Change is happening all the time, all around us. Ironically, change may be the only constant in life. And it occurs a lot in the workplace, as companies pursue growth or are forced to adapt to their environment.
Even though it’s a consistent part of our lives, most of us dislike change. Why? Because it brings uncertainty, discomfort, risk, and challenge. But ultimately, change can bring about some good things too, like learning, growth, deepened relationships, and increased confidence.
“To exist is to change.”
Change isn’t what we think
We often incorrectly think of change as a thing — as the concrete aspect that changes, such as a new policy, office location, or team org chart.
But change is bigger than that. It’s a process — a series of phases we go through as humans to transition from one state to another.
We’d prefer change to be quick, especially as leaders who are pressured to roll-out changes that get immediate results. But, in reality, it takes time for the people experiencing change to adjust.
Busting our myths about change:
- Change is a process, not a thing
- Change happens in stages, not all at once
- Change is slow, not fast
- Change is messy, not perfect
- Change is about people, not policies on a piece of paper
- Change is more about the intangible rather than the tangible
- Leading change requires a larger strategy, not a one-time announcement
What is change management?
Change management is about intentionally guiding people through the process of adjusting to change.
Models help us do that by defining the phases of a change process and recommending best-practices for leading others within each phase.
In addition to those, one of my favorite models is the 3-Stage Bridges Transition Model.
Intro to the Bridges Transition Model for change
The Bridges Transition Model, developed by Dr. William Bridges, proposes that leaders consider a 3-stage process for guiding people through change:
1) Letting Go of What Is
2) Traversing the Neutral Zone
3) Arriving at the New Beginning
Each stage is a critical part of a successful change management process, and can’t be overlooked.
Stage one is about helping people let go of previous behaviors and perspectives, those that are comfortable and conditioned. If the team doesn’t release their attachment to the previous ways of being, they won’t be able to fully adopt the new.
Stage two, often the most challenging to manage, is about bringing people through a period of learning and experimentation to adjust to the new changes. This is a “messy middle,” where the team is trying-out the new approaches, receiving training, providing feedback, and responding to a mix of missteps and successes.
A team reaches the final stage when the new changes feel more comfortable and “locked-in.” In this stage, leaders reinforce the adoption of change through positive recognition, celebrating successes, and setting a good example of embodying the new behaviors and attitudes.
What leaders should do in each stage of the Bridges Transition Model
One reason I love the Bridges model is that it provides very practical advice to leaders on what they should consider doing in each phase to successfully guide people through change with full buy-in.
Here’s a sample of what William Bridges suggests leaders should consider doing in each phase:
Phase 1: Letting Go of What Is
- Clearly communicate the reasons/purpose for the change
- Clearly define what’s over (what’s changing) and what isn’t
- Acknowledge, with genuine empathy, what people are giving up and losing because of the changes
- Identify who’s losing what, including what would be considered “subjective” losses
- Find ways to compensate people for their losses
- Find ways to mark the ending, while still honoring the past
Phase 2: Traversing the Neutral Zone
- Establish short-range goals and checkpoints
- Acknowledge and normalize the discomfort of change
- Set up one or more cross-functional “transition monitoring teams” to involve others and get continual feedback as changes are being implemented
- Encourage innovation, experimentation, and feedback
- If needed, create temporary procedures or roles to help bridge through change
- Create occasions for quick success
Phase 3: Arriving at the New Beginning
- Ensure that all policies and procedures are aligned with the new reality
- Reward people for embodying the new behaviors and attitudes
- Find ways to celebrate the conclusion of the transition
- Set a good example by consistently modeling the new attitudes and behaviors