My Favorite Change Models: Managing Transitions by William Bridges

This is a follow-up 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). This 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 was 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.

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:

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 VP 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 company, including my boss.

Not to my surprise, the new executive 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 executive 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.

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: Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model (Unfreezing the Organization)

This post will describe my personal experiences in using and referencing Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Model during change engagements. Other models will be discussed in future posts.
So Who Is Kurt Lewin Anyway?
Kurt Lewin was a German Jew living in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. As you might imagine, Jews in Germany belonged to a socially disadvantaged group with no real hope of achieving any type of high-profile position. (As we all know, this only worsened as the Nazi party came to power.) This invisible barrier is probably one of the main reasons why Kurt Lewin focused his studies and research on the resolution of social conflict and the problems of minority or disadvantaged groups. Despite the odds, Kurt Lewin received his doctorate degree at the University of Berlin before moving to America shortly after Hitler came to power. Kurt Lewin is most famous for his work on Field Theory, Group Dynamics, Action Research and the 3-Step Change Model.

The 3-Step Model Explained
To summarize Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model, the organization is metaphorically transformed into a block of ice that can be unfrozen, changed and re-frozen after the desired change. You can view the video below for a quick summary of his model:

Here are some additional hints for applying the 3-Step Change Model.

Use Metaphors
I usually like to reference Kurt Lewin’s model at the beginning of (and during) a change initiative to help others visualize the change journey. Personally, I find that metaphors, such as the one used in Kurt Lewin’s model, are a really powerful way to explain the change journey to all employees impacted by the upcoming change. Although metaphors can be overly simplistic when compared to the actual change effort, it communicates a vivid imagery that everyone can understand quickly and gets the project moving in the right direction.

Anchor New Behaviors
I’ve found that one element in Kurt Lewin’s model that can be easily overlooked on projects (if you’re not careful) is the anchoring of the new behaviors within the organizational culture. This aspect is addressed in the last phase of Kurt Lewin’s model; the “freeze” or re-freeze phase where the change becomes part of the organization’s DNA. From my experience, gaining acceptance and buy-in for a planned change is better achieved by having your employees feel like they have been part of the change journey and included as part of the change effort early in the project.

Acknowledge The “Felt Need”
Using Kurt Lewin’s terminology, there needs to be a “felt need” for your employees to adopt and maintain new behaviors. Nobody likes to feel like change is being forced onto them – this only encourages employees to regress and hold firmly onto their old habits and behaviors. Identifying and involving all impacted stakeholders early in the project gives employees the time to acknowledge the “felt need”. Early involvement will also give employees the opportunity to express their anxieties and frustrations surrounding the change. In turn, this will enable the project team the time required to deal with reported frustrations prior to the termination of the project. I’ve seen some projects shy away from involving certain stakeholders early in the project in the fear of hearing too much negative feedback. Of course, this must be controlled but negative feedback isn’t all bad – it helps management review the change strategy and approach for possible re-calibration.

Criticism Towards The 3-Step Model
As with any model, Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Model is not without criticism. I won’t go into the details, but will rather provide you with a link to a great article that evaluates and challenges the criticism towards this model. In summary, the author reports that most of the criticism is unfounded or based on a narrow interpretation of Kurt Lewin’s work. Here is the link to Bernard Burnes’s article: Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change: A Re-appraisal.

Of course, I always recommend applying more than one model or theory on any change engagement. The reason for this is best described by W. G. Perry Jr. – “To understand what’s going on, you need at least three theories”. I hope this post will help you with your next change initiatives.

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Can Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory Be Used To Motivate Employees Through Change?

In 1968, the Harvard Business Review magazine published one of its most popular articles in the history of its existence – One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?
(vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62). This article described Frederick Herzberg’s study on the elements that lead to satisfied employees and the elements that lead to dissatisfied employees. Frederick Herzberg explained his research using a two factor theory.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory Explained
To summarize Herzberg’s two-factor theory, the factors that make an employee satisfied at work are different than the factors that make an employee dissatisfied.

View the video below for a quick summary of his model:

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Herzberg’s model was based on a set of interviews targeting accountants and engineers from Pittsburgh. The participants were asked to describe experiences at work when they felt exceptionally positive or negative feelings, and to provide the reasons that gave rise to those feelings. It was discovered that the factors leading to job satisfaction were different than the factors leading to job dissatisfaction.

Based on Frederick Herzberg’s research, the elements that lead to job satisfaction are:
– Achievement
– Recognition
– The work itself
– Increased responsibility
– Advancement
– Growth

The elements that lead to job dissatisfaction are:
– Company policy
– The relationship with your direct supervisor
– The work conditions
– Salary
– The relationship with peers
– A lack of job security

Criticism towards the dual factor theory
This model has been criticized for making the assumption that satisfied workers are more productive than dissatisfied workers. Despite this valid criticism, I put the essence of this model into good use when I focus on increasing employee engagement during change initiatives. I use Herzberg’s top two elements for job satisfaction, (1) achievement and (2) recognition, to create a greater sense of positive involvement during change.

When employees are given the opportunity to achieve a task, and receive recognition for this achievement from people whose opinion they value, the initiative as a whole will gain momentum in the right direction – one small win at a time.

Thinking about my own experiences, I am much more apt to adopt a change when I am given the opportunity to achieve a new task and to be recognized for my achievements. I’m not saying that achievement and recognition is the sure way to successful organizational change, but it’s a simple and straightforward way to help move the change in the right direction. Next time you create a training and rollout plan, break down new tasks in a way that they can be comfortably achieved and make sure the management team and other change leaders praise new behaviours at the right time. You may see a big improvement. What have you got to lose?

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.