Articles 2 min read

Saying goodbye. Why is organisational change so tough for people? by Jonny McCormick

As a young adult I had the opportunity to work at a camp in Canada for 4 summers. It’s amazing how quickly you build relationships and bonds with people over a 12–16 week period.

Spending nights around the campfire together, playing stupid games, swimming in the lake, mooching around the local towns and enjoying the stars in the nightsky. It’s a full on experience and it’s easy to see how some of the people have become some of my closest friends.

I can vividly remember the final day of my final year working at the camp. It was punctuated with tough goodbyes made even more difficult by the fact that some of those goodbyes would be for quite a long period of time.

The emotion caught up in saying goodbye is an important marker for helping move on to whatever is next. Without an appropriate goodbye it’s hard to transition. Things remain open, unfinished and ambiguous. So, whilst they are difficult I remain thankful for the opportunity to say goodbye properly.

Photo by Mark Gunn from Flickr. Available here:

Having worked as a consultant in various guises over the past 7 years I’ve spent a lot of time working with organisations that are trying to implement some type of change. The changes can be anything from the way the organisation is structured, how certain processes work, how various departments interact, or how a piece of technology should be used…it doesn’t really matter the nature of the change, one thing that is common however is that the changes are rarely easy. In fact, they’re often complex and peppered with challenges — some seemingly insurmountable.

In managing organisational change it’s always struck me that people feel a sense of loss. It doesn’t mean the change shouldn’t happen, but rather that some people will feel emotionally attached to the ‘old world’ — and this isn’t always a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing if the ‘goodbye’ isn’t dealt with properly. I always like to think about the Bridges change model in these instances. It speaks about allowing people to say goodbye to the way things used to be in order to help them transition to the new way of doing things.

Practically speaking I think there’s one really simple way of doing this. We need to inject humanity into the process of organisational change by recognising that it’s all about people. It’s important to listen to the anger, fear and hesitation as much as you listen to the excitement, positivity and enthusiasm. Sometimes this may seem silly to you as an outsider but habit and repetition are sources of comfort over long periods of time. Doing things a different way requires some patience and practice. People need to be able to process their emotions as they move through what can be a quite difficult time if you want them to transition to the new world with optimism and energy.

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