeline. Or there could be multiple programs that are part of an overall initiative. It’s all a matter of organizing the actions effectively into cohesive actionable efforts.
- Portfolio considerations are important – Determining priorities in stages 1 and 2 is important. Priorities will probably be on actions to take – which usually translates to projects.
- Parallel lessons to be learned – Like other change management frameworks, the transition stages can inform even the way we execute a single project. Like the transition stages, which have a life cycle, a project will also have a life cycle that requires discovery, learning, and early wins; immersion during execution; reshaping as more information is revealed; and consolidation of the package and project closure.
It’s important to be aware of context – that this model of transition stages can help provide that context. It can have a major influence on how you approach and execute a project.
This post examined predictable stages of activity that happens in times of personal and leadership transition. It offers a model – for transitioning through four stages, and describes in some detail what happens during those stages This provides implications and context for both strategy and project management.
Have you experienced these transitions in your career?
The following is a related video by Michael D Watkins on “Major Career Transitions”.