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.