BRIDGES: TRANSITION AND CHANGE
Transition +/- Change
Last winter I attended the Indiana Youth Institute’s annual conference and heard famous
country singer/songwriter, Naomi Judd speak. One of her quotes was “Change is the
only constant. You better learn to like it and live with it.” Because change is constant
and so relevant to all of us on a daily basis, we are exploring the relationship between
change and transition.
Change refers to the external – it is the situation, policy, practice or new event.
Transition on the other hand is internal. It is the psychological process people go
through to come to terms with the new situation. It is the process of letting go of an old
reality and moving to accept a new reality. In between, there are losses. So, transition is
the result of change and often what causes the most challenges for individuals and
organizations alike. Transition must occur for change to work!
William Bridges is a renowned speaker, consultant and writer on change and transition.
He has published 10 books, including Managing Transitions, Transitions and The Way of
Transition. According to William Bridges, transition requires people to participate in
three separate processes. These include:
1. Saying Goodbye. Letting go of the way that things were including the way
people engaged or accomplished tasks that made them successful in the past.
They must let go of what feels to them like their whole world of experience and
their sense of identity.
2. Shifting into Neutral. That in-between state full of uncertainty and confusion.
Coping seems to take most of people’s energy. For successful transition, Bridges
notes that an organization and its people must spend some time in the neutral zone
as it is where creativity and energy are found and real transformation takes place.
3. Moving Forward. People begin behaving in a new way with new competencies
Within these three processes, Bridges suggests leaders manage transitions by:
1. Describing the change and why it must happen, and do so succinctly – in one
minute or less.
2. Ensuring details of the change are planned carefully and that someone is
responsible for each detail.
3. Understanding just who is going to have to let go of what – what is ending (and
what is not) – and what must be let go of.
4. Ensuring steps are taken to help people respectfully let go of the past. These
may include ensuring everyone has the information they need and understanding
the symptoms of grieving.
5. Effectively Communicating – the “4 P’s” of transition communications:
• The purpose: Why we have to do this
• The picture: What it will look/feel like when we reach our goal
• The plan: Step-by-step, how we will get there
• The part: What you can do to help us move forward
6. Creating temporary solutions to the temporary problems and the high levels of
uncertainty found in the neutral zone.
7. Helping people launch the new beginning by articulating the new attitudes and
behaviors needed to make the change work – and then modeling, providing
practice in and rewarding those behaviors and attitudes.
Bridges, William. Managing Transitions – Making the Most of Change. Perseus Books,
Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press, 1996.
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