Category Archives: Managing Change

Managing Change and Uncertainty

Moving Market Share

How do you and others in your organisation deal with the challenges of major change and uncertainty?  I want to draw on the writings of Dr. William Bridges, with whom I was very impressed when I listened to him at a Human Resources conference in Sydney some years ago.  Bridges has written a book called Managing Transitions – Making the Most of Change, which is still as relevant as the day he wrote it.

Bridges’ book discusses the strategies that can help people move on from denial and resistance to exploration and commitment (as per the previous blog and my words, rather than his).

Bridges states that the reason why most major change programs are not effective is that they do not address the people issues.  He says, “Transition is different (from change).  The starting point for transition is not the outcome but the ending that you will have to make to leave the old situation behind.  Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place.  Nothing so much undermines organisational change as the failure to think through who will have to let go of what when change occurs. “

Bridges identifies three phases during the transition period.  These are:


Endings: The failure to address the endings and losses that change brings about is the single biggest reason for the failure of change programs.

 The Neutral Zone: This comes after the letting go of the old, but not yet embracing the new.  It is the limbo land between the old sense of identity and the new.  The old is gone and the new doesn’t feel comfortable yet.

New Beginnings: People usually successfully make the new beginning only if they have first made an ending and spent some time in the neutral zone.  Most organisations pay no attention to the need to properly address endings, and do not recognise the existence of the Neutral Zone.  They then wonder why their staff have so much difficulty with change.

Facilitating Change concept in word tag cloud

Many organisations lack the awareness or unwillingness to address these three phases.  I was once asked to work with two large companies which were about to undergo a merger.  A consultant hired to oversee the change management training said to me, “I’ve found that a two-hour training session is enough time to help staff deal with change.  Wouldn’t you agree?”  I told her that I definitely didn’t agree, and the end result of our discussions was that all the staff received a half-day workshop, and the managers an extra half day, given their key role in helping to ensure sustained benefits from the training.

In more recent years I have also worked with organisations which have been prepared to deal with these key issues.  In my next blog, I will discuss various strategies that Bridges recommends for dealing with each of the above three phases.

How have you, others and the organisation dealt with the above three phases?

What (if anything) needs to be done differently?


Change Isn’t What It Used to Be!

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”                                                                                                                               Lao Tzu

Change Word Barrier Breaking Revolution Adapting

These words were uttered 2500 years ago, yet are relevant today.  Ashleigh Brilliant  quipped that change isn’t what it used to be – this also contains some truth.  Change is increasing at an exponential rate; just consider all the technological and other changes impacting us in the last 20 years to recognise this.

How do we deal with all this ongoing change?  Some personality models suggest that some of us deal better with change than others, and in fact, even thrive on change. 

For instance, the DiSC model suggests that personalities who are primarily Directing (outgoing and task focused) or Influencing (outgoing and people focused) tend to embrace change more effectively and enthusiastically than those who are primarily Stabilising (reserved and people focused) or Cautious (reserved and task focused).

Another model suggests that we tend to go through four phases when dealing with major change and uncertainty.  It was adapted from the one developed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who discussed the five stages of grief related to death and dying in her ground-breaking book On Death and Dying in 1969.  The stages she defined were: (1) Denial (“This can’t be happening – not to me”), (2) Anger (“Why me?  This isn’t fair.  Who is to blame?”), (3) Bargaining (“I’ll do anything if I can have a few more years.”), Depression (“I’m going to die soon so why bother with anything?), and finally Acceptance (“I can’t fight it, so I may as well prepare for it.”).

The four-phase change management model that I use with organisations is as follows:

Denial:Refusal to acknowledge the reality of the change (“This isn’t happening,” or “I’ll just ignore it.”).

Resistance: Refusal to accept and work with the change (“This is terrible!  I”ll fight it.”).

Exploration: Not fully embracing the change, but willing to consider it (“This could work.  I’ll try it.”).

Commitment: Fully embracing the change; wanting to make it work (“This is great.  It had to happen.”).

Years ago I was at a seminar on mergers and acquisitions.  At one point a participant stood up and told us that he was part of a company that had been taken over by another company 18 years before.  He indicated that people from the ‘old’ company were still refusing to talk to staff from the ‘new’ company, and were still wearing the ‘old’ company uniform!  I was astounded.  Another participant told us that this had happened to his company too, but it was only twelve years ago! 


Is that denial or resistance?!?

While denial and resistance are very human ways of dealing with major change and uncertainty, and are not inherently ‘bad’, they can be very destructive if they continue in the way demonstrated above.  Perhaps the management of both organisations had a lot to answer for. 

In my next blog, I will discuss ways to help people move from denial and resistance to exploration and commitment.

Do you recognise yourself and others having been in the above phases? 

To what extent were you/they stuck?  What (if anything) helped you/them move on?