In part 4 of our series on Frequently Asked Questions about Company Culture, we discuss leadership transitions, decision-making, and why it’s important to make room for your staff to grieve.
Watch the recorded video here, or read below for bonus-filled content.
6. Can you share some tips on how to navigate a big leadership transition?
Transition is one of my favorite words. The last class in my master’s degree was in Change Management, and one of the books we were assigned to read is Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges, Ph.D. He first wrote about this topic in 1980 with “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes; Strategies for coping with the difficult, painful, and confusing times in your life.”
In the Vision and Mission FAQs video, I recommended Dr. Bridges’ other book, Creating You & Co.: Learn To Think Like The CEO Of Your Own Career, which is about reassessing your value as a professional and deciding how to present yourself as a business owner rather than being stuck in a rut of producing outcomes for others.
Dr. Bridges has since passed away, but his books discuss the personal tragedies he endured. His first wife was diagnosed with cancer, and he wrote a book about his journey of coming to terms with that grief. It’s called The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments.
Here are some tips on managing that transition and the culture you are trying to create.
Frame the situation
What is happening that is causing the change to happen?
Maybe you’ve had a shift in leadership, or you’ve lost a key employee, or you’re facing a financial crisis, or you lost an important customer, or you have a personal issue that is affecting your ability to be a strong leader.
All of these will impact your company’s culture, because it is closely tied to your behavior and how everyone else behaves toward you.
So the first step is to recognize what is going on in the situation and define the boundaries by creating a framework. You can start with the Strategic Risk framework, which I describe here.
Look back at what happened in the past
The next step is to do a Post-Mortem—evaluate the data (both good and bad) that led up to this moment.
I explain this concept in detail here: How to Do a Year In Review
Look ahead to the future
Next, imagine a future that you would like to see. Between these two stages is what Dr. Bridges calls a “Neutral Zone”; it’s full of uncertainty as we go between the ending of something that is known, and enter the beginning of something new.
During that transition stage, it’s really important to ask others for their input, especially for those who are experiencing the changes with you. As they leave the past behind and wonder what the future will be like, your staff’s feelings and fears are valid.
Wisely use resources, processes, and budget
During a transition period, it can be tempting to latch on to “instant solutions” like new software, or someone who can come in and fix your problems.
Ultimately, though, you will still be left with root causes that can only be solved with your careful examination. Quick-fix solutions cannot help you navigate unknown situations; that’s where risk intelligence comes in.
I provide some practical steps to finding root causes in this article about Transaction Avoidance Syndrome.
Grieve the loss
Consider the benefit of grieving the losses you’re experiencing. This can sound strange when we’re talking about company culture. But your culture is a reflection of your beliefs and expectations as a business owner. Going through a transition affects everyone differently. For some, it can feel like something is being taken away or ripped out.
Not allowing the grief process to fully set in, or not allowing people to feel sadness and say goodbye, is not fair to them; and it can be very damaging psychologically.
Some business owners might gloss over this stage. Since the owner may have already accepted the changes and is prepared for the next step, they could assume that everyone else has accepted the new direction as well. But staff and other stakeholders often do not have the luxury of time to make sense of what they will gain and lose as a result of the changes.
Employees invest a piece of themselves in their job. So when something changes, it also takes away the routine and certainty that may be very important to them.
It’s important to recognize what will be missing due to the change, or what is being taken away.
Allow yourself and your staff time to grieve that loss.
Grief is normal and healthy. If you allow time and space for grieve to happen, then healing can occur more quickly.
Celebrate the success
Finally, once you arrive at the new destination and you & your staff have overcome the struggles together, be sure to celebrate. You may have grieved the loss of the old, and now it’s time to celebrate the new.
Transitions tie into company culture, because they are a reflection of your shared experiences and which responses are appropriate in the face of change.
Read more about this topic further:
Interested in hearing how you can reverse a toxic workplace? Find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.