Liminal space and navigating successful business change delivery

Shaun Walsh
Shaun Walsh
15.05.2024  |  6 MIN
Liminal space and navigating successful business change delivery - Blog Article by Perform Partners

In business, change delivery almost always orientates around 3 key elements: people, processes and technology. We’ve partnered with clients across a spectrum of industries and what we’ve found is that, in many cases, process and technology are the easiest to transition through change. However, people – by nature – are less linear and can change your intricate project plan into a complex terrain to navigate. By understanding ‘people’ better, leaders can optimise the success of change delivery.

In this thought leadership article we cover reasons for resistance to change, understanding and applying Liminal Space in your change strategies and an actionable 8 step approach to supporting your people through change.

Liminal Space – a concept borrowed from anthropology that refers to a transitional or transformative stage – can offer valuable insights for leaders managing change. This space is where the old ways are left behind, yet the new has not fully taken shape. It’s a potent period for innovation and decision-making, filled with possibilities that arise from uncertainty and are magnified by fear.

Here are 8 common reasons that fuel uncertainty and why people often resist or struggle to change:

  • Fear of the Unknown: Change can bring uncertainty. Employees might worry about how new systems or structures will affect their jobs and if they will be able to adapt successfully. The ‘old way’ is more predictable and comfortable.
  • Loss of Control: Changes can make people feel that they are losing control over their work environment. When decisions are made without their input, or if changes are imposed suddenly, it can lead to feelings of helplessness and opposition.
  • Bad Timing: If changes are introduced at a time when people are in a place of high stress, or when the company is facing other challenges, the additional complexities of change can be felt as overwhelming.
  • Not Seeing the Benefits: Resistance often occurs when the reasons for the change are not clear, when communication is lacking, or when people do not understand the benefits to change. If employees feel that the change is unnecessary or will not lead to improvements, they will likely resist.
  • Changing Job Roles: Changes that might alter job roles or lead to redundancies can create fear about job security and can be related to the sense of self people identify with. Employees who feel their status in the organisation is threatened often resist change to protect their positions.
  • Poor Communication and Engagement: Lack of clear communication about the change process and outcomes can lead to misunderstandings and rumours, which foster resistance. Effective communication and involving employees in the change process is a key step in any change initiative – irrespective of its size, duration or complexity.
  • Previous Negative Experiences: If past change initiatives were handled poorly or failed to deliver on their promises, scepticism can lead employees to resist new changes. Past experiences greatly influence how new changes are perceived.
  • Cultural Misalignment: When change feels incompatible with the way people are used to working, and the proposed changes do not align with the existing corporate culture or values, resistance can occur.
Why is clear communication key for successful Change initiatives - Perform Partners SLT

For change leaders and decision-makers alike, understanding and leveraging Liminal Space can be powerful; it’s a strategic opportunity. To effectively harness the potential of Liminal Spaces, leaders should focus on fostering a culture that values flexibility, rapid learning, and resilience.

Here’s our 8 step approach to transitioning your people through change:

  • Clear Communication: Ensure that all communication regarding the change is clear, consistent, and transparent. Explain the reasons for the change, how it will be implemented, and what the expected outcomes are. Keep everyone informed about progress and any adjustments to the plan.
  • Engage and Involve Employees: Involve employees in the change process from the beginning. Seek their input through surveys, workshops, and meetings. This inclusion can increase buy-in and reduce resistance as employees feel valued and acknowledged.
  • Provide Training and Support: Offer training sessions to help employees acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt to new systems or processes. Providing continuous support through mentoring, coaching, or help desks can also alleviate anxiety and improve competency.
  • Manage the Transition Thoughtfully: Use change management models, such as ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement) or Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, to structure the change delivery. These models provide a framework for addressing both the technical and people side of change.
  • Address Emotions and Concerns: Recognise and appreciate the emotional impact of change. Provide opportunities for employees to express their concerns and fears. Address these through open forums or one-on-one sessions. Demonstrating empathy and understanding can help mitigate negative feelings associated with change.
  • Leadership and Role Modelling: Leaders should actively support the change and model the behaviours and attitudes they expect from their team. Leadership involvement can significantly influence how change is perceived throughout the organisation.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Recognise and celebrate milestones as the organisation progresses through the change. This not only boosts morale but also reinforces the change’s benefits.
  • Monitor and Adjust: Continuously monitor the impact of the change and be prepared to make adjustments as necessary. Solicit feedback and be proactive in resolving issues that arise. This adaptive approach helps maintain momentum and ensures the change is effectively integrated.

Understanding and incorporating this process into your change strategies can provide your business with a framework for successful change delivery. By viewing these periods of change as windows of opportunity, change leaders can drive their organisations to adapt more dynamically to new challenges and market demands.

If, however, the task of assembling an in-house team to drive this change is too complicated or not an option, know that help is available. As an award-winning change delivery consultancy, Perform Partners supports organisations moving through change. We provide teams that drive real change to help you enhance your people, processes, and technology; we get the job done.

Learn more about Perform Partner's FREE Project Health Check product.

Our Change Squads deliver results. As experts in technical and business change, we provide the capability you need, when you need it, offering a scalable and flexible solution to your evolving business initiatives.

Let’s talk today and turn your business challenges into opportunities.

This article first appeared in pro-manchester.


About the author:

Shaun Walsh is the Co-Founder and Director at Perform Partners, leveraging over two decades of leadership experience in business and technical change delivery to guide organisations through periods of uncertainty with impactful solutions. A trained psychotherapist, Shaun also volunteers at a low-cost counselling service, helping individuals navigate personal transformations and challenges. His comprehensive expertise spans diverse sectors, including Financial Services, Real Money Gaming, Defence, and Higher Education, where he has consistently spearheaded effective change.