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.
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?