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Transition (the noun) is defined as the process or a period of changing from one state (or condition) to another*, and with respect to business, I will say this is a constant state... the exception I suppose is when a business is stagnate (showing neither growth nor decline). Even this stagnation though will tip either towards growth or decline in time, and return the business to its natural state of change. BY DEFINITION, A BUSINESS IS ALWAYS IN TRANSITION... sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but always transitioning, one way or another.
I wrote a recent blog on the topic of Businesses in Transition contemplating the processes and stewardship that good leadership uses to navigate the natural changes of business for long term success, growth, and viability... a glimpse at the natural evolution of a well run company.
But what about business transition by "revolution"?
You know, a sudden, complete or marked change in the business due to poor performance, a change in leadership, a merger and/or acquisition, or the loss of your biggest client... the list could go on, but these tend to be some of the bigger reasons.
Revolution conjures up the stories of accidentally walking in on someone being terminated, a senior leader hearing about her termination by voicemail, people escorted out of the building with a career's worth of belongings in a box, or a 300 person business reduced to three; the figurative and bloodless sound of the guillotine echoing through the hallways. If you are in the private sector, particularly in a public company, I can say with great certainty you will go through a merger and/or acquisition sometime in your professional career... and probably more than once. I've gone through no less than seven and some were very much a business transition by revolution".
Sometimes the natural evolution of a business will lead to a revolution as part of the plan; it is the natural order of things as a business grows. Revolution is simply an aspect of the magnitude of change that occurs as a result... and as I've said, "BY DEFINITION, A BUSINESS IS ALWAYS IN TRANSITION". It is fair to say that business transition by revolution refers to "big change".
So what have I gleaned from the experiences?
If you are "Leading the Revolution"
Don't underestimate how difficult leading a revolution can be - It can get very complicated to move an idea forward, incorporate new strategy, integrate new systems and processes... all the while managing the people and emotion that comes with big change.
Communication is imperative to counterbalance rumour, speculation and misinformation - If you don't communicate what is happening and how things are going, people will simply make things up... and as they say, "Fantasy is far more interesting than reality."
It may be an obvious, straight forward, intellectual "business exercise" to you, but people will make it emotional very quickly - What you are doing may be the right thing on paper, make sense as business goes, but it will create the discomfort that comes with change, most likely shift people's roles, and in some cases make a person's position redundant... all very emotionally charged topics.
If you are "Participating in the Revolution"
You will be asked to do difficult things - You may be asked to lead the change people don't want, give the answers people don't like to hear, and tell people the organization does not want them anymore... if you are participating in a revolution your hands will get dirty; figuratively speaking.
Ensure what you say is aligned with the company's message and don't feed the rumour mill - You will be on the frontline hearing it all (real and imagined); it is important to stay on message regarding what is happening and any conversations you have, lead them back to your Leadership's message of what's happening, why, and the reasons... as they say, "With the fog of war, the first thing to die is the truth"; do your best to keep the truth alive.
Offer candid feedback to those leading the revolution because they need a clear understanding of the situation - You are the lynch pin between those leading the revolution and those caught up in the revolution. It is important to let those leading know how it is going, what people are saying, and any issues... articulate the clearest picture possible to support better course corrections.
If you are "Caught up in the Revolution"
Stay focused on "business as usual" because that's the only thing you can influence - It is easy to get caught up with all of the things going on around you but in the end, you can only impact your role and its responsibilities... show everyone you are really, really good at what you do.
Ask questions, and where possible, understand how you can support the revolution - Knowledge is power as they say and this is how you identify opportunities in the future... let people know you are engaged.
Understand what is happening intellectually and not emotionally - Business is an intellectual pursuit... try really, really hard not to make it emotional; this can be very, very difficult sometimes.
Throwing someone else under the bus is no guarantee it will save you - In other words, don't try to prop yourself up by putting someone else down... it rarely works, makes you look bad, and is a big waste of energy.
A business transition by revolution, unlike a more traditional one with people shooting at each other, cannot be suppressed or crushed. Once started, the business transition by revolution can only move forward, maybe a little sideways, but never back. Change will happen and you cannot stop it... it's best to accept it, understand it, and look for the opportunity.
Because in a business transition by revolution, you can always be guaranteed there will be opportunity.
* Thank you Internet for the definition.