Making the Most of Transition

Over the years, I have worked with many individuals and organizations to help them transition through major changes - even more so in this economic climate. So, whether you're personally dealing with change or leading your organization through change, this article has tips to help you work through it more effectively. William Bridges, author of bestseller Managing Transitions - Making the Most of Change, has a simple but powerful way of framing change and understanding what it really takes to make transition happen. He distinguishes change from transition, explaining that change is situational and external (e.g., getting a new boss, role, etc.) while transition is internal and refers to "the psychological process that people go through to come to terms with their new situation."

So, why does this distinction really matter? Most of the time, when we talk about change, we focus on the ultimate outcome or result of the change (e.g., 20% cost reduction). Bridges argues that what enables the outcome is transition. Take a look at the overview of his three-step model below to understand how to put this concept into play:

Step 1: Recognize that transition starts with an ending

Every transition starts with an ending, so the first step is to really understand what you have to let go of as a result of the change. In other words, what is "the ending you will have to make to leave the old situation behind?" For example, even something positive like a promotion may mean leaving behind a peer group, a strong sense of security about your ability to do your job, or a work schedule you really enjoyed.

The same concept applies for organizational change. Use the following questions to help you identify who's losing what:

  • What is actually going to change? Be really specific.

  • What may be the ripple effects of the change?

  • Who will have to let go of something as a result of these changes?

  • What is ending for everyone?

Step 2: Understand the neutral zone

The second step is to understand the neutral zone, "the limbo between the old sense of identity and the new." Bridges explains that the neutral zone can be a place where we see tremendous creativity, innovation and revitalization. However, it can also feel confusing, discouraging or chaotic - making people want to escape it entirely. This is why we often see an increase in turnover in major organizational changes. The key is to recognize that the neutral zone has its place and is where old habits start getting replaced with new ones, setting the stage for a new beginning.

Step 3: Make a new beginning

The last step is to make a new beginning. New beginnings are what most companies emphasize when they make changes, often failing to recognize the existence and importance of the two steps above.

So, if you take away just one thing from this article, remember that every transition starts with an ending. Recognizing this will go a long way in helping you navigate through your own transitions and leading others through theirs.