You know things are changing at work, but it’s hard to put your finger on the specifics. In fact, there isn’t a vocabulary to describe what you sense is happening around you. Could it be a shift in business strategy, or a pending organizational announcement? A new way of doing things, or a new tool or technology? You feel it, and yet…

So what’s going on here?

You may be experiencing a hidden transition.

A hidden transition is a change that is not fully defined or articulated, but is real and happening, all the same. Michael D. Watkins in his book, The First 90 Days, mentions these kinds of transitions, focusing on senior leaders. He attributes hidden transitions to changes in leaders’ roles and responsibilities. These changes can be the result of an acquisition or a divestiture, or an external pressure–such as, a new regulation or a significant change in the competitive landscape that spells opportunity or retrenchment.

The source, however, isn’t as important as the nature of the transition–that is, it operates under the radar. People pretend it isn’t happening, or avoid dealing with the reality of it. As it remains unexplained, the transition festers and affects the work environment. It corrodes trust at every level, which hurts leaders’ effectiveness, compromises employees’ productivity and collaboration, and impacts relations with customers and other publics. Keeping it hidden is not the answer.

The antidote to a hidden transition is communication.

As a trusted advisor, the internal communicator is well-positioned to consult with leaders to put a language to the transition, ensure that what is known is documented, and establish guiding communication principles for the short term and over time, which are sensible and complement external communications. The internal communications professional guides the leaders to messaging that is clear and consistent, in the most effective forums, in ways that are candid and sensitive. What’s more, the internal communications professional revisits the messaging to ensure that the information is current.

The point is, hidden transitions are dangerous to an organization and choosing to avoid this type of transition and keep it under wraps compounds the danger.

The internal communications professional is a steward of the company’s culture capital. This is an important role that must continually advocate for what is best for the company, and for using communication inside the organization as a catalyst for engagement, progress and results.


Have you ever experienced a hidden transition? And if so, what did you observe? Did you do something that you were proud of? Or is there something that you would have done differently?