Bridges Transition Model is a three-stage model that enables you to understand and manage the human side of change more effectively.
All organizations must change to survive. If you continue doing what you’ve always done, your organization will eventually become outdated, uncompetitive, and obsolete. Thus, change is inevitable and essential in every organization.
As a leader, when you think about any change initiative, it is natural to think first about the outcome you are trying to achieve and then create a plan to get you there step by step. You then have to execute the steps contained within the plan to reach your destination.
Unfortunately, approaching organizational change in this way can often lead to failure. To understand why, you need to understand a concept at the core of the Bridges Transition Model: the difference between change and transition.
Change is external to people within the organization and happens to them whether they like it or not.
There are many types of organizational change, including a merger or acquisition, creating and launching a new product, and implementing a new business strategy.
Change is concerned with achieving outcomes.
If change is external, then transition is internal. Transition is the internal psychological process that change puts people through.
It is how people feel as they process and come to terms with the new situation that change brings about. A transition occurs in the course of every attempt to change.
Unfortunately, most leaders concentrate on change and assume that transition will happen simply because the change is happening; this, unfortunately, isn’t the case.
Change can happen very quickly, whereas transition usually takes longer.
Bridges Transition Model is based on the idea that change will only be successful if employees are supported through the transition they experience during change. Essentially, you need to bring people with you if you want your change initiative to succeed.
The Bridges Transition Model helps organizations manage change successfully by mapping out the human response to change over three stages. These are:
As you can see from the diagram below, the three stages aren’t discreetly demarked and can coexist at the same time within a change.
In the diagram, you can see how the relative importance of each stage changes as time goes by.
You may also see Bridges Transition Model drawn as follows, to show how employee productivity changes as you progress through a transition.
It’s worth noting that the greater your seniority with your organization, the more quickly you are likely to move through the transition process. This is often because you understand the need for change long before others in your organization. This means that as a senior manager, it can be easy to forget that others will take longer to transition.
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of the three stages. Note that each stage can be upsetting for people to spend time in.
People have to let go of how things were, and they also have to let go of how they were or used to be. Some things they might need to leave behind include relationships, team members, processes, etc.
This stage often percolates feelings of resistance and emotional upheaval, as employees are forced to give up something they are familiar and comfortable with. Just think how you would feel if you had been happily doing the same job for twenty years and suddenly everything was changing.
Common feelings for people to feel during this stage include:
People can’t accept the change until they accept the old way is ending. If you attempt to push through change without acknowledging people’s emotions, you’re likely to encounter resistance throughout the whole change process.
Mechanisms a leadership team can use to manage this stage include:
In this stage, people have accepted the old way has ended but find themselves unable to move forward. They are entering the neutral zone: an in-between stage full of uncertainty and confusion. This in-between state is so full of uncertainty and confusion that simply coping, not moving forward, takes almost all of people’s energy.
Common feelings during this stage are:
Despite the challenges of stage two, this is the stage in which people create and try new ways of working, so it can also be a time of innovation and renewal.
Its likely productivity and morale will be at their lowest ebb during this stage. People may feel overburdened with a higher workload as changes start to be implemented. These feelings are perfectly normal.
People are creating new processes and learning what their new role is. It’s easy to lose sight of the end goal during this phase.
Mechanisms the leadership team should use include:
If the neutral zone is handled with care, people can realize that they can be positive actors in the change rather than simply being subject to change. They are transitioning to the new beginning phase.
The new beginning is characterized by people embracing the new ways of working. This can be scary because people are leaving the old ways of doing things behind that they were very competent at, and starting to work in a new and unfamiliar way. This is especially true if the organization’s culture has historically been to punish mistakes.
If managed correctly, then in this phase, common feelings can be:
The biggest challenge for management during this phase is to sustain the change.
Mechanisms the leadership team should use to navigate this stage include:
Advantages of the model include:
Disadvantages of the model include:
Bridges Transition Model enables you to understand and lead the human side of change more effectively. It is based upon the subtle difference between change and transition.
The three stages of the model are endings, the neutral zone, and new beginnings.
The model is based on the idea that change will only be successful if employees are supported through the transition they experience during change.
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