Handling Change and Transformation by Sally Walker

Learning how best to handle times of change and transition is incredibly important. It will save you from depleting your energies unnecessarily and hopefully provide you with the focus that you need to persevere to attain your goals.  

Let us take as our starting point the definition of “change” as an external event that happens to us at a particular moment in time. The change could be something positive, such as learning out you have secured a much sought-after promotion or it could be more challenging, for example finding out about ill health or job redundancy. What we sometimes forget is that there is a significant period of personal “transition” that we go through after we have received notice of that change. It takes time to get used to the change and reach acceptance of it. This processing can often take weeks and sometimes months, particularly if the change has been unexpected. Adding to the complexity is the fact that very often we have more than one change event happening at the same time and therefore we have multiple transitions to adjust to internally. A career coaching client I am currently working with, for example, is not only looking for a new job and coming to terms with the experience of redundancy but is relocating as well and is also suffering bereavement of a close family member too.  


When you are reflecting on your own periods of transition it might be helpful to recognise that there is a typical emotional journey that most people experience at these times. You’re normal to feel these ups and downs. Let’s walk through them:


Denial phase: Typically, this happens right at the beginning of your transition when you cannot accept yet that this change is taking place. The reality has not yet sunk in. If you are in this phase you might find that you are avoiding talking about it with others who are close to you. You are trying to pretend it isn’t happening.


Resistance Phase: Once the reality of the change has sunk in, you might find yourself journeying through a variety of negative emotions. Sometimes there will be anger or frustration directed at yourself or the past – why did I accept this challenging promotion? Why did I sign up to this highly academic course? Why did my former organisation not value all the hard work and extra hours I put in? Sometimes these feelings might be justified and suggest that before accepting a change in future you should do more research, more due diligence into the future situation. More likely, these feelings are part of the natural and normal anxiety about change. Many of us are fearful about entering into new territory, leaving the comfort of security and all that is well known behind us.


Chaos Phase: As you start to move forward in your transition it is very common to feel overwhelmed. It might seem as if there is so much that is new to be investigated and to come to terms with. It can feel chaotic. For example, when you join a new employer there can seem like an overwhelming number of new things to take on board, including meeting a myriad of new colleagues, learning different systems and technologies, understanding your job scope and so on. Whatever the transition you are experiencing, breaking your activities into bite-size, manageable chunks can be very helpful at this stage. Remember too to seek help from others. Ask your new colleagues for help to decipher company acronyms, create allies in support departments like HR and IT so that you can quickly learn how to do your expenses and resolve technical problems. If you are going through job search seek out a trusted friend or career coach to help you break the process down into actionable activities.


Exploration Phase: Hopefully now you are starting to experience some of the positive emotions that can be triggered by a change. It can be challenging but also very exciting and energising to learn something new or to start researching alternative career directions. You might start to feel inspired as you take on board new ways of doing things. Hopefully, you can also proactively weave some fun and relaxation into whatever transition you are experiencing at present. It is natural too during this phase to feel moments of anxiety or a dip in self-confidence too. Very often when we are in new circumstances, we question ourselves; we wonder sometimes what we are good at. It can be helpful during this phase to try to spend a bit of time continuing to do something that is in your comfort zone, and that does make you feel positive about yourself. For example, if you are job searching at present you could volunteer in a charity to keep your skills up to date and most importantly retain your self-confidence and sense of identity and self-worth.


Commitment Phase: Slowly but surely, we move through our emotional journey of transition towards an enriched sense of direction and of being in control once again. Hopefully, this transition will have strengthened your resilience. You may be finding you are better able to keep perspective when uncertain things happen or things go wrong and you may now be able to identify some of the unexpected silver linings, positive aspects of change that have arisen.


Sally Walker is an accredited Career Coach with twenty years’ experience of energising and supporting individuals who are seeking to transform their careers. She is Director of her own business, SW Career Coaching Limited, as well as a senior associate consultant for several global consultancies where she delivers pan-European career-related coaching, interactive webinars and workshops. She is a regular social media contributor on career matters, as well as guest presenter on the radio and has published an e-book on Assessment Centres.

Sally is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development as well as a registered member of the Career Development Institute. She has an international Human Resource leadership background having worked for a number of world-leading multinationals and has had assignments based in Belgium and France.