A new year is a natural time to reflect on what you are leaving behind and what you are moving toward. January 2021 marks an even more powerful inflection point for all of us. A year of abrupt change and uncertainty during Pandemic Life will be followed by the hope and promise of vaccines and a Return To Normalcy.
Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Susan Bridges has some valuable ideas on how to lead your team forward successfully. They define three phases of transition:
- Ending, Losing, Letting Go
- The Neutral Zone
- The New Beginning
Phase 1: Ending, Losing, Letting Go. Some organizations had dramatic furloughs or layoffs, or adapted their workplaces for coronavirus safety protocols, or shifted to remote work. Despite our wishes to get back to “normal” as soon as possible, our post-pandemic life is not going to look like our pre-pandemic life. Even though the pandemic first hit months ago, you can help your employees through this phase by:
- Asking them: In the pandemic, what (in our workplace) did you have to give up? What losses are you feeling? What is different, that may not come back?
- Listening openly, and acknowledging what is said empathetically, e.g., reflecting back what someone is thinking and feeling
- Being comfortable with the feelings that may be expressed, such as sadness, anger, or anxiety, without being defensive or argumentative
By allowing feelings of loss to be openly discussed, you enable your people to move through this stage of transition, which is a necessary step toward a new end state.
Phase 2: The Neutral Zone. Bridges explains that in this phase, people may feel lost, nervous, or confused in the space between the old and the new. In this stage, as a leader you can:
- Continue to create a safe space for your people to express these feelings, and acknowledge that they are normal
- Ensure that you address ambiguity or uncertainty, e.g., around standards for communication method and frequency for a remote team
- Understand that the Neutral Zone can feel isolating, and strengthen connections among teammates, e.g., by regular video conferences
- Look for opportunity, and encourage innovation and creativity
My clients have been putting this last point into practice in many ways: a sales team used to all in-person events creating novel virtual events to maintain customer relationships; a company that moved up their implementation of cloud computing by a year when their workforce went 100% remote; and executives that are no longer traveling as often using that time for strategic planning and professional development. The year 2020 was certainly “different.” How can you and your team embrace “different” to a positive end?
Phase 3: The New Beginning. Things will be different post-pandemic. Remote work will be more prevalent, and people have relocated. This may in turn affect things like compensation and retention strategies. Organizational objectives, company strategy, and roles and responsibilities may have shifted. What will your future state look like? You can start to shape this now by considering:
- What has changed permanently? What will go back to the way it was? What implications does this have for our workplace and our team?
- What have we learned from this experience? What do we want to start, stop, or continue?
- What is the vision of our New Normal? How will this be captured and conveyed?
- What planning and actions will be needed to implement our New Normal? What part will I, my team members, and others play in this?
In 2020, you and your team dealt with a lot of change, and there is more to come in the months ahead. By understanding the process of change, you can help your team navigate change and land in a place of renewed purpose, motivation, and clarity.