Shifting Gears
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Strategic Change Management

By Marcia Potter, President, SynTactSolutions, Inc.

What is the difference between change and transition? This isn't a trick question. Most of us interchange these two words as if they mean the same thing.

Change is an event that is a result of a decision. There is an ending and a new beginning. An example might be the decision to restructure...one or more organizations will never be the same. The old organizational chart is no longer valid--it has changed as a result of the decision. We say that change is "decision driven."

Transition is the human response to change. It is psychic, emotional, and personal. How people behave when change occurs depends on how they feel about what is starting and what is ending--how they see their future as a result of decisions that are often out of reach. We describe transition as a "human journey."

What helps employees manage their transition when change occurs? In a recent organizational audit we conducted involving more than 150 employees, the primary issue discussed was their need to understand the direction and business mission of their company. They wanted to know how their work fit into the strategy to achieve the mission. Even in the face of on-going waves of change, people will shift, refocus, and move ahead better if they are able to see how each wave, however abrupt or unexpected, serves to move them toward the goal. Organizational change can immobilize people. In most cases this occurs because they lack  information and have no means to get their questions answered.

Communication is the key. You cannot over-communicate. Follow this checklist of what to include in your written and oral messages to employees and in your overall communications strategy:

  • What is changing?
  • What criteria were used to make "change" decisions?
  • Who will be affected by the change?
  • How will the change impact what employees do?
  • What results are expected as a result of the changes?
  • What will not change?
  • What is the time frame for managing the change?
  • Who can people contact for assistance?
  • What information is not available at this time, but will be decided at a later date?
  • How will the change impact what employees do?

Good strategic change management includes a written and flexible plan that manages both the decision making process and the human transition process. Keeping people informed will help them to stay focused, balanced, and productive.

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