Using Transitional Objects for Successful Change Management

Every workplace has been touched by rapid change in the past year. As leaders strive to adapt quickly and pivot as circumstances continue to change on a daily basis, they must guide their teams through uncertainty and transformation. Considering that about 70% of all change initiatives fail under normal circumstances, it is more important than ever for leaders to be ready to help their employees adapt quickly and effectively. 

Co-Author of The Pivot Point: Success in Organizational Change,  Dr. Victoria M. Grady, cautions against the belief that change initiatives fail simply due to “employee resistance.” Instead, she encourages leaders to take a deeper look at why people resist change. It is not that people are against change, but rather that they are attached to the current state of being. People feel most secure when they know what to expect each day. She believes “that resistance to change isn’t about resistance at all. The difficulty employees have with change is instead a natural response that is grounded in human nature and provides us with a hard-wired biological instinct, not an empty excuse, for a reaction that is as common as change itself.” Her research of more than 100 organizations in seven different countries has revealed a better approach to helping employees adapt to change. She has found that the use of transitional objects can greatly improve the outcomes of change initiatives. 

The concept of transitional objects comes from developmental psychology. For example, when a child is nervous about the first day of school, they might take a teddy bear or other comforting item from home to help cope with their first real separation from home and family. As adults, we learn to use different tactics to manage uncertainty, and the transitional object may look more like a routine or ceremony than a physical object. When people experience significant change, they will need support to make it successfully to the other side. Leaders that deliberately integrate transitional objects to support their teams will be better positioned for successful change management. While it’s probably not necessary to give each employee a teddy bear, there are some simple ways any leader can provide transitional objects for support. 

  • Give Employees a Choice – Change can be more palatable when people feel included in the decision-making process. For example, suppose a business is downsizing office space because more employees are working remotely. In that case, leaders can let team members choose their own workspaces or give input on the layout of desks and meeting space. Being included in some aspects of the planning will provide individuals with a sense of control and security during stressful times.
  • Connect the strategy to a mission. When communicating about upcoming changes, leaders should connect that change to a greater purpose or mission. Helping employees focus on a collective goal or mission can provide a unified sense of purpose. A common mission can give a sense of security and familiarity during big changes. 
  • Create or maintain rituals. These rituals don’t have to be complex or lengthy. It could be as simple as a weekly stand-up meeting (or Zoom) where each team member shares what they are looking forward to in the days to come or their best accomplishment of the week. Creating a practice that is a dependable part of the workweek can go a long way while managing the anxiety of change and uncertainty.
  • Develop their change management skills. Investing in leadership development that strengthens emotional intelligence and change management skills can prepare your team for whatever might come next. Prioritizing your team’s professional growth not only helps the individual learn critical leadership skills but also improves their ability to help others manage organizational change.  

About Crestcom International, LLC.

Crestcom International, LLC is an international leadership development organization, training more than one million leaders for 25,000 businesses in over 60 countries across the globe. Crestcom achieves this through a blend of live-facilitated multimedia video, interactive exercises, and shared learning experiences. Crestcom implements action plans and coaching accountability sessions to ensure measured development in key leadership competency areas. For more information, please contact your local Crestcom representative found here.