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Managing the 3 Phases of Transition

April 1, 2014

By Marty Jordan

I recently wrote about the difference between change, change management, and transition management. Transition management addresses people’s normal reactions to the change and helps them get on board with it. But, the question is: How can you ensure that you are effectively managing for transition? What can a leader do to help and support people going through transition?

It turns out that change—whether it’s initiated by ourselves or thrust upon us—propels people through three phases of transition. This concept (and the model that follows) was developed by Bill Bridges in his influential book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change and provides profound insight into how people react to and deal with change. What is important to note is that people go through these three phases whether the change is perceived as positive, such as a promotion, or negative, such as a change in job scope.

Transition starts at the Ending. This is where people begin to understand the impact of the change and realize that they are going to need to let go of “what was.” Once people understand the need to let go, they then have to navigate through the Neutral Zone. This is where people are working toward the change but things haven’t settled or solidified yet. It’s only after people have passed through the Ending and the Neutral Zone that they reach the New Beginning.

To skillfully manage any transition process, it’s critical to understand that timing is different for everyone. Think about a marathon. The field gets spread out with the fastest runners at the front and the slower ones farther behind. The same is true for transition. Those who have been looking forward to the organization changing will reach the new beginning very quickly. Others will start a little later and pass through the phases more slowly. And then you have a large group of folks that are just inching up toward the starting line to begin the process of letting go. It’s important to note that there is no right way or time to transition.

Different phases require different strategies.

In order to help people move through—and even accelerate—the transition, leaders need to map where different groups are across the three phases and then employ distinct strategies for managing each phase of the transition. For people still in the Ending phase, you need to acknowledge and help them come to terms with the loss they may be experiencing. For those in the Neutral Zone, you can tap into the creative chaos that can be found there, but you also need to acknowledge the ambiguity that also comes with this phase and implement strategies to bridge the gap from old to new. And for those in the New Beginning phase, you need to reinforce and sustain the change through people, systems, and processes.

Do you recognize the transition phases in your own reaction to change? What has helped you and your team get from Ending to New Beginning? Please share your insights in the comments below.


About Marty Jordan

Marty_75x100Marty Jordan is a Principal Consultant and co-leader of Linkage’s Change and Transition Leadership practice. She is an accomplished HR/OD professional with broad-based experience in multiple industries and has worked in diverse business functions and corporate environments. In her current role, Marty is a coach, facilitator, and program designer for a wide spectrum of clients including Toyota, Volkswagen, Disney, and Genentech. Follow her on Twitter @maj421.

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