Today’s post is the monthly reflection from the June 2004 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

GraduationIt’s that time of year. The sound, sight and feeling of graduation have been in the air for many people. It can be a fun time. It can be an emotional time. I still remember the night of my high school graduation and you likely still remember yours, too. It’s certainly a time for celebration, but most importantly a time for closure. Both are critically important. And when combined together, they can be very powerful.

Two years ago, a friend of mine decided to leave behind her business career to return to school to study for a Masters in Social Work. Like a time warp, Laurie has already arrived at her graduation. She contacted me about a month ago because she had been put in charge of a team who was planning a “termination activity” for their graduation luncheon. Graduation seems to candy-coat the truth. It is a fluffy way of looking at the reality of transitions in our lives. Termination sounds more severe, yet truthful. In all the joy and celebration of graduation, it is still an ending. Laurie and her team had it right. They understood the importance of intentionally bringing closure. It is about creating a defining moment to end something — specifically so something new can begin.

This is significant when school’s out for summer — but it also has huge implications in a workplace where change is so persistent. Over the past ten years, I spent a significant amount of time working with successful experienced professionals going through career transitions. In that time, I came to realize the importance of closure. Author William Bridges, in his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, did exceptional work in helping us understand the psychology of transition. He talks about the three key stages of the process as being Endings, the Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. While the process is not exactly sequential, it is certain that without an ending it is far more difficult, if not impossible, to truly arrive at a new beginning. Unresolved endings are like anchors that keep us from soaring forward into new chapters of our career and life.

Termination is also about accomplishment. It is about being finished. It could be about cutting your losses. Hopefully, it is about success. Regardless, termination is important.

When we think about graduation, we think about BIG transitions. The idea of termination, however, is vital in numerous transitions in our work. It could be big, as in cases of mergers or acquisitions. But it also might be as simple as the end of a project or process. It could be the transfer to a different team or division. It might be the relocation to a different city. The key becomes understanding the importance of creating a termination celebration.

At some point, I am sure you have heard someone say, “He never really graduated from high school.” Of course, this statement has nothing to do with obtaining a diploma. It has everything to do with bringing closure and moving forward.

Do you have a termination celebration strategy in your organization? A well-thought strategy can transform how you on-board new hires, how you handle transfers and promotions, or how you manage resignations and outplacements. Change itself is not the challenge. It is the process of change and how we walk through it that determines if it propels us or destroys us.
How do you celebrate termination — personally and professionally? Do you have an unresolved ending? If so, retroactively create a termination celebration — or at least get a strategy for future endings. There will be many more to come. Let your mortarboard fly — and land on a great new beginning!