Transition: How do you start?

“This is an evolution not an event,” I added sincerely as I sat with a colleague on the eve of his first major downsizing.  He was the CIO of a major insurance company.  It was the early 90’s. None of us were fatigued yet by downsizing.   He was visibly worried as he sat thinking through the likely impact of a meeting scheduled for the next morning.   I was on my soapbox of ‘enlightenment through defining a problem correctly.’  I urged him to think about a broader set of actions: the message to the employees who would stay, the required behaviors of his management team in the days and months that followed, his willingness to help those who would be on the receiving end of a sobering message.

It was not the feedback he was expecting to get.  In his angst the moments that would follow his critical event didn’t exist.  Ever been there?

I’ve often channeled this ‘ it’s an evolution not an event‘ mantra during my transition.  As a culture we are so programmed to experience EVENTS.  Share the replay.  Move on.  Not so transition.

“Exercise your voice,” I said boldly to a group of women who had come to share with me their thoughts on transition.  We were discussing how you might begin a transition before its formal start; before leaving a job, before exiting a marriage, before starting.  Remember, William Bridges, in his “Transition: Making Sense of Life’s Changes,” talked about transition as “a process: an ending, followed by a neutral zone, followed by a beginning.”  Does starting transition mean that the ending is behind us?  What do you think?

With this group I shared a story of another friend who had deftly started a conversation that exercised her voice – and began her transition.   She was a career IT soldier.  Very capable.   Along the way she had gotten a chance to participate in an organizational development project.  It inspired her.   She wanted to work more in this field but knew that she wouldn’t get the time of day from any recruiter for a fancy change management role.

So, she wrote down the thoughts and observations that she had garnered from her initial foray into change management.  She used this document as a calling card to network with folks on this new topic.  Her outreach went something like, “I’m developing thoughts on XXX, would you be willing to provide me some feedback.”  Networking got her the meetings.  Her growing voice gave her the currency to make those meetings matter.

Maybe the transition for this woman started when she began enjoying her experimental project in organizational design. Maybe it didn’t begin until her paycheck said something other than IT.  Not sure it matters.   What does matter I think are three things:  that we begin, that we exercise our voice, and that we recognize that it evolves.

Here’s a funny lens into this.  One day my two pre-school children stopped by my office for a quick visit and a snack.  The 6 foot white board was the true highlight of their visit.  By coincidence my boss happened to stop by.   He had never met my children.  He stepped into the office, reached around my daughter, and shook my son’s hand first.  Now, my daughter is older, physically bigger than my son, and practically standing in his way.  To execute this task required thought.  After introducing himself to my son he stepped back and greeted my daughter.   Did I mention that his vocal tone with my son held a spirited almost locker room buoyancy?   Not so for my daughter.   Was I imagining this?  I remember thinking how peculiar this was.    Maybe I was too fatigued to process it all correctly.

If you follow the above my transition could have started long before its triggering event with hand shakes and white boards.   It honestly doesn’t matter.  I’m surprised, no delighted, by the energy I derive from it.   When I look at my calendar I’m almost giddy with excitement with what I have going on.  From my humble perspective William Bridges was right on when he posited:   “For those willing to pursue a transition, ‘renewal,’ ‘revised purp0se’ and ‘energy’ will be the outcome.”   Are you ready to start?

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