3 Phases of Change – Transitions

There are many models of change, including Kotter’s 8 steps and ADKAR. But the one I like best comes from Bill Bridges, Ph.D. Bridges differentiates between the external change (for example, a promotion, or replacing an old low-tech product line with a new high-tech one, or getting married) and what he calls a “transition” – the internal alignment to that external change. That alignment process, which works for groups and individuals, has three overlapping, and sometimes repeated, phases:

1. Ending

2. Neutral Zone

3. New Beginning.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

1. Ending. An ending is the letting go of the old. Reactions to endings can range from “We thought it would never end!” to “We’ll never let go!” and all points in between. No matter the reaction, the ending has to occur before much else can happen. If it doesn’t, people remain stuck in the past. I’ll cover Endings in more depth next week.

2. Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is uncertainty on steroids. A person or group in a neutral zone can’t seem to focus on much of anything. They have trouble doing routine tasks and have no energy. This is because their old organizing principle has ended but the new one has not yet formed. Being in the neutral zone requires courage and compassion, because people are typically uncomfortable with uncertainty. I’ll cover Neutral Zone in more depth in 2 weeks.

3. New Beginning. This is when the new foundation/organizing principles become clear. This can occur in a flash of inspiration, or so slowly that the person or group doesn’t even know it’s happening until they look back a while later. Energy and focus and abilities return. I’ll cover New Beginnings in 3 weeks.

When a person or group is moving through a transition, a wise leader lowers expectations of productivity and creativity, and increases the allowance for mistakes. Otherwise, transitions can cause extreme stress to groups and individuals, with concomitant cost to the organizations.

I’d enjoy hearing about transitions that you’ve been through.

Gary Langenwalter

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