Letting Go in Order to Move Forward: Organizational Change and Transition

change, church, transition, grief, loss, pandemic, vision, mission, stewardship, pastor, leadership

Letting go is the first step in moving forward. It seems counter-intuitive, I know. A new beginning always starts with an ending. And endings can be painful. Just ask anyone who has lost a loved one, job, house, dream, etc. All of us can say that loss is painful.


So, why do we have to let go in order to start anew? The simplest answer is that we need to let go to make room for the new. For organizations, before you can become different, you must let go of your old identity. Our problem is... we don’t like endings.


One of the biggest obstacles of healthy transition and change for organizations is the failure to identify losses and prepare for endings. Leaders need to think ahead and prepare the organization for some kind of change. And that change will involve endings AND new beginnings.

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their meloncholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another." - Anatole France


We are in the middle of an unknown. Who knows what awaits us on the other side? Most guess that the next era will be filled with challenges and organizations will need to engage in strategic renewal that focus on the most central elements. That is change. Sounds like we are in for some new beginnings. Which means, my friends, that letting go is first. 


“It isn’t the changes themselves that the people in these cases resist. It’s the losses and the endings that they have experienced and the transition that they are resisting. That’s why it does little good for you to talk about how healthy the outcome of a change will be. Instead, you have to deal directly with the losses and endings.” – William Bridges & Susan Bridges in Managing Transitions.


Learning how to lead your organization through change and the emotional work of transition is key. What is the leader’s role in this time of letting go?


Leadership for Letting Go


1. Identify who is losing what.

2. Accept the reality and importance of people’s loss/grief.

3. Acknowledge the losses openly and empathetically.

4. Expect and accept the signs of grieving (anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, depression).

5. Compensate for the losses – ask what can I give back to balance what has been taken away?

6. Communication information over and over and over, even if you don’t have concrete answers. If you don’t communicate, they will create their own reality.

7. Define what is over and what isn’t. Put into words what it's time to leave behind.

8. Mark the endings – create actions or activities that embody them.

9. Treat the past with respect. Honor the past for what it has accomplished and recognize that present innovations are built on the past.

10. Let people take a piece of the old way with them. Find ways to create personal memory to mark then end.

11. Show how endings ensure the continuity of what really matters. Frame the most important part of your organization: mission, values, culture, etc.


It takes courage, and trust in the mission of the organization to withstand the losses and grief in this journey. But the alternative is to not change and therefore is itself a kind of death. 


"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. - AnaÏs Nin


Take heart my friends. Gather your courage. Place your eyes on your purpose. Walk closely with your people. And step boldly in to this adventure. We are committed to walk with you in your transition and change. Look for upcoming workshops for leaders on managing transition and change in May. Reach out for conversation, to vent, for confession and forgiveness, for support and collegiality, or to hear our daily joke. Whatever you need we are on your team.

Stay tuned for the next two stages of transition and change blog, and how leaders can faithfully manage the process for a healthy future.

Kristin Wiersma | Consultant Team Lead | The Joshua Group | email

William Bridges & Susan Bridges in Managing Transitions


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