Posts Rites of the Big Transformation

Rites of the Big Transformation


Transformation is a big complex thing. By looking at how people’s relationships and work changes you can use rites of passage to illuminate just how complex it really is.

Balancing Stones Photo by Shiva Smyth from Pexels

A Question of Scale

So far, we have looked at rites of passage that are caused by the transition of a single individual. Someone new entering the company, someone leaving the company, and someone who’s role has changed in the company. Now I want to think about rites of passages for larger groups of individuals. What happens when there is a change that effects the social status of everyone in a department or a company?

These can be simple transitions like the back to work policy after the initial COVID quarantine, all the way to the infamous Agile transformation. The thing here is to note that with such changes, people enter a time of uncertainty.

Pain at Scale

When a change causes uncertainty, we turn to ways to cope. Rites of passage give us ways to cope. However, it may feel different. Before, we were dealing with small insertion points and ripples caused therein. Now, we are dealing with total change, and potential tidal waves of effect.

Ignoring the question of if this should be done at all…

When it is done, planning for uncertainty can ease some of the pain.

Layered Rites

The system must be attended and approached everywhere the change touches. No single solution will help in this regard. Individual groups, sub-groups, social groups, and unofficial groups will be in transition. Each of these containers need to be addressed. This means that an employee may belong to several rites of passage. Each one addressing a different group and helping that group deal with the transition.

This creates a significant load on a single person. They must track where they are within layered rites. To reduce this load, the rites need to take this into account. There need to be simple ways for an individual to track where they are within each rite. Also, it may be necessary for the rites to fit together like a picture formed by puzzle pieces to make this simpler.

Change of Role but for Everyone

Most of the circumstances of a big transformation are covered by the discussion about the changing of roles in the previous post. Since the organization is redefining itself and the roles of its members. So, you will want to start with rites of passage that address this.

Offboarding needs to happen also

No organizational change fits every employee. You will have a certain percentage that will leave the organization. Handling these cases with separate rites of passage will help people cope with that loss.

Onboarding will need to happen

As a transition is a time of turmoil new positions will open. Sometimes to replace people that left, sometimes to fill new roles that the organization has just discovered. There needs to be a plan in place to handle and guide those who are new to the company. It also needs to help those who will be that person’s team(s).


In short, a large transformation is everything blended. This means that there are several types of rites of passages, as well as several different instances of rites of passage all being navigated at the same time. This means that large transformations are highly unpredictable. It may be safer to avoid them, however if they are unavoidable then realize its complexity and plan your rites accordingly.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.