I spent time last week with my cohort from the University of St. Thomas doctorate program in Organization Development. We talked a lot about change, managing through change, and how it is a lot like death. But as many of us have learned, dying really is just a new beginning. No more was that true then on Monday when I was witness to my son walking across the stage to accept his degree from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Four very short years, and now he is completely out on his own, and I’m proud to say with a job offer already. It is both an ending and beginning for him (and myself), in many ways it is like a death and a birth at the same time. Saying goodbye to friends and experiences that he most likely will never experience again, and coming into the new experience of work and establishing new friends and connections.
As we come back to work after this Memorial Day weekend, having taken time to reflect on those who sacrificed for our sakes, and the families who have had to go through the process of loss. Let us look into our own organizations and ask ourselves, ‘where are the endings and new beginnings happening here?’ I am sure they are all around us, change is constant. It could be someone changing jobs, or a part of our job going away and a new part added, office locations changes, a new employee, losing a client, setting a new strategy… By taking the time and reflecting, we open the door to endless possibilities of assisting others (and ourselves) through the experience that endings and new beginnings gives us. It is those organizations that manage through these transitions of change that truly maintain their competitive advantage and organizational health.
Many of you may have heard of William Bridges’ work regarding change, endings, transition, and new beginnings. It parallels nicely with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on death and dying. The simple image he uses is of the three phase transition:
The need to recognize the ending, celebrating it, and letting go is like a commencement ceremony. The neutral zone is critical for all of to go through and process in different ways. For my son it meant a trip to Colorado before he starts his job, so he can climb a few 14k ft mountains, and for others it may mean backpacking across Europe. It is when we work effectively through the ending and neutral zone, we are better prepared to take on and experience fully the new beginning. It is when we don’t take the time and reflect and process through those other zones that it cheats us of the new experiences and opportunities that are ahead, by holding us back in the past.
Again, I encourage you this weekend to be reflective, to come back from the weekend and take a moment to list all of the ways in which change is impacting you and those around you. Then ask, what are we going to do to help ourselves and others maximize our collective potential in these situations, and are we allowing ourselves to be truly reflective?