My Favorite Change Models: Part 3 – William Bridges’s Managing Transitions

This is the third and final post on the topic of my favorite change models. The first post in this series was Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model (Unfreezing the Organization). The second post was John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change Model. This third and final post describes my experiences in applying and referencing William Bridges’s Managing Transitions approach on various change engagements.

So Who Is William Bridges Anyway?
William Bridges is a recognized authority on managing change in the workplace.  He initially pursued a career in humanities until he later re-focused on change and transition management. In 1993, he was listed as one of the top independent executive development presenters by Wall Street Journal in America. (Source: William Bridges & Associates)

Transition Management Explained
William Bridges describes three major phases an individual passes through during the transition from old to new behaviors:
1. Ending, or Letting Go
2. Neutral Zone
3. New Beginning
(Source: Managing Transitions)

You can view the video below for a quick summary of his model:

Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

Here are some additional tips for managing employees in transition.

Acknowledge The Losses
It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the loss that employees feel during the transition process. This acknowledgement helps alleviate some of the anxieties that may be tied to employees transitioning to a new state.  Just imagine having a great relationship with your direct supervisor and having that taken away during organizational re-structuring.

This same scenario happened to me some time ago. I had reported directly to the Director of Organization Development. It was a great working relationship. Unfortunately, this working relationship dissolved one day when it was announced that the organization was being re-structured after the dismissal of the top three executives of the division, including my boss.

Not to my surprise, the new director possessed a different leadership style. I have to be honest in saying that I wasn’t able to replicate my enthusiasm at work with my new boss. And that’s ok. This experience made me realize that great working relationships are not easy to find. Once you find colleagues with whom you really like working, stick with them as much as you can.

In the end, I still respected the new director and was grateful that he gave me some time to “grieve” my loss and discuss what we each thought was important in a work environment.

Encourage Creativity In The Neutral Zone
In William Bridges’s model, the neutral zone is the in-between phase where employees recognize that the “old” is out; however, the “new” is not yet fully operational. Creativity and calculated risks should be encouraged during the change implementation to help mitigate and resolve unexpected challenges along the change journey.  I’ve learned through trial and error that the best laid plans will never cover all challenges on a change initiative.  There are simply too many unknowns.

Kurt Lewin once said – “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”. In other words, it’s only when you start implementing change that you gain a deeper understanding of the impact to the organization. It’s a period of time where you may find out that people who initially supported the change start opposing it and people who initially resisted the change become the greatest supporters (Source: The Change Monster, Jeanie Duck). Creative problem-solving and a little bit of calculated risk-taking will help resolve the unexpected issues that arise in the neutral zone.

Create Transition Monitoring Teams (TMTs)
TMTs, usually comprised of 7 to 12 employees, are focus groups created for the purpose of providing real-time feedback on the change initiative.  TMTs are a good way for the project team to hear back from employees that are not part of the project team regarding the perception of the change initiative in real-time fashion.

A word of caution when creating TMTs: make it clear from the beginning that TMT members do not hold any decision power on the change initiative.  Their purpose is to report on the feelings and perceptions of the change project. With frequent feedback from the TMTs, the project team can re-calibrate the change plan as necessary.

Create as many TMTs as you see fit for you change initiative. This will show the employees that the organization is listening.

This was the last post in this series discussing my favorite change models. I hope you’ve enjoyed the articles and will benefit from them.  As always, utilize more than one change model on any given change engagement to cover more angles. I wish you the best in your current and future change initiatives.

My Favorite Change Models: Part 2 – John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change

This is the second of three posts on my favorite change models. The first post in this series was Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model (Unfreezing the Organization). This second post describes my experiences in using and referencing John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change on various change engagements.

So Who Is John Kotter Anyway?
John Kotter is a professor at Harvard University and is regarded as an authority on leadership and change. He did both his undergraduate and master’s degrees at MIT before completing his doctorate degree in Business Administration at Harvard University. (source: Kotter International)

John Kotter has authored several books on change management:
1. Leading Change
2. Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions
3. The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations
4. A Sense of Urgency

Leading Change – Explained
John Kotter outlines eight steps that organizations need to take to successfully implement change:
1. Establish a sense of urgency
2. Create a guiding coalition
3. Develop a change vision
4. Communicate the change vision
5. Empower broad-based action
6. Generate short-term wins
7. Don’t let up
8. Make the change stick

You can view the video below for a quick summary of his model:

Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

Here are some additional hints for applying the 8 Steps to Leading Change Model.

Establish A Sense Of Urgency
Similar to other models, building a sense of urgency is a necessary step to implementing change successfully. If you don’t find a way to make the change exciting, compelling and necessary, you may find the implementation phase a little more challenging than it should be. When I formulate my communication messages, the “urgency” undertone is created by my thorough understanding of the organizational challenge(s) that want to be resolved (or the opportunities to be won). I do this by digging deep within the organization to uncover the history of the problem, the audiences impacted by the upcoming change and the reasons why the organization needs to change – such as the cost of change vs. the cost of doing nothing. With a thorough understanding of the purpose of the change, I can communicate the change initiative to the organizational stakeholders with a sense of urgency that is catered to each of the stakeholder groups.

Get The Right Organizational Leaders To Promote The Change
I cannot stress enough the importance of getting the right organizational leaders to sponsor the change initiative. From my point of view, designating the appropriate set of leaders to steer the change initiative in the right direction is paramount to the overall success of the project. The best case scenario would be to have the CEO and the executive leadership team support and steer the change initiative. If this is not possible, I would recommend having at least the departmental leaders and managers of the impacted stakeholders to actively commit, show support and promote the change. If not, it will be easier for the impacted employees to regress or hold onto their old behaviors and old technologies simply because the employees may observe conflicting behaviors or assigned tasks from their managers that contradict the change initiative.

I’ve been on both sides of this continuum.  I was able to work with the appropriate leaders and managers to push a change initiative forward, but I’ve also been part of other change projects that weren’t properly backed by the organizational leaders. In the latter situation, I found that I received plenty of lip service where people would seem curious about the change, but not give any real effort in exhibiting the new behaviors.  In short, there was no commitment to move the change forward. When this occurs, it is a slippery slope that results in one project extension after another.

Of course, the project goals were eventually met once the appropriate leaders got involved. To avoid this drawback, ensure that the right leaders and managers are actively promoting the change at the start of the initiative and make use of their authoritative power to eliminate barriers.

Generate Short Term Wins To Gain Momentum
Politicians, Hollywood actors and teen pop-stars would all secretly agree that perception is everything – try telling otherwise to someone like Jennifer Lopez. Perception is also important on change initiatives, especially at the start when is it imperative to get the change project started on the right foot. The strategy I like to keep in mind when identifying short-term wins is to identify tasks and milestones that are easy to implement, low risk and highly visible to employees. These “quick wins” can then be used to broadcast the progress of the change initiative to others and gain momentum towards a successful campaign. In other words, “don’t try to boil the ocean”. One of my past projects involved replacing an outdated ERP system in several catering centers across Canada. Because changing the ERP system in all of the centers at once would be too risky, we chose to replace the outdated ERP system one centre at a time. By implementing change one centre at a time, we were able to communicate our successes to the other centres to gain momentum and acceptance in advance. We were also able to focus on centre-specific issues, which resulted in a superior user-experience for that centre.

As we implemented the new ERP system in each centre, we were able to have the actual employees promote the new system from inside the company. This increased the momentum of the change exponentially.

As always, remember to use more than one change model when implementing change to cover all angles – as far as I know, there is no all-encompassing change model.  If used properly and in the right context, Kotter’s model can be an excellent tool for leading employees through complex change initiatives. Metaphorically speaking, Kotter’s model is one of the first tools I use out of my toolbox.

Stay tuned for my last post in this series – William Bridges’s Managing Transitions Model. Join my Email RSS feed to have updates sent straight to your inbox.

A Journey Into The Fog – Managing Change In A Complex World

Here it is. My first post in the vast land of the Internet. The journey has begun. Frankly, I don’t know where this site will take me. The first few articles will most likely be focused on discussing my favorite change management models and answering general questions I’ve been asked while on change engagements. One thing I know for sure is that I plan to base all content on my own personal experiences. Wishful thinking would lead me to believe that the honest and genuine undertones of my articles will be appreciated by some random, high-powered individuals who say – “wow, that guy’s amazing – we need him on our team”.

Unrealistic dreams aside, I’m hopeful that this blog will transform into a jive with academics and corporate citizens alike – exchanging experiences and promoting different ways of implementing change. (Or perhaps it may be more of a dance-off where I put my best foot forward, get challenged by my readers and fellow bloggers, go back and forth and end up with an experience that benefits us all.) If nothing else, I plan to enjoy the dance.

Wherever it takes me, I’m really looking forward to seeing what this blog becomes. Hopefully you’ll be interested too.