Bridges (1991) emphasises the psychological transitions that employees need to make for change to be successful, rather than the change that is planned as part of the programme.
Transitions are more complex and less mechanistic than planned change, and require us to understand the emotional aspects of adapting to new ways of working. They are about ‘letting go’ of the past in order to be able to move on.
Three Phases of Transition
Initially counterintuitively, Bridges starts with ‘Endings’ and ends with ‘new Beginnings’. These phases sandwich the ‘Neutral Zone’. However, this should make sense as you read on.
Before moving on, there has to be a break with the past – an ‘Ending’. It is important for change managers and leaders to inform and appreciate who is losing what and to allow a degree of mourning – openly acknowledging these losses. There is also a symbolic aspect of endings, in that endings can be marked with some kind of event or ritual where the break from the past is recognised.
The Neutral Zone is a period of flux, where there can be conflict, anxiety and a decrease in motivation. Change managers and leaders should appreciate and communicate that this is a normal part of change and that it is OK, but at the same time create temporary structures and processes to ensure business as usual performance is maintained at the same time and change being delivered. It is important in the Neutral Zone to seek continual and honest feedback from the organisation.
Although the New Beginning is the aim of the change programme, it cannot be controlled. It can, however, be facilitated and encouraged by creating the right conditions. According to Bridges, for a new beginning to take place people need:
- A clear purpose for changing
- A picture of the new organisation after the change
- A clear, step-by-step plan of how to get there
- To understand their part to play in getting there.
These conditions foster the emotional commitment to change, but it may take some employees (especially further down the hierarchy) longer to get there. Leaders must be patient and appreciate this reality rather than being impatient at a perceived lag.