How to shift your organization from loss to liberation.

Liberation and Loss
June 24, 2012

Sometimes, organizations can make thoughtful preparations for change. Transitions might be sought after, planned for, and discussed. At other times, circumstances shift with sudden torque. Rapid change brings stress and opens the door for strong reactions – even when the news appears to be good.  I had the chance to work with two clients, one hit with bad news and the other, good. What I observed taught me a bit about how to support clients in managing change.
Client A received notice that a key program had lost funding.  They had eight weeks to transition staff, close the office down and help clients find their footing.  As they came to see the magnitude of the change, they went through anger, regret, frustration, sadness, relief, enthusiasm, and joy. 
In the same week, Client B received news of a large grant award. They would have to expand their organization and had eight weeks to hire staff, find more office space and conduct a major outreach campaign to potential clients.  Again, I saw anger, regret, frustration, sadness, relief, confidence, and joy.
Opposite experiences, but identical reactions?  Interesting!  I also discovered that those who worked most intimately with each project showed signs of relief, enthusiasm and joy.  Whether they experienced loss or gain, staff had spent long hours working toward unknown outcomes.  Definitive news, good or bad, provided relief followed by acceptance and joy. Once they acknowledged change, they moved on to tasks, even unpleasant ones.  News brought them liberation.
In both cases, those more distant from the projects experienced delayed and typically negative reactions.  Why wasn’t I consulted?  How is this going to affect me?  Why do things have to change?  Even for Client B, where the news was good, those further from the direct work spoke of loss.
Then, it was my turn. As I worked with each organization, I became aware that I was facing a similar dilemma. My son, Rafael (turning eighteen in two weeks) was expressing joy in moving on with his life. I wanted to celebrate with him, but the prospect of this change came on me with great intensity.  I was losing my son to that great unknown - adulthood.  In the midst of my grief and confusion, who was I to facilitate clients moving from loss to liberation?
Rafael turned out to be my greatest teacher. He asked me how I was feeling.  And he asked often.  When I spoke to him, he didn’t roll his eyes (much). He listened and let me rant. He continued to keep lines of communication open. And when it was complete, I am able to celebrate his upcoming rite of passage and I discovered new insights to bring to my clients.
It doesn’t take big milestone decisions to elicit feelings of loss and liberation in an organization.  They arise on a daily basis.  The key:  listen with compassion and communicate openly.Releasing the charge loss can carry will open you up to the possibilities for growth that were there all along.


Elemental Partners cultivates healthy and prosperous organizations through clarity of purpose, alignment of principles, and integration of systems.

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Elemental Partners contracted with the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO) to facilitate some organizational and program development work.  Check out their good work at

Elemental Partners contracted with ZeroDivide to facilitate a values-based integration process.  Check out their good work at

Kevin will be facilitating a staff retreat for the Asian American Justice Center in Washington DC on June 28, 2012

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