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“Can you hold on for one more day?”
Transitioning from an existing thing to a new thing is hard. I deal with this quite a bit in a professional context. Whether it’s a person transitioning from one role to the next, or a team ceding responsibility to another team — it’s a change. Sometimes it goes smoothly. Other times, not so much.
In the best case scenario, everyone does their best to ensure a smooth transition and makes sure any gaps get filled in quickly. A transition from one role to another is a convenient example. The person currently filling the role assembles a list of items to hand off to the new person that’s going to be filling the role. They have a few conversations. And then the handoff happens. The person who previously filled the role is available to answer questions after the role transition; and remains “on call” to help fill in any gaps that may or may not have popped up during the transition.
But what about scenarios that don’t match this best case?
As an agent of change, one of the things I frequently see is that there is only tacit agreement to change. This is an all-too-frequent anti-pattern.
Let’s examine the role transition example again through this “tacit agreement to change” lens. Pretend that the person currently filling the role doesn’t really want to transition out of that role. So they prolong their stay. “I’ll just do one more…” and “I can still do…” are common refrains in this anti-pattern. Unhealthy friction can develop very quickly between the person currently filling the role and the person who will be filling the role. Trust is a fundamental thing to keep sight of in scenarios of transition. Does the current role holder trust that the new person filling the role can do the job?
A similar anti-pattern can show up when the transition from old to new is bigger and more complex. Imagine a scenario where a team is ceding responsibility of a type of work to a new team. “We need to do onboarding” and “They’re not ready to do that” are common refrains in this pattern. In lieu of a deliberate plan to transition, it’s possible that the team being asked to cede responsibility might do so at an incredibly slow pace. Or they might try and “wait out” the change by seemingly continuing to transition things in an opaque and ambiguous fashion. Remaining involved in the work as “consultants” is another indicator of this anti-pattern. It may not be as helpful as perceived to be. It can further erode whatever trust exists.
I’ve previously written about the BAND-AID metaphor for change — in order to take off a BAND-AID quickly, with the least amount of long-term pain, the best approach is to rip it off. While that approach to change has shortcomings — one positive is that it quickly reduces the amount of ambiguity in change. There are no elongated goodbyes, or “I’ll do this thing one more time” agreements. This is because BAND-AID changes are decisive and quick. In a corporate context, you tend to see these types of changes in cases where a person resigns or is let go.
Now that we’ve looked at specific examples from the world of work, let’s examine what I believe to be the root cause of this anti-pattern.
We hold on to the old to avoid risk.
The old thing is familiar. It’s repeatable. It’s predictable. As humans, we’re intrigued to try the new thing; but the new thing is a somewhat unknown commodity. We often don’t have the courage to try it because we’re so conditioned to predictability of the old.
We can only truly embrace the change that’s inherent in life by letting go of the old in favor of the new.
Wilson Phillips — “Hold On”
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