Due to today’s current circumstance, we are all going through ‘change’ or transitioning to newfound routines in an attempt to regain or continue an element of normality within our lives, whether that be work, lifestyle or training related. But, as you’re sat there reading this, I’m sure you can all relate to a time in your professional or social lives where you’ve experienced some sort of change? Whether that was a positive or negative experience initiating the change or on the receiving end of change.
To give a personal example, in March 2016 I was appointed my first strength and conditioning role at a local college in Cardiff, where I was tasked with the responsibility of everything concerning physical development for the ever-evolving college rugby academy. This was a brand new role at the time, so for an already established group of players, director of rugby, coaches, lecturers, senior members of staff, and myself included… The change was inevitable.
During this unusual time (and I know it’s been quoted a number of times already), the famous Charles Darwin quote:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”,
It is very applicable right now, as it was for me in March 2016. The aim of this blog is to give you an insight into ‘change’ and strategies that can be implemented to facilitate a healthy transition, drawing on some of my own experiences and reflections.
Even though the word transition is often used synonymously with change, in reality, they are not necessarily the same. Change can be defined as “an event that is situational and external to us. Something stops or something starts”, while transition is “the gradual, psychological reorientation process that happens inside of us as we adapt”, and is often the result of change. It is important to note that leading change and managing through transition are both equally important as a badly planned or implemented change can create a painful transition while an unmanaged transition makes change less likely to work.
The transition period is typically broken into three phases; the ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning. The neutral zone being the psychological ‘in-between’ time when the old way is finished but the new way is yet to be a reality. It is important to note that some individuals will pass through this phase quicker than others. Hence it is important to keep everyone moving through this neutral zone which can be achieved by clearly defining the steps of transition, through effective communication and the development and implementation of a robust strategy/plan. Based on previous conversations with already established leaders and thorough reading and research, the ‘four Ps’ is an effective strategy, and one I have previously used to facilitate change and lead through transition:
The question of ‘why?’ is answered with clarity – the purpose of the change can be clearly stated, which will assist in people’s progression through the transition phase. Ensure clear communication is used either through regular conversations, emails, PowerPoint presentations, infographics etc.
The question of ‘what?’ – people want an idea of what things will be like and look like under the new leadership, or change of routine/schedule etc. It’s important to ‘paint a picture’ here, which may not be perfect, but must be accurate.
The ‘how?’ – the destination is not enough, people want/need to see a path as a plan holds out the promise. Additionally, this is where strategy is important – all people, feel more secure when operations are in an orderly fashion, whereas, chaos or disorderly changes can create a mindset of insecurity. E.g. prior to any block(s) of training or fixtures I would put a 2-4 slide presentation together outlining the aims of each block and what was expected of each player etc. This allowed me to communicate any aims/expectations while ensuring everyone involved was receiving the same message and for any questions to be asked/answered (two-way communication).
Possessing ownership of some sort will always help people move through the neutral zone much quicker… ‘Make them part of the plan.’ E.g. player responsibility during warm-ups, cleaning the gym, their own recovery and preparation etc. This gives the individuals accountability and a sense of responsibility/belonging during the change.
In summary, to facilitate change and experience a ‘smooth’ transition, communication and strategy are paramount. It is important to identify where individuals are in the three phases of transition while developing and implementing robust strategies for managing endings and leading individuals through the neutral zone and to the new beginning.