Mastering Transitions

Published: December 19, 2016

As much a sameness brings comfort, the constant nature of change forces us to become experts at managing transitions. Changing jobs. Changing seasons. Changing teammates. Changing leadership. Changing health. Changing direction. Changing priorities. Regardless of what event defines the transition, adapting has two vital components: mourning loss and refocusing on new circumstances. Name the pain and then work the problem. Consider these case examples:

  • The coverage plan for a key employee’s maternity leave is toppled when the named successor unexpectedly accepts an offer from a competitor and leaves the firm.
  • The author’s original manuscript and digital back-up is corrupted prior to saving the last week’s work.
  • The baseball team’s star pitcher is traded for a handful of prospects.
  • An external candidate is hired for the leadership role that seemed a shoe-in for the loyal internal applicant signaling a change in organizational strategy.
  • An unexpected health issue derails personal and professional goals.

The examples are endless. In each case, something has been lost and new realities require adaptation. The coping trajectory demands that both tasks be addressed. The way each of us addresses these two tasks differs according to our personalities, histories, and emotional wellness. Some people spend the majority of their energy trumpeting the outrage of the struggle while waiting as long as possible to begin problem solving. Others simply acknowledge the pain and quickly get on top of the resolution steps. Whatever your style, make sure to master both phases of the transition.


Mourn the Loss (Name the Pain)

What specifically has changed? How does the loss impact me and my team? How do I feel about the new situation? What people, tools, and resources are most crucial in this moment?

Refocus on New Circumstances (Work the Problem)

In light of the new information, what are the adjusted priorities? How do we best triage the next steps to adapt? What do I need most from my teammates to be successful? How can I best lend support to the transition process?

Chances are you have been through something similar in the past. Likewise, you will navigate like experiences in the future. Bookmark the lessons from your journey. Although it takes many forms, change is change and the recipe for managing it has the same ingredients. Look backward and acknowledge the struggle. Find a way to move forward with clarity. Master the transition.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.