Bringing about organizational change does not happen overnight. You don’t simply operate the old way one day and then operate in a completely new way the next.

Rather, organizations bring about change piece by piece, day by day. Hopefully, most of this is planned and intentional. Nonetheless, quite a bit will occur naturally as people come to terms with change, move forward bit by bit, and take on new practices in their daily work life.

This diagram gives you a way of thinking about how organizations move through transitions states. You can see that the change begins in the lower left hand corner and continues on a diagonal trajectory up the upper right hand corner.

The top triangle shows the old world. The bottom shows the new world. The spaces between vertical lines indicate transition states.

So, look carefully and you will see that at the beginning of a change effort, the organization moves into its first transition state. In this state, most of the organization’s life – processes, structures, outlooks, and orientation – are in the old order. Only a glimmer of the new order is apparent.

As time moves and the change effort progresses, the transition states are made up of increasing amounts of the new order and decreasing amounts of the old. Eventually, the change has been brought about and the new order is full in place. The old has given way to the new.

The most difficult transitions states are those in which the organization is living to a large degree in both the old and the new. This can be difficult for staff as they toggle back and forth between two worlds.

Leaders can help staff weather the challenges of moving from state to state by encouraging and rewarding flexibility and resilience. They can also help people cope by facilitating discussion of the difficulties and solving problems as quickly and thoroughly as possible when they arise. Remember, encountering problems is normal. The measure of success is not the absence of problems but rather how you solve them and move forward with resilience and increased capacity.

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