Three Stages of Organizational Change

The three stages of organizational change describe the state of an organization today, the desired situation in the future and the interim state between today and when a change’s goals are realized.

  1. Current State
  2. Transition State (also called the Delta State)
  3. Desired State

Accurate and comprehensive descriptions of the three stages (particularly the current and desired states) illustrate why a change is necessary and how we will know it is completed.

Artboard 1-3Current state

Business decisions are based on strategic goals or desire to improve the way things are done today. Even when that decision is made with sufficient data and a careful analysis of “why we can’t stay here,” the logic behind the decision and level of urgency needs to be understood and accepted by anyone affected by the change.

Too often, the people that are expected to accept and adopt a change are not provided with the opportunity to understand the decision to leave the current state. They may only see that the way they have been working is being threatened or even criticized. The case for change and the reason to leave the current state are unclear.

Change practitioners support leaders by developing communication strategies that allow leaders to share the reason for the change. A core component of this messaging isn’t just a description of what to expect from the change, but also the reasons why it is necessary to depart from the current state.

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Transition state

The transition state is also described as the implementation or the delta state. It is the interim stage as the desired state is being actualized.

Even if there is support for leaving a current state and achieving a desired future state, the process of going through the actual change effort may be concerning for those affected. These reactions to the change are normal and expected, and a dip in productivity is often anticipated during the transition state. Change practitioners are tasked with identifying, validating and mitigating reactions that may occur that could impede the success of the change.

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Desired state

Senior leadership creates the vision or definition of the desired state that they believe is best for the company. They are often focused on the big picture, such as future operations, divisions or locations. Seldom do senior leaders look at the desired state through the lens of the impact the change will have on the day-to-day jobs of the people impacted by the change.

People affected by a change will look at a proposed future state from the inside out: what will my job look like? What will my department look like? And finally, what will my company look like?

Change practitioners support leaders to develop a definition of the future state that clarifies the big picture definition while considering the perspectives of individuals affected by the change.


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Describing the states

One of the responsibilities of change practitioners is to understand the definitions of the current and desired states among leaders and stakeholders, and then determine the degree of mutual understanding and alignment on these definitions.

Using the descriptions of the change states, change practitioners aim to solidify three of the top success factors for effective change management:

  1. Clarify the reasons for leaving the current state and determine if they are satisfactory or motivating reasons (particularly from the perspective of leaders and people that will be affected by the change).
  2. Confirm there is alignment among senior leadership on the desired state.
  3. Start identifying potential issues, concerns or risks related to the process of moving from the current state to the desired state.

The Managed Change methodology evaluates five segments of each state:

  1. Structure: How an organization and its people are organized.
  2. Processes: How an organization and its people do work.
  3. People: The skills and competencies of the people.
  4. Culture: People’s beliefs and behaviors.
  5. Metrics: How progress of the change will be measured.

For example, a description of the current state considers the structure, processes, people and culture today. It includes baseline metrics to compare against as a change progresses and upon completion.

Managed Change contributes to clarity and alignment on the current and desired state, while recognizing the potential issues or risks related to the transition state. Learn more about Managed Change and LaMarsh Global’s approach to change.


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