“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw
It sounds simple enough, but if you are a leader attempting to guide your employees through a major change – an acquisition, a reduction-in-force, or new leadership, for example – you know that overcoming resistance to change can be the biggest hurdle to progress.
In his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges clarified that a leader’s role is not really about managing change, but rather about leading employees through the transition process as a result of change:
“Change and transition are not the same. Change is the external event or situation that takes place. Transition is the inner psychological process that people go through to adapt to a change. Empathetic leaders recognize that change puts people in crisis.”
Bridges describes transitions as a 3-phase process:
Phase One is an Ending. “Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had.” Maybe they’re losing a beloved leader, or moving to a different team as the result of a reorganization, or having to adapt to a totally new way of doing their job. In any case, there’s a certain amount of grieving or sense of loss for what they’re leaving behind.
Phase Two is the Neutral Zone. This is an in-between stage when “the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational.” Here is where the critical “psychological realignments and repatternings” take place. People begin to let go of the past. Although they may still be unsure of what’s ahead, they are beginning to accept the inevitability of the change.
Phase Three is New Beginnings. In this phase people adapt to their new identity, experience renewed energy, and find the sense of purpose that will help make the change work.
As a leader, understanding and accepting that your employees need to go through this process will increase the likelihood that the change will be successful.
Next time we’ll talk about some specific strategies for helping your employees through the process.