The difference between transition management and change management

The terms ‘change’ and ‘transition’ are often used interchangeably, but in business terms there are significant differences. Understanding what we mean by each term is important in delivering successful transformation initiatives at work.

Change Consultant William Bridges defined change as being ‘external’ – in that it’s something happens to people, whether they embrace it or not. Meanwhile, says Bridges, transition is ‘internal.’ It’s how each person feels about that change and what happens psychologically as they move through it.

The constant state of change

Businesses today are in an almost perpetual state of change today, as they seek to keep up with the latest cultural trends, new digital technology and the political landscape. At WIL Group this is evident in the growing demand for change and transformation professionals – executives that have successfully delivered major change programmes in corporates of all sizes and industries.

Transition management is an essential skill for every successful change leader. While change management is primarily about building the right infrastructure to drive and embed change, it’s crucial to take into consideration for the effects of that change on people.

Why transition management is essential

That means an emphasis on culture and communication. Employees going through change need support to successfully manage the transition. They need sufficient notice of what’s going to happen, and to fully understand the rationale behind it. They need to be able to access more information if they need it and have a channel for their questions and concerns.

No matter how well-structured change might be, there will be some consequences that have not been considered. Transition management gives people a forum to air issues affecting them. Resolving those problems will help people accept the change and get behind it.

It’s important to understand the stages of transition. According to Bridges there are three key stages:

  1. Ending, losing and letting go. This is the emotional stage of transition where people might feel angry, sad, uncertain or frustrated, depending on how the change will affect them. People going through negative emotions are more likely to resist change.

  2. The neutral zone. People at this point will have accepted that the change is happening but may be affected by low morale and uncertainty. There can also be high points too, with creative thinking and innovation as people begin to think ahead.

  3. The new beginning. This phase is characterised by openness, energy and renewed commitment. People are beginning to see some early wins from the change and are gaining confidence as it’s embedded.

The better your transition management, the faster employees will move through the three stages. Faster progress means more effective change.

So, in summary, transition management and change management are fundamentally different, but success hinges on effectively blending the two.

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