Transition Blindness: What is it and how to avoid catching it

Transition Blindness

What is it and how to avoid catching it  

Transitions, a word that we commonly use and frequently underestimate.  Particularly when it comes to success or failures of change and transformation programmes…… Why?

Terms Change and Transformation are commonly used in our business lexicon.

What both words have in common is that they involve complex, journeys moving from the known to the unknown.  Neatly summed up in one word known as Transitions.

One of the most common challenges I observe organisations facing, is that they overlook, underestimate and often avoid the transitional space.  Focused on achieving results and/or being compliant with regulations and laws, I experience leaders suffering from Transition Blindness.

Despite best intentions of wanting to achieve positive outcomes, the focus to achieve results takes centre stage.  Yes transitions are complex and messy and by that nature, they require investment in time and resources to work through the complexity and challenges.

The risk is that when leaders overlook the transitional space, they create the potential for greater complexity, disruption and dysfunction.  At best this shows up in slow or delayed delivery.  In worst case scenarios, transformation efforts can fail. 

Unintentionally, the impact can also take the form of harder to identify aspects, like workforce morale and motivation.


Transition Blindness

Transition Blindness Model_edited.png


The main symptoms of Transition Blindness are simplification, haste and impatience, these appear in three main ways:

Simplification – Whilst navigating the complexities of their change agendas, organisations have a tendency to lean towards simplistic terms.  The unintentional impact is that it can facilitate tunnel vision.

Change programmes are often given labels, like technology, process, people, regulatory, law, risk, compliance, etc.  The use of simple labels facilitates a dedicated focus for execution and delivery.

This creates a lens where project and programme managers put their attention and efforts.  The practical impact is what they look for is what they see.  Leaders finding themselves surprised when something they hadn’t seen or incorporated derails the progress or success of their projects.

Haste – In the rush to show results and tangible outcomes, there can often be reluctance to invest time and effort exploring the transitional space.

The impact is that complex or divergent aspects on the periphery, often go unnoticed.  Whilst the unseen aspects, don’t always challenge initial execution, they tend to crystallise as the change journey unfolds. 

Impatience – Straightforward tasks like clarifying purpose, conducting capability audits, stakeholder and workforce engagement strategies, become deprioritised over execution and delivery.

The impact is often referred to as ‘resistance to change’.  People are expected to adopt new practices and acquire new skills without fully understanding the change context.  Becoming unable to see or grasp what transformation actually requires in practice.  No surprise they then find the transition from old to new somewhat of a challenge, to say the least.

One of my insights into successful transformations, is that when organisations honour the complexities of their change agendas, they can work with them.  Investing in knowing the transitional space, leaders mitigate the risks that over simplification, haste and impatience create.

This relates to both the ‘what and how’ of people, process and technical aspects of transformations.  For example, whilst the focus of implementing new technology is IT based, it will also involve and impact, people, processes, risk and compliance requirements.  If the interdependent aspects are overlooked then the transformation process can be at risk. 

Change leaders become susceptible to the activities that take place outside of their frames-of-reference.  By investing effort up front and during execution as the transitional journey unfolds, leaders can navigate the complexities of their change challenges.  A more resourceful option as opposed to becoming side-lined or overwhelmed by them. 


Creating a Transition Map

One of the practices that I encourage and support organisations to create is a Transition Map.

Its purpose is to explore and articulate the nature of the transitional space between strategy and implementation approaches.  It draws awareness to the interdependent aspects that are associated with change and transformation strategies, prior to execution.  It’s also a helpful point of reference as a project gets under way and the transitional journey unfolds over time.

Here are some of the key questions that leaders find useful to ask of themselves and their workforces whilst compiling their transition maps:

Objectives – how will the change align to the organisation’s strategy?  What is the purpose of the change?

People – who will this change impact and in what way?  What new capabilities, skills or knowledge may be required, and by whom?

Technical – what new structures, processes, systems or technology, will be required to be developed, adapted or implemented?

Complexity – what are the complexities of this project?  What are the known/ unknowns, what and how are they connected?

Focus – where do the boundaries of the change begin and end?  What factors are required to be connected (people, technical, operational)?

Approach – how will this change impact the culture and/or operational environment?  What approaches are required to establish conditions for engagement and dialogue?

Outcomes – How will our ways of operating be different?   Who do we want to involve outside of the core project team to provide input and feedback on our strategy and approach as it unfolds?

As leaders develop the practice of questioning key transitional topics, both for themselves and others, it helps mitigate the risks of Transition Blindness.  It also acts as a workforce engagement process.

Exploring the interconnected complexities, known and unknowns, crates opportunities for dialogue, exploration and innovation.  Relieving the pressure and burden that a lot of leaders face, that they should have and know all the answers.  It opens up the doors, for new, different and diverse perspectives to be shared, heard and incorporated.  Providing valuable perspectives and insights for the core change team and mitigating the risk of people feeling out of the loop. 

Also it can assist navigating or lowering barriers of power and control.  Supporting the workforce and key stakeholders to be mutually engaged.

Mutuality, in practice facilitates active contributions and participation in the change agenda.  Also mitigating the risk of change being done to them or enforced from a controlling entity outside of their environment.

It’s my belief that Transition Blindness is not a condition that can be immediately eradicated in today’s environment.  It’s going to take time, because of the way that change and transformation practices have evolved over many centuries.

Saying that, I do hold hope, through my experiences to date.  Leaders who do invest in developing transition maps and explore the transitional space, tend to achieve successful change outcomes.  Transformational outcomes, that create sustainable transition practices and capabilities for their workforces and organisations.  This also includes significant increases in bottom line results.


If you are at the start of a transformation journey then I encourage you to factor Transition Mapping into your plan. 


If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please contact us here at Transition Dynamics.

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About the author:  Catherine Hayes is a managing partner at Transition Dynamics and the driving force behind our research and methodology development.  Catherine has over 20 years experience in supporting leaders and their organisations to navigate their change and transformation challenges to deliver tangible results.  She combines her business experience with applied research in organisational and clinical psychology, to create diagnostic tools and approaches that support leaders and their workforces to understand and work with the complexities of their change agendas and transitional challenges.