This topic of “transition” came home to me (literally and figuratively) over the Thanksgiving holiday. With our adult kids returning, my husband and I decided it was time to have them go through their “bins” and throw out, donate, or take back with them, their childhood.

The bins in question are tools we employed over the years to keep clutter off of horizontal surfaces, without facing the inevitable conflict that would have occurred by forcing a middle schooler, high schooler, or college student to make a “sort” decision in real-time. With a long weekend at hand, we encouraged our children to dive in.

This cleaning out process compelled all of us to face the many family-related transitions of the last nearly thirty years. I was struck by the following:

  • The “junk to jewel” ratio was exceedingly high.
  • Specific details of difficult times were long forgotten, yet many of the feelings (good, bad, stressed) persisted.
  • Despite the messiness along the way, things turned out OK. And for that, I am grateful.

Big Life Changes Are Often Unsettling

Throughout the course of the weekend, my family “bin” experience recalled what so many of us go through as members of growing companies and shifting teams. Indeed, as I reflect on the times in my professional life that I was most unsettled, I realize that it was often occurring during these “phases of transition.”

And I know you feel it too. As I look at The NemetzGroup’s embedded work with biopharma companies, we are often needed most at exactly these times – serving as a calming voice and reflecting on what is happening in the company, across teams, and in the industry. The emphasis may be on the deliverable, but navigating the transition is where the clarity arises.

Interestingly, when I contemplate the many transitions I’ve seen and experienced over the years within our industry, the takeaways are eerily familiar:

  • The “junk to jewel” ratio is exceedingly high.
  • Specific details of difficult times are long forgotten, yet many of the feelings (good, bad, stressed) persist.
  • Despite the messiness along the way, things turn out OK. And for that, I am grateful.

With that in mind, some recommendations for navigating the transitions in your business (and maybe personal) life:

 #1. Plan for change. It’s inevitable.

Planning accomplishes two things. First, it serves as a steady roadmap along the way. It will certainly evolve as reality reveals itself, but the specifics of a well-thought-out plan will keep you on a path of progress and enhance your ability to perform under stress and in the face of uncertainty.

Second, the creation of a plan — one that defines the company vision and brand strategy; anticipates external trends; incorporates pilots, experiments, and interim solutions — helps get things out of your head and lets those you work with understand where they, too, are headed.

#2. Default to optimism. It’s a choice.

There is a reason the phrase “sh*t happens” resonates with so many people… because it does happen. That’s just part of what it means to be in the game. But adversity and yes, even failure, can be a gift as well. Those who see the glass as always half full need to speak up and help others see what they see.

I am not advocating a head in the sand approach. I am aware that privilege is not evenly distributed, and some problems are insurmountable. That said, senior leaders need to assure the team that “it will be OK,” regardless of what is happening now. They have the experience and perspective to recognize that we have been here before and survived.

#3. Focus on culture. It’s what will be remembered.

People often recall with fondness the early days of having worked with a previous team: small, intense groups of people, striving and succeeding against great odds. The truth is, it wasn’t all pleasant. But as time passes, the specifics fade, and we retain the feelings. Those shared memories are what you are creating today.

So why not go there now, during the transition? Leverage the best skills, characteristics, and efforts available from within and those around you. How people experience what is happening today will be what they reflect on later.

Change Is Supposed to Feel Unsettling

Big transitions are often met with a mixture of fear and concern. That’s understandable. Even under the best of circumstances, transition means a loss of what was and a move into a new unknown.

Knowing that it’s something we all experience and supporting those who are in the midst of a personal or professional transition can go a long way towards easing the anxiety.

Focus on what is important and try to let go of the rest. If my experience is any indication, much of what we are focused so intently on today will end up in a “bin,” years down the road.

P.S. In Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges speaks of Endings, the Neutral Zone, and The New Beginning. A worthwhile read if you want more insight on the topic.