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How to manage transitions

On the subject of managing transitions...hope you are easing into the summer heat!

Tessa here, back with another Shasta Scout Column from Inside Public Service. This one focuses on managing a team while going through a change in leadership.

Irene share's her favorite book on navigating change, written by an expert on change management, William Bridges. And you can find additional resources I've added on navigating change through Bridges 4 Ps: Purpose, Picture, Plan, Part.

STORY: In this opinion column, Irene coaches a leader of a diverse team, many of whom are volunteers, through a change in leadership.

READ MORE: Additional Resources. More on navigating change

BOOK STUFF: Book Club and Book Update. Last week at Book Club and our next book...

PODCAST STUFF: NEW EPISODE! In this episode, we’ll learn what makes some conferences and retreats so powerfully invigorating.

GOING FURTHER: Opportunities to go deeper with the Inquiring Minds community


Inside Public Service

Between now and June 24, Irene is practicing what she preaches by making space to be with the people she loves most in the world, while traveling the world! Instead of a new blog post, I’ve pulled this article from Irene's column on Shasta Scout to share with you.

This story was originally published as part of my monthly Inside Public Service column on Shasta Scout. Would you like to receive free, nonprofit, independent and non-partisan news about Shasta County and beyond? Sign up here.

Here's wishing you spaciousness in your life, however you can find it!

Ed Note: This opinion piece is part of our Inside Public Service series which focuses on providing a window into the workings of government and public service, at a human level. Learn more about the series here.

You might imagine a former bank vice president as a stuffy number cruncher in a suit. Not Juliaray Corbin-Smith. She’s effervescent with a brilliant smile and generous spirit. Maybe that’s why she’s now a Director at O2 Employment, and more pertinent to my coaching conversation, leads a team of 20 Ambassadors at the Redding Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s volunteer Ambassadors are charged with member recruitment, communication, and events. As Juliaray describes it, “We are the face of the Chamber. All different avenues, different businesses, different personalities. All volunteers.”

She immediately launches into the issue that brought her to my office: organizational change. The Chamber’s CEO, Jake Mangas, has recently left after eight years of strong, capable leadership. At the time of our session, a new director had yet to be hired by the Board of Directors.

“That’s a big change in leadership,” Juliaray muses. “As Jake would say, ‘It’s going to be a new season.’ It’s my goal by the end of the year that we’re one cohesive group. But how do I lead this group of 20 ambassadors who are experiencing change, who might not like it, and who will definitely have their own opinions?”

Navigating organizational change can be terrifying. By its very nature, change means giving up something known and familiar for something unknown and uncertain. I tell Juliaray about my favorite book on navigating change: Managing Transitions; Making the Most of Change. It’s written by an expert on change management, William Bridges. While other books on change management talk about logistics and planning, Bridges focuses on people. The reason change is so difficult for organizations, he writes, is because people struggle “to protect their world, and the meaning and identity they got from it.”

I drew a diagram from Managing Transitions for Juliaray showing the three stages of the transition process. At the start of a big transition, like where the Chamber of Commerce sits right now, most people are psychologically in the stage of letting go, what Bridges calls the Endings stage. It’s hard to leave the shores of the safe, the familiar, and the comfortable for uncharted territory. It takes time for people to come to terms with losing something important to them such as status, belonging, space, responsibilities, or control. People get defensive, scared and angry. The trick to letting go is helping people understand why change is necessary, that it’s not about them, and that there’s a better way forward.

Gradually, as those psychological shifts take place more and more people enter the Neutral Zone. This phase is characterized by lots of ups and downs. The old hasn’t fully fallen away but the new hasn’t fully taken shape. The break in normal routines opens the door to experimentation, growth, and innovation on one hand, and frustration, fear, and failure on the other. 

Juliaray said, “Right now, me personally, I’m in the Neutral Zone. I tend to view things as, just because that’s the way it’s always been done, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. I went through a year long leadership program with my old employer and at the end of it I had to give a speech. And I learned that being uncomfortable is okay. That’s why I can fall in that Neutral Zone. Being uncomfortable is okay. It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s just okay. Not everybody is like that.”

I responded, “Yes. I think that until a new CEO starts, it’s natural to be neutral, because you don’t know.”

Juliaray continues, “Yes. I’ve also noticed sometimes I feel like I go backwards, to the letting go stage, when I don’t like what’s happening. Even though I’m okay with being uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes think, ‘Heck, that’s not the way it used to be.’ But the good thing is I can quickly go forward when I know who it is, what’s going to happen, and why.“

“Great!” I say, “Hopefully, you can help the Ambassadors get through this season if you can quickly assess where each person is at. People still in the letting go phase get talked to, and treated differently than people who are in the Neutral Zone, or in the final phase called New Beginnings.”

Juliaray says, “It’s going to be a process to figure out who is in what phase. Some of them I just know. The extroverts are easy to tell if they’re ready to move on or if they’re still stuck. It’s the introverts where I’ll need to say, ‘Hey, can you tell me how you’re feeling?’ I’m not a mind reader.“

“Exactly. In the same ways you can empathize with yourself in each of those phases, you can nurture the Ambassadors through the phases.” 

Juliaray asks, “So how do I move them from the Neutral Zone to the New Beginning?” 

Bridges offers some clear tools to do just that. He calls them the 4 Ps: Purpose, Picture, Plan, Part.

Purpose means keeping all eyes focused on a desired outcome that solves the problem that spurred the change in the first place.

Picture means painting a picture of how that outcome would look, sound, and feel. 

Plan means laying out a step-by-step plan for how to reach the outcome. 

And Part means ensuring that everyone on the team has a part to play. Without a sense of ownership and independence, there’s no buy in for the new beginning you wish to create.

Juliaray responds, “What I don’t want to happen is that we have people stuck in letting go or in the Neutral Zone. We need to show a united front to the business community at large. Even though personally you might be feeling unsure, as a group we need to be supporting the new CEO or the new Plan.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s totally legit. That’s an upfront conversation that needs to happen when it’s just Ambassadors and the doors are closed. If they know that you’ve got their back, if they’re sure you will help them find Purpose and a Part to play, if they’re certain you’ll help them get the answers they need to feel more safe, then they can go out there in public and be 100% behind the Plan, or at least show that outwardly. Afterwards then your team can come back to talk further amongst yourselves at your next private meeting. You model it.”

Juliaray is quiet, taking it all in for a moment. “Yeah. That makes sense. Wow. Just that small diagram makes so much sense! This really helps because I understand these two sides — Letting Go versus New Beginning. I may live in the Neutral Zone right now, but it helped me reflect and see that I, Juliaray, actually go one way or the other too, sometimes even backwards, my job is to bring everyone into a New Beginning mindset, even me.” Juliaray takes a deep sigh then says this one word imbued with so much emotion, “Change.”

“Yes change,” I repeat.

“Change is good,” she says with a glimmer of hope. I notice that hope is tinged with anxiety, perhaps even dread. Yep, she’s right in that Neutral Zone.

“Change it’s scary,” I say. “Where you’re at reminds me of an organization I coached that had a poster on the wall with a quote from computer scientist, Grace Murray Hopper. The quote said: ‘The most dangerous phrase: We’ve always done it that way.’ Their team focused on remembering not to say, ‘That’s the way it’s always been done,’ and instead embrace questions like: What can we do different? How can we make it better? What’s new and exciting on the horizon? There’s always new ways.” 

I continued after a pause, “Like the school I led. After I left they reached new heights that I never would have been able to take them to because the new leader had skills and experience in areas that I didn’t. I did a whole lot of work, but now the school can go way farther in different ways than I could have possibly taken it.”

“Right,” Juliaray said. “That’s what I hope for the Ambassadors too. I think this book will be a game changer for me, not only in this transition, but in general. In this leadership role, it’s not just me. I have to help others get through this.”

And she will.


READ MORE: Additional Resources

Discover more on Bridges Transition Model


BOOK STUFF: and the July/August book picked was

Last week we had author Brigid Shulte join us to discuss our most recent book, Overwhelmed. In addition, we got to learn about her new book coming out in the fall, Over Work: Transforming the Daily Grind in the Quest for a Better Life. It was such a treat for us and Irene will be sharing more in the next blog, upon her return.

As always, those on the book club call are able to vote on the next book and the July/August book is Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. AND if you want to read the first chapter for free, check it out HERE.

See you at Book Club, back on our regularly scheduled last Thursday of the month, our next zoom is July 25 at 4PM PST



In the latest podcast episode, Four ways to make conferences worth the effort with the science of creativity Irene explores what makes some conferences and retreats so powerfully invigorating that they leave us feeling rejuvenated and inspired, even with all the hassle of travel and disturbed routines.



If a chance to truly connect with yourself in nature sounds amazing, if you are looking to rediscover your values or passions, if you wish to connect with other experienced female leaders, then join the Heroine's Journey Leadership Retreat  in Mendocino this September. Glamping. Leadership development. Two exec coaches. Curated group.

And if you want longer term support to make leadership less lonely, theres still space to join the Collective Wisdom Leadership Circle, the cohort meets bi-weekly to support each other in working through big challenges and bringing dreams to reality.

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