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Managing the transition

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Transition management is now a key aspect of any organisation’s change process.

Transition management is about what employees experience personally within themselves. It is concerned with helping employees let go of how things used to be and adapt to the way things are or are going to be. Managing transitions means helping employees to make a difficult process less stressful and disruptive for everyone.

Personal transition

When change occurs, the actions taken by management can impede or enhance employees’ adaptation to change. It is vital to identify the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’ of the proposed change and assess the impact on employees.

The ‘whats’ of a change process include:

  • strategy and principles
  • organisational structure
  • roles and responsibilities
  • reporting lines
  • budget responsibilities
  • individual capabilities
  • consultation process.

The ‘hows’ need to deal with:

  • clear reasons for the change that employees can understand and believe
  • internal one-to-one communications
  • awareness and management of stress
  • emotional support 
  • identifying aspects that individuals and the organisation need to ‘let go’.

The key issue for organisations is to increase transition awareness among its employees and managers at all levels. This will help to prepare employees for change that will occur at work (and in their home life). It will also help managers to manage and support employees during periods of organisational change.

The transition cycle

The transition cycle provides a valuable model for organisations, managers and employees to understand the different phases of transition that all employees and groups will go through during a period of change. Understanding this process helps managers to support employees through this natural human process.

The transition cycle highlights the pattern of feelings and behaviours that employees typically go through when they experience change, whether the change is personal or organisational. The cycle and stages of transition were first recognised in studies of bereavement conducted in the 1960s by specialists such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Later research identified that the process can be triggered by any major life event - good or bad.

Examples of trigger events at work include starting a new role, being made redundant or being re-deployed.


The transition cycle shows the The different phases of transition 
that all employees and groups go through during a period of change.

View larger version of this diagram (JPG)

Description of the diagram

The vertical axis represents an employee’s well-being or emotional state, ranging from an initial positive feeling to ones of denial, anger, guilt and depression. The horizontal axis represents time.

The diagram shows a well-managed change process starting with a high level of employee well-being, dipping slightly but rising again to the same high level. This is compared with a loosely-structured change process which follows a similar pattern but dips to a very low level of employee well-being before periods of resignation, openness, acceptance finally lead to the employee feeling enouraged and involved.

Implications of the transition cycle for organisations and managers

Management style must adapt to different phases of the change process. Launching a change may require a firm, directive style, whereas the transition will require a more supportive and consultative approach.

Trust is a key component for all employees going through the transition cycle. Employees need to trust their senior management team’s competence, credibility and motives for launching any change.

If the transition process is not effectively managed then an organisation is likely to experience some or all of the following:

  • increased sickness absence
  • reduced/poor performance
  • scapegoating
  • loss of creativity and initiative
  • increased grievances
  • resignations.

Preparing employees for transition

There are a number of initiatives and activities that an organisation can employ as part of their plan for transition. The following key factors were first identified by Peter Herriot in his 1999 paper ‘Trust & Transition’:

  • engage in real two-way dialogue, not one-way communication
  • understand the organisational change from the employee’s perspective
  • align the organisations human resources systems to support the employees in transition
  • allow for individual differences in employees capacity to cope with change
  • concentrate on providing adequate training, mentoring and coaching for employees affected by change
  • equip managers and employees with the personal and leadership skills to manage change and the transition process.

Coaching through the transition period

Coaching can play an important role in supporting employees – and managers - through the transition cycle. Coaching helps to move employees from a state of resistance, through conscious awareness and the reality of the change, to an informed state of acceptance and involvement.

Useful links

Page last edited Apr 28, 2017

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