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  • Writer's pictureCorinne Visscher

June 2020 Book Recommendation

“Managing Transitions” (4th Ed.) by Williams Bridges with Susan Bridges, illustrates the subtle, yet ever so important difference between change and transition. Change is situational - it is the thing that happens - a ‘moment’ in time. Transition on the other hand, is the three-phase psychological process that people go through in order to adapt to a new situation:

Phase 1: Endings, Losing and Letting Go

Phase 2: The Neutral Zone

Phase 3: New Beginnings

Transition is a necessary part of change - and it takes time. If transition does not happen, the desired outcome will not be achieved.

“Managing Transitions” shows that fortunately, there is much that organizational leaders can do to support their teams and employees to effectively move through the three phases of transition. Here are some highlights:

Ending, Losing, Letting Go

  • Each transition is different for every person and every situation. It’s important to identify what people are losing as an effect of the change.

  • Those who coped well with ‘the way things were’ may have more difficulty with the transition.

  • Accept and acknowledge the reality of the loss - and importance of the loss - for people.

  • Expect and accept feelings of grief and loss.

  • Don’t be surprised with over-reactions (sometimes past experiences with loss can resurface).

  • Compensate people for their losses (compensation does not need to be monetary).

  • Provide information - over and over again.

  • Clearly define what is ending, and what is continuing on as usual.

  • Clearly mark the ending of the ‘old ways’.

  • Be respectful of the past (don’t belittle or talk negatively about the ‘old ways’).

  • Allow people to take a piece of the ‘old ways’ with them.

  • Highlight how the ending will allow for a continuation of the things that really matter.

The Neutral Zone

  • This is a very challenging time where the ‘old ways’ no longer work, but the ‘new ways’ don’t quite work either.

  • This is a time where there are opportunities to be creative!

  • Help people to understand that this phase is ‘normal’ - and that it is not wasted time. It is a space of time that allows for reorientation, redefining and reconfiguration.

  • Redefine ‘The Neutral Zone’ by using words that have positive meanings. An excellent example from the book is to use the metaphor of “the last voyage” instead of “the sinking ship” for a plant that is closing.

  • Put temporary systems in place while the team is in this phase - e.g. shield the team from other changes until they have regained their equilibrium, create short term goals, or restructure reporting relationships.

  • Find opportunities for the team to come together to support each other.

  • Create a Transition Monitoring Team (TMT) to provide feedback about the transition.

  • Encourage people to use this time to try new things and to be innovative.

Launching a New Beginning

  • People look forward to new beginnings - but expect some resistance.

  • Clearly communicate the purpose for the new beginning.

  • Create a picture of what the outcome will look, feel and sound like.

  • Create a transition plan (it is different than the change management plan).

  • Help others to know what part they play in the transition plan and the outcome.

  • Reinforce the new beginning:

- Provide reinforcement through consistent messaging - lead by example.

- Demonstrate success through quick wins!

- Create symbols of the new identity.

- Celebrate successes.

By effectively supporting teams through transitions, organizational leaders can reduce the discomfort and chaos of “The Neutral Zone” while at the same time enhancing the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome.

So much has changed in the 29 years since William Bridges wrote the first edition of this book, and yet, the concepts presented in “Managing Transitions” are still relevant and applicable today.

If you are an organizational leader and you have not yet read “Managing Transitions”, it is definitely a worthwhile read.

Corinne Visscher

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