There’s a lot in transition right now: fall to winter, hybrid restrictions to remote everything (again), a Trump administration to a Biden administration, 2020 into 2021. Just to name a few.
And transitions can be very stressful, as we process things that are ending (especially things we will miss) and anticipate the unknowns ahead. But because change is, in fact, inevitable and a sign of health, we need to do all we can to turn any stress related to transitions into positive energy. Even if the change is not one that we advocated, transitions are times to ensure we optimize our experience and our potential for the future. For communications professionals and organizational leaders, transitions are critical periods for setting up our teams for success.
Often, it needs to start with clear articulation of what is ending. The extraordinary, drawn-out wrap to the presidential election is a classic example of the challenges to successful transition. Since a few days after November 3, it has been pretty clear that Joe Biden would be sworn in as president in January. But is the ‘Trump era’ ending? That isn’t clear at all – and so supporters of the current president and members of his political party are trapped in a very stressful transition. It may be the end of the Trump administration, but just an evolution into the next phase of his influence on Republican politics. Time will tell. In the meantime, given the very divided nature of our citizenry and so our government, optimizing the potential for the Biden administration will also be very challenging.
So, let’s take a look at an easier ‘ending’ to declare: 2020 will soon be over. Thank God. But just getting to December 31 isn’t optimizing our potential for 2021, so this is a stressful time for planning. We now know that vaccines will likely become available during the first half of the new year, enabling us to start thinking about life after COVID-19. How to set up our teams and our plans to make the best use of all twelve of the months in 2021? This leads to another critical step in managing the stress of transitions: once you’ve articulated what is ending, you need to define the expectations for what is ahead. No one expects 2021 to be a ‘normal’ year – and in fact, there seems to be considerable agreement that no one knows what ‘normal’ will look like anytime soon. So setting expectations for 2021 must include caveats and assurances that adjustments to expectations can and will be made. Armed with those assurances, teams can get energized to work on potential paths forward.
After defining (and honoring) endings and then setting expectations (and incentives) for what’s ahead, the third critical consideration for managing transition stress is robust communication and connection. Transitions are times of disorientation: ground is shifting, people’s attention seem to be diverted, sources we look to for guidance are re-booting. So ensuring that teams have confidence that they have access to whatever information is available becomes key; knowledge that others are working in the same, challenging dynamic becomes essential to maintaining esprit de corps. Times of transition require communication frameworks that effectively deliver information needed at every level of organizations in ways that meet both on-demand requirements as well as long-term, aspirational and directional messaging to keep teams on track. In times like these, our colleagues want to know both where we are going, and what they should be doing right now.
Define the ending. Imagine the road ahead. Keep talking.